Maine Sportsman VT Column, June 2022
Updated: Aug 19
“Casting a Spell”
The instant you hook a fish, there is connection that feels thunderous- shockwaves that
spread through the line, vibrate along the rod, and land in the body. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is a tasty panfish, a good bass, or a memorable trout. Once you’ve felt it, you want to feel it again and again. Even more exciting is a fish caught on the surface; a top water lure for pike, a jitterbug for bass, or a dry fly. In that moment, the spell is cast and the angler doing the hooking is hooked. I can still feel the lightning bolt when I think back to the first rainbow I caught that was feeding on hex (the famous mayfly, Hexegenia Limbata).
The hex hatch is a rare and wonderful thing that occurs from mid to late June into early
July in some of Vermont’s waters. These mayflies require clean, slow moving or still water
with a muddy or sandy bottom to burrow in, where they live in their nymphal stage for up to
two years before emerging. The nymphs swim to the surface to hatch, where they are vulnerable to fish that are feeding on these massive one-inch chunks of protein that have to dry their wings before taking off for the trees. The mayflies change to their final form, known to anglers as a spinner, and mate over the water, usually around sunset. The female will land on the water to
A hex on the water
deposit an average of 4,000 eggs that drift to the bottom; the hex lifecycle is then complete.
Fishing the Hex Hatch
The hex hatch, if you luck into it, is exciting to fish for a couple of reasons. The first is
that there are usually bugs everywhere and they aren’t that hard to match. In my opinion,
getting the size right is key, with color and shape coming in after that. Second, fish of all types key in on this hatch. Normally reclusive deep-water-feeding browns will key in on these bugs on the surface, rainbows and brookies go crazy, as do bass. Lastly, the most magical aspect for me is that it feels like hunting for fish. Because there are bugs everywhere, these fish will often cruise and grab a few at a time. These bugs hatch on a pond or slow section of a river, so drifts aren’t too tough. The patient angler will watch for this, see a fish grab a fly or two so the direction is known, then hopefully make an accurate cast to lay out the fly in the path of the fish and await the strike, I’ve yanked more size 8 flies out of the mouths of hungry trout than I care to recall.
Thankfully, I’ve learned to calm down just a bit. The anticipation of the fish coming to your fly makes two seconds feel like a half hour. Hex seem to hatch on calm nights and that often means the flycaster can see the trout’s snout come out of the water and take the offering. My tendency was to make an aggressive hook set, but now a simple tightening of the line and lift of the rod tip is sufficient. Then the surge comes. If it is a good brown, the first move is down and the fight is on. Rainbows seem to take to the air more. In either case, I hope my clinch knots are good and that my 3x tapered leader holds while I try to get the fish in my net!
Folks that know the when and where of a hex hatch are pretty tight-lipped about it. My
uncle claims to have removed me from his will for taking one fella with me, but I might be back in there after a great trip the two of us took after brookies and salmon. I’m in no hurry to find out my status in his will since I love to fish and hunt with guy. In any case, without burning spots, any number of ponds in Vermont have hex hatches. Some of the bigger lakes do as well, but these hatches might be spotty in terms of location on the body of water. Same goes for rivers like the Lamoille and Winooski; the water needs to be relatively still with the right bottom. Lake Eligo and Lake Caspian are well known for their hex hatches. Noyes Pond in Groton State Forest is another bet; for that you’ll need to schedule a trip and rent a row boat through VT State Parks at Seyon Lodge ( https://vtstateparks.com/seyon.html for more info) as they are the sole boats allowed on this flyfishing-only, native brook trout pond.
That magical first rainbow during the hex hatch, the one that cast a spell that has me
fishing well past my bedtime for weeks in a row, showing up at work with my waders on, with
black circles under my eyes that match my coffee? I showed up late one June evening and stood on shore with a fly tied on. Those fat yellow bugs were fluttering on the surface and I saw one disappear into the maw of a fish. Then another was slurped down by the same fish. In range, I made a decent cast out ahead and waited while the world spun round, then managed to stay calm as the trout took my fly. I played the fish and managed to net it while my heart exploded and my arm caught fire; I haven’t been the same since.
A rainbow caught from shore during the hex hatch
Reprinted with permission, The Maine Sportsman