June is a great month for many people and for many reasons. As a kid, the warm classrooms had you eagerly waiting for that final school bell to ring marking the end of what seemed like an endless school year and opening the doors to the awaiting summer adventures your friends and you have planned. A new chapter of life begins for a few after they find themselves graduating and moving on to the next of many more challenges in their lives. June weekends find families taking off for their lake cottages or hitting the beaches for some sun and barbeque. June starts to show some of Michigan’s first harvests of the season such as the first cut of hay, rhubarb, blackberries, and my favorite strawberries. The month of June brings a special time for the fly angler both novice and veteran here in Northern Michigan, marking the true beginning of the night time fishing one can enjoy on the fly rod on Michigan’s rivers and lakes.
Each sunset in June, a different type of insect emerges from the swampy, muddy bayous of our water ways that most rarely see or pay any attention to. These large yellow bugs grow over an inch in length with two long hair like tails, yet they lack a mouth to eat! The Hexagenia Limbata is the largest of the Michigan mayflies and are viewed as steak dinners to the Brown Trout that wait each night to feast upon them. Their pre copulating flight is a spectacle in some areas like few have seen. Millions of these bugs gather over the river in search of others to mate with to finish off their short lived journey of life. While in flight, the “tube” of hexes can be as wide as the river and sometimes 10 feet or more from top to bottom. The multitude of the tiny beating wings can bring sound to a silent night and even create a breeze even while there is no wind to speak of. After a few minutes of this super flight, females one by one start to drop to the water’s surface to drop their egg sacks so that one day the next generation of hexes can repeat the process. Exhausted males start falling to the surface as well creating a smorgasbord of giant bugs blanketing the river.
This is the moment that the mid-west fly angler has been waiting for. For some, this journey has started long before June was even on their calendar. Some fish the hex hatch exclusively and plan all year long to once again walk and wade to their favorite “secret” spots and try and tangle with their old and wise adversaries dimpling the surface in the river in front of them. When darkness falls, so do the bugs making all the sweating and swatting of mosquitos all worth the wait! As you are making your final preparations for the night you hear the sound of what sounds like a toilet flushing across the way, and the smile spreads across your face as you realize your opponent has survived yet another year and is foolishly feeding in your crosshairs. Will this be the night you catch that dinosaur of a trout on a dry fly or will that wise old fish find his favorite log to bust you off on yet again? It’s this intimate setting that draws an angler back each night in June, year after year.
How does anyone fly fish in the dark you wonder? Well it’s really not as hard as it may seem. First of all, a northern Michigan night never truly gets that dark unless of course it’s a cloudy or moonless night. The forever long and late sunsets of June offer a little backlight glow for making out what is what near the river. Fishing around the full moon provides a natural night light so anglers do not have to be scared of the monsters hiding in the bushes across from them. June’s Full “Strawberry” Moon offers optimal timing for fishing in the dark as the moon is high in the sky in the midst of the darkest part of night. This year’s Strawberry Moon is rare in that it occurs on a Friday the 13th! What a great reason to get out and get “hexed” this coming Friday. Headlamps, though I rarely turn mine on to avoid being blinded the rest of the night, also help with getting around safely, tying knots, or even pulling your fly out of the surrounding trees and grass (it happens to everyone). There are also glow in the dark fly lines that help you to gauge where your cast is going or not going in most cases! Some good tips on having a successful night are to know where you are going, figure out your “arena” before the fun begins, and maybe even take a practice cast or two well before dark to see how everything works. Oh, and don’t forget your bug repellent! If you are in the right spot to see an abundance of hexes, the mosquitos should try to carry you away (especially this year) just before Hex thirty on the old watch. While wading, sitting still, long sleeves, and maybe even a net for your head help protect from the bugs. When I am in the boat, I like to use a Thermacell to help provide a bug shield around the boat and keep things comfortable for those that are with me.
For something new or old, get out the next couple of weeks and enjoy one of the biggest hatches Northern Michigan has to offer. For more information on Michigan’s Hex Hatch or other night time river fun, check out www.flyfishingmichiganrivers.com or like Fly Fishing Michigan Rivers on Facebook, Google Plus, or twitter. Have a safe and Happy Father’s Day Weekend and best of luck to all the Hex anglers out there!