Guest Blogger: Jim Murphy, Neenah WI, long-time J Stockard customer and avid fly tyer

HEXED: To have been bewitched: To have been cursed: To have been put under a magic spell

I have had the good fortune to fly fish many trout streams both near and far. But, until one night last June, I had not started my fishing outing at 6:30 P.M. with the plan to fish until 11:00 or later. Oh, I’d talked about it a few times. I even thought about it once or twice. Thought about it seriously enough to tie several dozen flys including duns and spinners, klinks, and nymphs. In fact, a complete fly box of flys tied especially for such a night had been safely tucked away in one of my “never forget where I put it places” which took about two hours plus to locate.

The earth was rising up covering the sun and dusk was quickly shading into dark. The bullfrogs had stopped their bullfrog chorus and the whippoorwills had silenced their evening lullaby. The mosquitoes, however, were really just coming into their own and even Deet 50 was being challenged as the clock ticked toward 8:50

I’d been sitting on the bank of one of our local spring creeks since about 6:30  because my fishing partner Gary, an old hand at this game, had said that this sections of the stream was prime and if we wanted a great spot best get there early. So early we were.

Just saw the first of what I hoped would be one of many bugs bouncing crazily along the surface first up then down and eventually after several more up attempts down for good. It was a female laying the next generation of eggs. My hearing isn’t what it once was so when Gary called out “lookup” I was surprised to see a swarming mass of spinners, so dense, they made the darkening sky even darker. Thousands of flys making up this swirling, twisting cloud. 

The guys who have been hexed for years and have been sneaking out at night and catching some of the biggest browns of the season call it fishing the Hex Hatch. Actually, for the most part, they, we, are not fishing the hatch but the spinner falls. Browns in excess of 24” are not all that uncommon for those masters of the night.

That’s not to say that fish never take the duns but those subimagos don’t often hatch out in large numbers at the same time. They tend to emerge sporadically throughout the day and move to nearby shrubs and trees to wait for their final molt into the sexually mature spinner and their evening death flight.

I had just stumbled over another waterlogged sunken branch and was wondering if this whole rigamarole was worth it when Gary called out “the time was now.”  I tied on a dun that looked good in the “fly tyer” but hadn’t a clue as to whether it would trigger an eat.  So new to fishing this “hatch” that I failed to realize trout were feeding on spinners and not duns.

Then there they were one, two, a dozen struggling or drowned spinners floating by. Getting harder to see them in the fading light. Was that a, sure it was, a sip of a feeding fish along the far bank? And then a slurp a bit further upstream. Cant’ see’m, but they’re starting to feed. Gary calls out “fish on” and the adrenaline starts pumping and excitement, which up to this point has been subdued, kicks in. “Got’em,….wow 16 plus” 

Now the fish are rising and splashing and sipping and slurping. Where to cast first. Sounds like a big fish working up there I’ll try for him. My heat sinks as I realize that the “take” was not that of the big brown but of a something or other sticking out from the far bank. Should I just break off? Yeh! That’s the best idea. Maybe I won’t put’em down.

Now I don’t know if you have ever tried tying on a size 8 fly on a no-moon night with a cap-visor light while the mosquitoes are enjoying night time snacks on every piece of your exposed flesh and the no-see-ums have discovered your eyes, and mouth and are intent on crawling up your nose but I have. During this ordeal, Gary now reports his third fish to hand  and I’m still fumbling around trying to find the eye of the hook with a 3X tippet. Finally, success. “Hey Gary what ya usin”…”#8 white spent wing spinner”….”got one”?  So off comes the dun and I repeat the tying process a second time with even a greater number of flying tormentors amassed around and about my lighted head.

10 minutes later I’m ready to go again. A fish rises just a few feet away downstream. Are you kidding? I could almost net him from where I stand. So I flip my fly dropping it next to my waders and let it drift over the rise. Bam, and he’s on, I’m thrilled and excited even though this would prove to be only a 13 incher.  It was, after all, a fish and I caught it in the dead of night on a fly I’d tied.

During the next hour or so I applied all the rules of Conservation Through Incompetence as I struggled to keep track of my fly and line. I lost several fish, one of which might have been my personal best. He ate, I felt him run upstream and I felt his weight as he ran downstream followed by a couple of serious head shakes and then poof he was gone. Probably still running. I found a pigtail at the end of my leader, so what does that tell you.

I eventually figured out how important it is to be ready to set the hook on a tight line even when the line itself has been lost in the night. Finally, after several more mini disasters including more hooked and broken off whatever’s, another near fall tripping over sunken stuff and a foot sunken well past my boot top in marl I hooked something that actually pulled back. Now the game was on as what proved to be a 17 inch brown with a football-shaped body and a nice hook to its lower jaw first went upstream and then down. Then it went this way and that as I attempted to turn on my cap-light. With hat askew and net in hand, heart-pounding and fish still wanting his way, I brought him to net. That fish cast the spell.

Gary and I would go out several more nights during the “Hex Hatch”. On one moonless adventure, I caught several browns over 17 inches and Gary caught a couple of 18 inchers. We also had a night or two when one or both of us got skunked. That’s fishin.

But I’ve been Hexed, bewitched if you will, and ready to venture out again when the peonies bloom next June.

. Hexagenia limbata is a sizable burrowing mayfly found in nearly every state in the union. In fact, it is the largest of the American Mayflies and the hatches and spinner falls normally occur during June and July depending on water type and temperature. The Hex form huge mating swarms over streams and lakes at or after dark. Males fall to the water after mating and females die shortly after they lay their eggs on the surface. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of dead and dying mayflies bring big trout out in feeding frenzies as they cast off their normal wariness and throw caution to the wind. I’m told big bass also love these large bugs.

If you really want to switch-up your fly fishing game give the “Hex Hatch” a try and you too may become bewitched and addicted. 

1 Comment

  1. Hi, Jim. I read your Hexagenia article a whiile back but did not reply at the time. Now, I’ve revisited it and was surprised that no one else replied. Here in southeastern PA we have what I’ve been told by reliable sources are Hexagenia atrocaudata on a couple of the larger warmwater streams, specifically the Perkiomen and Brandywine Creeks. I’ve seen the duns hatching, and airborne spinners before leaving the stream at dusk. I know that by leaving before dark I’m missing out on the best action, but night fishing just isn’t my thing. I’ve had very good luck fishing tan Woolly Buggers leading up to the emergence, especially if there’s an overcast. Those big, swimming nymphs are catnip to the Smallmouth Bass and big panfish.

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