By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
A breeze pulled at my rolled-up shirt sleeves as I readjusted my hat to fend off the glare of a now-setting sun. It was the first truly warm day of the year – warm enough to make me itch for wet-wading. But the snow-laden peaks of the Rockies, still buried beneath 20 or 30 feet of the greatest snow on Earth, brought me back to reality. It’d be weeks, if not months, before wet-wading was an option.
I sighed and stretched my back, cursing the natural river side accommodations for not being more ergonomic. Standing up from the rough-hewn boulder that had served as my chair, I looked back down river, to the hole I’d just come from.
A fish jumped clean out of the water, snatched a bug mid-Sea-World-trick, and plopped back in the river. I swear the fish took time to wink at me on its way down.
That was the most activity I’d seen all afternoon, and I’d parked at the trail head well before the sun began setting. With it being so warm, and smack in the middle of May, I’d hoped to run into some caddis. I’d heard whispers that the bigger bugs were showing their wings, pushing the diminutive blue-winged olives to the peripheries of anglers’ attention. After a prolonged winter that featured the most spectacular blue-wing hatch I’ve seen on the Lower Provo River in years, I was ready to fish a size 14 elk hair caddis.
On cue, a light-colored caddis fluttered by in the rickshaw-like flight pattern that’s part of why the bugs are so endearing. The bugs were ready for a change too, it seemed. After a few minutes of re-rigging, paired with the inevitable curses of “I swear I tied more size 14s than this. These suck,” I was ready for the inevitable caddis hatch.
Except it wasn’t inevitable. A few more popped off, like blues guitarists in their frenetic, individual energy. The sun dipped behind the mountains and bathed the river in blue light. Fish rose, snacking on the menagerie of duns and cripples littered on the river’s surface.
Mayfly duns and cripples. Not caddis. A distinction I noticed but didn’t want to acknowledge. I’d just watched a half-dozen caddis buzz by in a half-hour. Surely those random bugs were harbingers of an upcoming caddis storm.
From behind, a voice carried over the noise of the river and made me jump out of my skin.
“How’s the fishing?”
I turned to see a young guy, around my age, standing a few yards away.
“I’m not really sure,” I said. “I’ve been here for a few hours but I’ve spent most of the time sitting on the bank waiting for the hatch to start.”
The guy paused a beat, not sure how to take that. He had an eagerness to his questions that suggested he wasn’t the type to sit on a stream and wait out a hatch.
“You see any caddis?” He asked.
I nodded. “A few, but nothing to really get ’em going.”
The guy shrugged and thanked me, taking off upriver, leaving me alone on the bank once more. Another half-hour dragged by and I started pulling up rocks, looking for caddis casings. I found plenty, but they were all full of larvae. Further proof that the hatch wasn’t quiet as ready as I’d hoped.
I turned my attention back to the river, expecting caddis but seeing only mayflies. As if reading my thoughts, a fish rose to a crippled dun as it drifted 15 feet from where I sat on the bank. The unmistakable plop of a big trout rising on small flies was insult to injury.
Just about then, the guy who’d stopped by a half-hour prior ambled back down the trail. His shoulders were hunched with the frustration of not catching fish, and I didn’t bother stopping him to ask how he’d done.
As it turns out, the guy should’ve waited another ten minutes. After he walked out of view, another fish took a crippled dun near my streamside seat. Then another. Within minutes, fish rose in that tight, predictable rhythm indicative of nature’s inherent truth – that sooner or later, predators will find their prey and finish the circle of life.
I insisted on fishing a caddis during the hatch, even though the fish were obviously keyed in on mayflies. I mumbled something about unmatching the hatch and a higher-protein meal target while tying on my size 14 caddis, but the fish didn’t hear my halfhearted pleadings.
Eventually, I broke down and tied on a size 18 crippled blue-winged olive. Within a few casts I had a fish in the net. Then another. I missed the next take, and broke my tippet on the following rise. But I fished until it was too dark to see, quietly grateful to step out of the water that had numbed my legs.
Later, as I stopped in town for a burrito and some Mountain Dew, I texted a buddy a blurry photo of one of the browns I’d caught that night. “The caddis were out but the fish didn’t care tonight,” I wrote. “Too many mayflies still kicking around.”
He wrote back, “I’m sick of fishing mayflies.”
I grinned because I felt his pain, but I wasn’t about to complain, either. The caddis would just be late this year, and while it was inconvenient, it wasn’t like the fishing sucked. The fish were just doing what they’ve done so well for as long as man has fished.
They made me wait.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, American Angler, Hatch Magazine, Trout Magazine, and numerous other national publications. Spencer is also the founder and editor of Spencer Durrant Outdoors. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.
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