Back in the 1970s, old-timers occasionally told me that until the Ford and Carter years, Maine open-water fishing pretty much ran from ice-out to July Fourth weekend.

That unofficial spring and early summer season had continued from the Civil War through three-quarters of the 20th century until an explosion of fly-fishing entomology books began pushing the joys of hitting blue-winged-olive (BWO), Hexagenia and Isonychia hatches in mid- to late summer. That started fly rodders thinking about fishing in the heat.

Average fly rodders turned their attention to these mayflies, and a tradition developed, particularly with the ubiquitous BWOs, a morning or afternoon emerger that pops to the surface at around 10 a.m. or 2 p.m., depending on genera and species.

Before the entomology books, folks often missed seeing BWOs. In the heat of summer, folks fished at dawn and evening and missed these consistent, daily morning and afternoon emergences in rivers, streams and large brooks. It took those books and word of mouth to get fly rodders on the water at mid-morning and mid-afternoon, looking for the hatches.

About 12 years ago, Jolie, my intrepid companion, and I were heading to a central Maine river to fish a BWO hatch that kicked off every morning at around 10 a.m., give or take five or six minutes either way. This 10-week-plus hatch had attracted me to this river since about 1975.

We stopped for breakfast at Nelson’s Restaurant in Windsor, where I casually mentioned to the waitress that we were hitting a 10 o’clock hatch on a river. Because of that, we needed a quick breakfast.

My comment made her look at me as weird, but it intrigued local male customers that someone could time a fishing day around a hatch. I’d been watching the BWOs there for 30 years, though. Its consistency proved business as usual. The incident highlighted a fact. Hitting hatches at the right time basically takes a little observation.

From mid-July through the fall, BWOs hatch prolifically in Maine rivers and streams, a mayfly that gets its name from two characteristics:

The “blue” refers to the bluish-gray wings (and tails and legs).

“Olive” describes the color of the abdomen and thorax.

The secret to success begins with a nymph, emerger or dry fly that matches the natural in size, color and silhouette. My June 25 column covered this topic in full.

Mayflies fall into four categories, crawlers, clingers, burrowers and swimmers. Many of the BWOs fall into the swimmer group, creating a minor problem for Maine fly rodders.

Modern Mainers such as myself tend to “dead-drift” nymph imitations. We just let nymphs float naturally in the current, a great presentation for the ubiquitous clinger and crawler hatches that drift naturally with the flow. For swimmers, though, this tactic does not work.

Success with swimmers starts with casting quartering across and downstream and retrieving the fly on a tight line, making the fly look as if it is swimming along in a darting motion. That rings the dinner bell for sure.

Once folks get the knack of how to swim a tiny nymph realistically (often a Pheasant Tail to imitate the typically dark-colored larva), they can start catching fish during the hour before the hatch because they are imitating swimming nymphs moving into position to hatch.

Once the hatch starts, the blue-winged olive to match often requires a pattern on a size 18 to 24 hook, and on my home water, a size 24 hook — the size of a mosquito — works for the hatch. Fishing such a tiny fly for brown trout that sometimes measure 20 inches is a huge challenge, endearing this hatch to me.

The idea begins with standing downstream, casting upstream and dropping the fly above the rise ring in such a manner that the leader doesn’t float over the fish.

With such a small fly, fly rodders must use a delicate technique to set the hook. When the trout rises, they must raise the rod and tighten the line in a special manner. They pretend that they have hooked a cobweb and must set the hook without breaking the tiny web of silk.

The best of fly rodders still miss strikes because even a small trout has a huge mouth in comparison to a mosquito-sized fly. The result of this game is high excitement — memories that last through a long Maine winter.

If you have never fished it, I guarantee you’ll thank me for suggesting you begin should we ever meet.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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