Hex hatch on Au Sable still likely a week or so away
The slurping sound of the brown trout picking off bugs drifting down the Au Sable River gave us hope. That’s what my friend and colleague Bill Semion and I had been waiting for.
Originally, Bill had invited me up to his stream-side cabin on the fabled Au Sable River to fish the highly celebrated and greatly anticipated nighttime hex hatch. But with spring creeping in ever so slowly this year, all the bug hatches seem to be delayed between one and three weeks.
Mayflies – which includes hexes, drakes, batflies and more – make up a large part of a trout’s diet in the spring. Mayflies spend most of their lives in a larval state on the bottom of rivers or lakes. When they emerge, they fly or crawl out of the water, mate, lay eggs back in the water, then die.
The significance of their hatch is the sheer numbers of insects hatching at the same time. The mayfly hatch usually occurs at night, and when it does, it triggers fish, especially trout, into a feeding frenzy.
The hexagenia limbata, affectionately called a “hex” by trout anglers, is the largest and most celebrated of the mayflies. They usually hatch by the thousands on the Au Sable about the end of May or beginning of June, later in years like the one we are experiencing.
Since there are so many of them hatching at the same time – often clouding the sky above the river – and since they are the biggest of the mayflies, when the hex hatch is on, the fishing is spectacular. Those finicky, trophy brown trout that seemingly never leave their sacred haunts are out feasting ravenously during the hex hatch, slurping up all that protein and providing anglers with the best opportunity of the year to catch a true trophy brown trout.
When I arrived at the river earlier this week, light numbers of caddisflies and larger numbers of batflies (baetisca) were hatching. A few trout dimpled the water as they carefully slurped in the bugs. According to those who are much more informed and educated on streamside entomology than I am, the brown drakes will be next to hatch, followed by the hexagenia.
Bill had tied up a few flies he called cripples because they imitated an emerging mayfly nymph caught in its husk. Although there were some cripples floating downstream as we fished, the browns wanted little to do with our offering. They had their eyes set on the batflies, and as luck would have it, we had none.
We worked the dimpling fish with the cripples, but to no avail. We weren’t giving them what they wanted. By the end of our time on the water – we fished two nights from about 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. – we had watched and heard several fish feeding, Bill caught one small brown and I missed another.
We certainly didn’t upset the balance of nature on these night trips, but with the brown drake hatch and the hex hatch still on the horizon, who knows what the next couple weeks will hold.