Occasionally in life, when serious fly rodders match hatches, they run into the odd aquatic insect, and to me, “odd” describes an emergence that I have never noticed on a particular river or pond before nor since. At my age, this phenomenon has occurred enough to leave indelible memories.

In the mid-1970s, three evenings in a row offered an example: A size 18 mayfly with a slender brown body and mahogany-colored wings, legs and tail was drifting on the meniscus. I had never seen the species before, but browns and brookies rose to it with reckless abandon.

My fly boxes had no brown-bodied dry flies with dark-brown legs, wings and tail, but a size 18 Red Quill looked like an OK match. However, that pattern failed and left me fish-less by dark, so that night I tied the proper-sized dry fly with an ultra-slim, fur-dubbed brown body, dark, red-game-cock hackle tips for the wings, the same feathers for hackle, and barbules from those feathers for the tail. The next evening, though, I went fishless again.

Undaunted, I drove home in the dark, and during the trip conceived another fly to match the little mayfly – a size 18 dry-fly Variant with a brown-thread body, dark, red-game-cock hackle and red-game-cock barbules for the tail. The next evening, this pattern imitated the hatch to perfection – teaching two lifetime lessons for a young fly fisher.

The experience polished my understanding of how to match a hatch when newly emerging duns float on the surface. Fly rodders must get the size, color and silhouette close enough to suggest the natural insect and present it with a drag-free float.

Sometimes, mayflies have such slender bodies that a stripped quill from a hackle feather – a la the Red Quill dressing – makes the body too fat. The solution? A body constructed of simple tying thread.

This brown mayfly hatch occurred on my home river, but I have never seen it again. Weather conditions – or who knows what – proved perfect for that one short period that coincided with my three visits. In that brief, serendipitous time, the insect reinforced a hatch-matching lesson – big time.

One mid-September 12 years ago, one of those odd mayfly hatches began on the Shawmut section of the Kennebec on shallow gravel bars below White Rock. This insect species was new to me, and I had fished the bars for eight Septembers.

(A size 14 Quill Gordon of all things imitated the bug perfectly. I say “of all things” because back in the early 1890s, Theodore Gordon invented it to match an early spring mayfly – not a fall insect.)

The hatch lasted a week and produced great afternoon action, but one of those days cemented the memory. While I was taking trout after trout, three fly fishers below me went fishless. One asked, “What fly was ya’ usin’?”

I thought of lying but admitted catching the trout on a size 14 Quill Gordon. The man “corrected” me and said blue-winged olives (BWOs) – not Quill Gordons – were hatching. He then added Quill Gordons hatched in spring.

BWO spinners filled the air that afternoon, but spinners didn’t sit on water where fish could catch them. They stay airborne during this part of the breeding cycle. However, the newly hatched Quill Gordon duns littered the surface, and Shawmut browns and rainbows took advantage of the bounty.

I’m a wicked smart aleck and wish I had chosen that moment for my caustic wit. Another day, I might have said I caught it on a Missourian Spook.

Common hatches elsewhere can be odd to a particular water. One June during my college years, my home river produced a single hatch of Anthopotamus distinctus – often called golden drakes or cream variants. The emergence was on a silt-bottomed stretch on the inside of a long, gently curving glide, where the burrowing species needed the silt for burrowing.

This beautiful cream mayfly often has a hint of yellow that makes the cream look as if a neon light glows beneath the exoskeleton. That evening, the fishing gods smiled, producing brook trout after brook trout. I never saw that hatch again on that river until a dozen years ago, and the second hatch occurred in the same place.

This cream variant hatch produces prolifically in silt-bottomed ponds in northern Maine, and folks often call it hexes or green drakes. Green drakes prove scarce in Maine, but hexes (another burrower) inhabit myriad silt-bottomed ponds in the North Country.

The odd hatches we meet in life produce memories by virtue of their oddity, and really, those special events create proverbial frosting on the fly-fishing cake that we partake of on the journey while searching for the perfect fishing destination.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be contacted at:

[email protected]