Scratch the hatch


Shane Durrance

When bass are gorging themselves on a certain critter, sometimes it's best to throw something that provides a shock to their feeding systems.

When the bass are gorging themselves on a certain critter, sometimes it’s best to throw something that provides a shock to their feeding systems

For anglers, a hatch is a significant influx of a large quantity of a particular prey item in or around a body of water over a relatively short period of time. Hatches, often part of an aquatic insect life cycle, can be as memorable as actually catching fish. Charles Meck, for example, recalled in Meeting & Fishing the Hatches, “I first met Paraleptophlebia strigula [mayfly] in Big Fishing Creek in mid-June several years ago.” 

And hatches don’t just affect Latin-speaking trout fly fishermen. Bass anglers have been frustrated by hatches in tournaments that dramatically influenced the smallmouth and largemouth bass bite. Remember the Hex issues of the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series Mississippi River Rumble in La Crosse, Wis.? I still recall a mayfly hatch on a small lake in Oklahoma over 30 years ago that led to a thrilling evening of catching dozens of crappie on a fly rod. And then there was a hatch in eastern Colorado that was so thick it temporarily shut down I-70 when drivers learned the hard way not to hit the wipers.

For many years, fishermen struggled to write about these prey availability events, using feeble phrases such as “imitate the hatch” and “emulate the hatch.” Then in 1955, Ernest Schwiebert gained credit for coining the phrase “match the hatch” with his book Matching the Hatch — A Practical Guide to Imitation of Insects Found on Eastern and Western Trout Waters. Thanks to Mr. Schwiebert’s clever rhyming skills, that saying is now part of every fisherman’s vocabulary. Good luck finding a fly fishing magazine void of that phrase. Or any fishing magazine, for that matter. 

The classic concept is simple: Offer fish something they are eating anyway. But, how do we figure out what fish actually are eating? Fisheries scientists may use a little stomach pump for that data. Avid fly fishermen may wade in a stream with a plankton net, roll over rocks and capture aquatic insects. But most anglers just learn to be observant. Are bass busting schools of shad near the surface? Are there remnants of crawfish coughed up in the livewell? Well, there you go.

“Match the hatch” works … except for times when it doesn’t. Sometimes fish are so focused on feeding on a specific item that it can be difficult to find an exact equal in the tacklebox and our offerings may be frustratingly ignored. Trout are notoriously myopic during hatches, and perhaps experiences with other species also apply when we find bass failing to acknowledge our seemingly exact replicas during a hatch.

When all else fails, here are four ways to scratch the hatch.