Similar to last year the Autumn on the Highveld is lingering longer than usual and we are experiencing wonderful warm days in late May. This can of course change very quick with the arrival of serious cold fronts. But for now the days are balmy with little wind , which is great for fish and fishermen taking advantage of the 3 pm BWO hatch. The fishing this autumn has been good , (mind you – which Autumn fishing is not good ?) and would have been stellar , had it not been for the yo-yo flows created by DWAF to control the blackfly “plague”.
CADDIS LINGER LONGER. With the onset of Autumn the evening caddis hatches start to fade out ,but some evenings you can still get a late surprise. I was finishing up one evening on some fish rising to Trico’s and crossed the river in darkness, when I noticed a multitude of shucks floating on the surface. I trained my headlamp onto the water surface and saw that the river’s surface was literally coated with shucks and that about 90% of these were from the small Hydropshycidae caddis. There were a few of these bugs around on the water as the sun set , but nothing like the numbers that came off in the dark. One of the heaviest caddis hatches I ever witnessed .Fish were still rising in the moonlight.
On another early Autumn occasion I was fishing to risers , in slack water , mopping up cripples after the Baetis hatch , when I notice strong rises in the fast riffle to my left. Unlike the cruising fish picking off leftovers , these fish were in holding lies which make fishing to them easier. It was easy to cover these fish from my position as I was quartering downstream to them. Even though I was sure my drifts were drag free , I got no response from the fish and when a fish rose right next to my fly , I knew I was offering the wrong pattern . The strong rises and the time of day suggested caddis and so I tied on my Klinkhamer. I took the fish on the first drift. Thinking that the fish has changed over to caddis , I covered some of the cruisers while I was waiting for the fish in the riffle to settle down. The cruisers simply ignored the Klinkhamer and I only connected again after I changed back to a Quigley Cripple. The riffle fish continued to fall to the Klinkhamer only.
The impact of the MC caddis often saves the day ,or rather evening. With complete darkness descending fast there is often a frenzied behavior on both the fish and fisherman’s part. The fish are rising like mad and the fisherman is confronted with complex hatches of Trico duns & cripples ,Trico spinners , BWO’s & midge emergers , caddis pupae or spent caddis . Picking the wrong pattern will mean casting practice into darkness. I make my choice. It fails and there will only be time for one more fly change. By default I pick a big foamed wing MC caddis pattern because right before complete darkness , a few of the big bugs still puts in an appearance. The pattern is always good for another fish or two , despite refusals.
AUTUMN = BAETIS. If you are a hatch junkie like me , then you know how this daily 2 hour natural phenomenon can completely derail your life , if you don’t control this addiction. On this note – a 2 month Autumn sabbatical is high on my bucket list. At the onset of the season it’s not so bad ’cause the event goes down at dusk after an afternoon’s fishing. Usually as a compound hatch with caddis. Great fishing …. anything goes , as long as its high in the water column and activated + dryfly off course. Then it moves to 4 pm. Things are not too tricky , but the daytime dryfly action has got you hooked good and proper. The relatively warm water causes aggressive feeding , and since these are the first hatches of the season , the BWO’s are a big #16 ,the PMD’s #14 , and the fish a bit careless.
By end April a BWO hatch could trickle off at 1pm , which always cause a stir , followed by the main event of BWO’s & PMD’s at 3pm. This year the PMD’s seems to be spread thin.Tied up in the big smoke , I get shaky when I realize ,the day is turning out to be mild & windless. But when a bit of miserable chilly, damp & misty weather rolls in , I lose it and try my damnedest to get on the water. Gierach calls it BWO weather….. for good reason.
I can write a book on these Baetis hatches. But I find that I make the same “note to self” every year at the start of the season. “1.Slow down 2. Treat every target as if its your last for the day 3.Make it all count (approach,leader,tippet,cast,pattern). ”
The Baetis pre-hatch period took on a new dimension for me this year , as I discovered more ways to target fish with active direct line & induced nymphing.The sighters went anything from dryfly to indicator to mono depending on the situation. In the process , I came up with a sighter that combines the benefits of a curly Q and straight mono. Thank goodness this phenomenal nymphing only last for brief periods of time ,otherwise you would be spoiled for life.
RANDOM AUTUMN PIC DUMP :
Great piece and kick ass photos, brother! Love the release shot.
Great article Herman. Really enjoy reading and learning about dry fly on home waters.