A while back I wrote a post about Callibaetis and Chironomids where the punch line was that my buddy and I wanted the fish to be eating Callibaetis but they were really on chironomids. Well that was then, and this is now…
The trout aren’t the only ones who love munching on Callibaetis. Photo by Amanda Marquez
Callibaetis and damselflies have been dominating the trout’s menu on my local stillwaters recently, so of course they are also the insects that my mind has been feasting on. In particular, the morning Callibaetis emergences have provided my friends and me with some really fun fishing opportunities. The great thing about being into a great hatch over the span of a couple of weeks is that you really get to dial things in and experiment with what works and what doesn’t work as well. So with that in mind, here are a few thoughts that I’ve been having as it refers to the nymphal stage of Callibaetis in particular.
It’s fairly easy to tell where the best Callibaetis action is going to happen on a lake. These insects LOVE the weedbeds. What’s really cool is that trout will often move into very shallow water to feed on the nymphs before the main hatch starts. But when they go shallow, those big trout get really spooky compared to when they are out on deeper weed flats or off the drop-offs. If you can find the travel lanes that fish use through the weedy halls of their world, you have probably hit the jackpot.
There are A LOT of commercially available Callibaetis nymph imitations out there. I’m not really interested in going into which specific ones to use here. What I can say is that there are a couple of important elements to fly selection that I have found to be rather important.
First, and most important, is size. Match the size of the most prevalent size of nymphs you can see in the water. That’s usually a 14 or 16 around here. Sometimes a 12 will do in the early season, but that may be because the fish aren’t quite as dialed in at that point, rather than because the bugs are actually bigger.
Second in my order of importance (and I think the most overlooked element) is fly profile. Mayflies in general and Callibaetis in particular are thin insects. In fact, there aren’t many fat insect in the water aside from maybe dragonfly nymphs and giant water beetles. So, those obese, poorly proportioned PT nymphs that you scored for $0.89 each in the sale bin of your local hardware store probably aren’t the best choice of patterns. Slim and sparse is what you need. In fact, some of the most effective Callibaetis nymph patterns that I’ve seen look not only anemic, but also downright absurd in their simplicity and material choice.
Third in my order of importance is color. The usual grayish-tan standard usually does just fine. On a couple of occasions, it seemed like color was more important than usual, so if you spend a bunch of time fishing or travelling to fish stillwaters that have Callibaetis hatches, you may want to carry other tones, including grayish-olive, brownish-tanish-gray, and rusty-tanish-grayish-olive. Got it?
This is a pretty big deal when fish are locked in on the Callibaetis nymphs. At least as important as fly size and profile. Maybe more important. Callibaetis nymphs are good swimmers, but they are also still tiny bugs, so that retrieve you use when fishing Clousers for striped bass needs to be left at the dock. It seems to me like they wiggle forward in short bursts that can be imitated by a series of 3-4 inch pulls, or some quick hand twists. But then, the nymphs almost always seem to stop for a bit to take a break before heading back on their way. So, a nice pause after a series of strips can be the ticket. I’ll do that most of the time, matching my flyline to the water depth – floating line and long leader in the super shallows, slow intermediate when I need a hair more depth. Fast intermediate lines seem too sinky for most of my work as I find myself hitting the weeds too soon on every cast. If you are finding fish down deeper than say 8-10 ft you may want one to cut down on your countdown time.
I’ve also heard that Callibaetis nymphs will swim up to the surface and back down to the weeds a few times before finally committing to hatching from the surface. So, a rising retrieve followed by a sink seems logical as well. I need to fool around with this more. Maybe an indicator and floating line or a short sink tip will do the trick.
Lastly, I’ve had a lot of fish eat a nymph suspended below a Callibaetis dry fly. Heave it and leave it. It works well.
Alright! I’ve got myself fired up to fish now. So, hopefully when you are reading this, I’ll be out on the lake. If you’ve got any thoughts to add, I’d love to hear them. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Take Care and Fish On,
PS – Like my last post, this one is running double duty both here and at Sexyloops.com
By now you’d think I could not be fooled. You’d think that I’d know better after so many seasons fishing stillwaters. But I still fall into the trap nearly every time. And it happened again just the other day.
My fishing partner and I arrived at the lake around mid-morning and found the surface glass calm, save for the boils, swirls, and gulps of more than a few rising trout. Nothing like the sight of that to motivate you to rig and launch the boat in record time! A quick survey of the scene revealed plenty of adult chironomids flying over the bushes, and chironomid shucks on the water. There were also a very heathy number of Callibaetis mayfly emergers and adults all over the surface, drifting helplessly like speckled sailboats.
Now, the Callibaetis is the sexiest mayfly of all in my opinion. Its striking mottled wings, good (highly visible) size, bankers hatch hours, and ability to bring quality trout to the surface on stillwaters are what make it so appealing. In the western US, it is by far the most important stillwater mayfly.
