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Catching Fabled Hatch Is Quite A Myth In Itself

Thu., June 29, 1995

Most of the country has figured out that Sasquatch and other Western myths are a hoax.

Fly-fishers aren’t so savvy.

Year after year, Dan Bailey wannabes make the annual spring pilgrimage to Montana for the fabled salmonfly hatch.

They do this because they BELIEVE with a religious fervor, even though the odds of arriving in Montana at the peak of the salmonfly hatch are about as good as seeing Sasquatch doing jumping jacks along Interstate 90.

Anglers have fished in Montana for decades without seeing more than a handful of airborn salmonflies.

Nevertheless, they tell their kids second-hand tales of Pteronarcys californica, and the myth is perpetuated from generation to generation.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has proved that these big bugs are capable of flight only in the “you-should-have-been-here-yesterday” stories of fly fishing guides.

Kids eventually stop believing in Santa Claus. But fly fishers can’t shake the salmonfly fantasy.

They can visualize the 2-inch-long bugs swarming on the water and luring monster brown trout from the depths of the Madison, Yellowstone, Big Hole and Rock Creek.

But they never actually see it.

They go to Montana and spend fortunes filling their vests with dry flies roughly the size of pterodactyls.

But they never get to use these patterns, except possibly to train their bird dogs.

Montana fly shops lure fly-fishers from across the country with reports of salmonflies hatching at specific river landmarks, such as Box Canyon or Spooled Again Riffle.

But before you leave the shop, they put an arm around your shoulder and advise, as though you were childhood buddies, that you also should purchase a dozen stonefly nymphs patterns.

Just in case.

If you don’t hit the hatch just right - and of course, you never do - the fly-fisher must resort to plying the high runoff waters with weighted patterns that imitate a long dark bug.

This is the stonefly - a fish feast in itself - that lurks underwater among the rocks before crawling to shore, shucking its nymphal skin and emerging with wings ready for the mythical flight as a salmonfly.

Fishing with weighted stonefly nymphs can, indeed, be a productive, if not indelicate way to catch trout.

It’s not as glamorous, however, as fishing with a dry fly because you don’t actually cast a stonefly nymph pattern.

You chuck it.

The high, fast water associated with the stonefly hatch requires that the nymph be weighted. Lead wrapped under the tying materials causes the pattern to sink quickly and tumble along the rocky bottom of the stream where the fish are accustomed to feeding on nymphs.

The presentation generally resembles swinging a wrecking ball back and forth with a fence post and chain.

The City of Spokane is considering hiring nymphwielding fly fishers to demolish the rest of the old Coliseum.

Montana is on the verge of requiring an environmental impact statement for shoreline flyfishing. Three or four false chucks with a stonefly nymph have been known to create major clearcuts along mountain streams.

Properly fishing stonefly nymphs is risky business.

While chucking a nymph toward an undercut bank one spring, my partner, John Griffith, inadvertently slammed his nymph into the back of Jim Toth, a Missoula guide who was manning the oars of our raft.

“Oof!” Toth moaned as the fly plunked harmlessly to the bottom of the raft.

“Are you okay?” Griffith asked.

“I think so,” said Toth, gasping for breath.

“Hell, then I must not have on enough weight.”

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

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