Our Outdoors: See What’s Hatching
By Nick Simonson
As an angler that enjoys a variety of styles of angling for a number of species, I’ve often talked about “matching the hatch” in order to find success, no matter how or where I’m presenting a bait, lure or fly. Truly originating in the world of fly fishing, the term has come to mean putting an offering out there by any means – spin, baitcast, fly, trolling, casting or slip-floating – that is similar in size, shape and color to the food items that are buzzing, swimming, jumping and moving in the aquatic ecosystem of the fish a person is trying to catch. At no other time have anglers had a better arsenal of lures with which to match the hatch, and with this vast array of options, one need only monitor the world around us to figure out which ones to offer up.
It’s the observation part of that equation – paying attention to this quickly developing spring world – however, that many anglers overlook before launching a crankbait, flinging a fly or casting out a jig. Whether fast and compact like this season is shaping up to be, or slow and elongated, or somewhere in the middle like most others, the aquatic world goes through virtually the same process every season, with the rebirth of tiny insects from the water like midges in early spring, then the black and brown fluttering caddisflies, then mayflies at midsummer, and dragonflies in July until the entire shoreline is abuzz with life heading into the final stretches of the warm season. Watching, observing and noting what creatures came out when will help establish a baseline for next season, or as in this shortened spring, provide an idea of how fast things occur the next time we jump straight from winter to summer.
The same goes on below the water and a “hatch” doesn’t necessarily mean the birth of anything, though it may have to do with the process of begetting more of a species. Take for example the shiner run. This mass migration of baitfish occurs with regularity in western Minnesota lakes where they are present, and has always heralded fast fishing anywhere between the walleye opener in those early, warm springs, and sometimes as late as June 1, in seasons like this one. In the ripples of small feeder creeks, it can be easy to see balls of these long, meaty baitfish making their run in groups so big that sometimes the delta in front of the inflow boils with their presence.
It’s not surprising then to see a heron or two staked out along the shore in the evening light, picking these prey items off. Then, under the purple canopy of night and white moonlight, to see recovering post-spawn walleyes make feeding rushes into the shallows so skinny, their backs and tails come out of the water like a pod of Redfish on a saltwater flat. The event is so crucial to good fishing and understanding the timing of some of my favorite waters, that even in those years where my calendar doesn’t match up with nature’s, I’ll call to get a report on shiner movements, and their availability at bait shops which also often coincides with their shallow spawning run.
Other hatches in summer have provided notable experiences. When the smorgasbord is loaded with a variety of things to eat, sometimes it comes down to picking what’s the most handy. By mid-July, when fishing gets tougher, simply due to the warm water and the abundance of food available, keying in on certain baits, or lures that look like them is important in overcoming the seemingly endless buffet that fish have before them. In one particularly nice summer, when we’d often mix a trip on the boat with shore fishing, due to capacity in the old Grumman 15-footer, we’d drop an angler off on shore, while the three others would fish from the boat. I happened to be the odd man out on such a trip and worked my way along the steep embankments of a stretch of the Sheyenne River.
With every step, half a dozen tiny leopard frogs would leap into the water over the sharp drop in the flow. As I moved, and the frogs moved, the water began to move as well. Catching a couple swirls out of the corner of my eye, I grabbed one of the tiny amphibians and (being a frog fan) reluctantly hooked it on my jig through its nose. Expecting a feisty smallmouth to swirl up on my cast, I was surprised to hook into a three-pound walleye in broad daylight in two feet of water over the deep channel available to it below. The yearling frogs were a feeding magnet to these summertime fish, pulling them out of their comfort zone and just the hatch we were looking for to extend a spring bite. With my report back to the boat, and a handful of frogs for my family and friends, we had dinner (and then some) in the livewell within an hour.
While hopefully this spring truly is an outlier, and many more normal (or early) springs are ahead in the years to come, it’s important to note how the rhythm gets adjusted by the almighty conductor. Watching the hastened pace of this spring, and the emergence of insects, the spawning of prey species like minnows, perch and bluegills (and their relative abundance later in the season), and how game fish react to those events, will help increase angling success in the near- and long-term. After logging these notations, which again, are more or less the same every year, comes the easy part – selecting one of a million crankbaits, flies, jigs, spoons or other lures – to match what’s hatching…in our outdoors.