And so, when I see a bunch of Callibaetis mayflies on the surface, and I see trout feeding aggressively near the surface, I tend to scramble for my flybox and start deciding which of the numerous Callibaetis imitations that I should tie on. Often, seeing what I have explained above does in fact mean the trout are eating Callibaetis. But not when there is an invisible, underwater blizzard of chironomid pupae.
The trap was set. And we fell for it. After 20 or 30 minutes of fishing among numerous (extremely numerous, actually) feeding fish, using multiple Callibaetis tactics (slow intermediate and nymph, floating line and nymphs, dry fly and emerger on top, dry fly with emerging nymph dropper, etc), we only had a couple of hookups to show for our effort. I knew we had been duped by the chironomids yet again. Small, a bit ugly, and decidedly un-sexy insects – their abundance was essentially overwhelming the beautiful Callibaetis in the eyes of the trout. And still, another 20 minutes went by before I switched to chironomid pupa tactics. Each cast that wasn’t intercepted by a trout was punctuated by a comment along the lines of, “they must be on the chironomids”. I didn’t want to believe that the trout would ignore all those beautiful mayflies.
But they did just that. The rest of this story is fairly boring. We finally switched to chironomid tactics, dialed in the pattern and depths, and caught fish after fish until we had to get back to town. Fooled, but not totally foiled, we still had a great time, shared some good laughs, and reminded ourselves of the Callibaetis and chironomid trap. Maybe we will actually remember it next time, or at least acknowledge it as we are tying on our Callibaetis imitations.
Take Care and Fish On,
PS – Today’s post is also appearing at Sexyloops.com
From time to time my daily schedule takes me along the river. I don’t necessarily get to pick what time of day I’m driving past, or what the weather will be like when I’m there, so fishing conditions aren’t always optimal. But I do always try to stop at a few turnouts along the way to see if there are any fish rising.
So it was one fine day last summer. Mid afternoon, high and bright sun, little-to-no wind. An absolute glorious day in Montana. One of those days where a person can feel content just sitting on the river bank starting at the water and the sky, watching the fluffy white clouds, or their reflections, drift past. The morning hatch was long gone, the water’s surface glassy and still, and the fish clearly back down looking for drifting nymphs. First turnout – nothing. Second turnout – nothing. Third turnout – nothing. After about 5 minutes surveying the river at each spot, I was about to be on my merry way, but a subtle bulge and rings spreading on the surface well downstream caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks.
I’ve fallen for this trap before: gearing up to fish after seeing a single rise, only to have it turn out to be another “one-and-done” riser. So I just stood there and waited. Another rise. And another. Not in rapid succession, but enough to convince me to string up the rod. Besides, I could tell it was a good fish, in a very challenging situation. Well worth the effort.
Fishing is all about process. I knew from experience that there was a very good chance that I would spook this fish before ever making a cast, so I decided to take my time with the approach, and soak up the simple joy that is watching a good fish rise on a sunny afternoon. I took the long way down the bank, making sure to steer clear of the poison ivy and the electric fence that keeps the cows out of the river. I found a good approach angle with a nice clear back cast. A fat muskrat swam down to investigate what I was up to, and my fish stopped rising. So I waited.
While I waited, I lengthened my leader and added a long piece of tippet. The only bugs on the water were the dregs of the morning hatch and spinner fall. My gut told me to go with “trusty rusty”. A rusty spinner… when you don’t know what they are eating, or when all else fails.
The fish came up again. Closer this time. In the high sun and clear water I could clearly see the entire fish, hovering a foot under the surface in the slow, gin-clear flow. Oh, man. Tricky. Exciting. I had a feeling this was going to be one cast for the championship. There would be only two possible grades on this test – either A+ or F. Another rise in full view and I slowly pulled line off my reel.
I was feeling good as I made that first cast, until an unexpected gust of breeze came out of nowhere. Oh, no! The leader landed in a heap in the floating vegetation that divided me from the fish. The cast was so bad that the fish didn’t even know it had been attempted! Ha! I retrieved the fly, cleaned the algae from the hook, regained my composure, and went for it again.
The fly landed with a light plop about 5 feet upstream of the fish. Right on line. It floated two feet and then fell through the surface tension, out of sight to me, but not the trout. The fish pushed forward and up in a subtle, smooth, and confident stroke, and ate the fly. Fish on!
A short run and a jump and the fly pulled free. Silence and stillness reclaimed the river. I looked at my watch to discover that forty-five minutes had past since I saw the first rise. Two casts would be plenty for today. I reeled up and drove home, grinning to myself the whole way.
NOTE: Matt Klara is a good friend and our Social Media guy here at Big Sky Anglers. He was kind enough to share this piece, which was originally drafted for his Front Page post on sexyloops.com.