Callibaetis and Chironomids – The Trap

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,

Matt

PS – Today’s post is also appearing at Sexyloops.com

Two Casts

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.