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Putting the Hex on 'Em!

Posted on June 21, 2012 at 1:21 PM Comments comments ()
Photo by Jenn FormanLike a lot of other fly anglers, there are very few hatches that I will specifically target when it comes to brook trout.  As a matter of fact, to be exact, there is only one.
In Maine "The Hatch" is refered to as the Green Drake hatch and has been for probably as long as anyone can remember.  But with more people educated today in bug taxonimy it is now refered to more and more by what it actually is. 
So then, what is it, actually?
Photo by Jenn Forman
First off, let me put out a disclaimer here, I am by no means a trained entomologist.  I do have more than a casual passing interest in it but I'm not an expert and may very well be talking out my ass.  Take this post for what it is, a friendly discussion amongst anglers-not a scientific disertation meant to be a reference publication.
There are actually two mayflies that sort of morph together into this hatch depending upon the individual water.  The first and larger fly is the Hexagenia Limbata or Hex.  The second is Ephemera Guttulata or the Eastern Green Drake.  To me they are very distinct in appearance, probably less so to the fish and the average angler.  But any way you dice it, the end result is that they're honking big bugs that have the ability to ring the dinner bell and bring up honking big fish.
See?  That's almost an inch and a half long mayfly!  That's the brook trout version of a foot long Coney hot dog!
Photo by David Quenneville
Now that we've established that, let's talk about the differences in a down to earth manner so that the average person can figure out just what it is they're encountering on the water. 
First off, the Hexagenia is larger, overall has a more pale yellow coloration with brown markings along the top of the abdomen, and sports two tails.  I find more Hexes hatching than Green Drakes on the waters I have fished and believe they are the majority of what Maine anglers encounter.
            Photo by David Quenneville
Photo by Jason Penney
The Green Drake dun has darker veins/mottling on a bright yellowish-green/chartreuse colored wing that really pops when you see it.  It also has three distinctively dark tails instead of the Hexagenia's two.
            Photo by Climingo
Photo by Carpatica Fly
Photographer Unknown
The Hex is generally the size of a #4 to #8 hook depending upon the model(I pretty much default to a #6), the Green Drake on a #8 or #10.
The flush floating emerger style dries always produce better for me such as Kenealy's Hex Emerger (my personal fav), Quigley's Hex Cripple, Kennebago Emerger, or a Snowshoe Emerger.  I also fish older flies with results like a large White Miller or Deren's Fox just because I can.  Having fun is what it's all about, right?  There are also tons of great parachute and paradrake style Hex flies I know others do exceptionally well with.  And if I could get ahold of Tim Obrey and get him to give up the ghost on his Sexy Hexy pattern I would be very happy indeed!  I don't know if it's a winning fly but the name alone sure is!
And let's not forget all of those old standard flies that have produced so well over the years like the standard or yellow Hornberg and large Wulffs (White, Grizzly, or Green Drake)
The Hex spinner looks a lot like the dun but with clear wings.
Photo by Charles Meck
The Green Drake is a different story altogether.  The Green Drake spinner is known as a Coffin Fly due to it's ghostly white appearance and looks a lot different than the dun. 
Photo by James Marsh
Spinners don't really offer a spinner fall opportunity due to the fact that it occurs very late at night long after most of us are in bed.  I don't bother to carry spinner patterns as I've never really done much with a Coffin Fly and have never used a Hex spinner.  There are plenty of great Coffin Fly patterns like the Dette Coffin Fly if you're interested in giving it a shot.
I have had some luck fishing a large #6 or #8 Green Drake wet early in the day after the previous nights hatch has left the remnants of the carnage floating around.  I initially figured that although I never saw rises to the leftovers there were plenty that were sunken and being snatched up down below.  Although it's never been a sure-fire fly/tactic and I certainly can't prove it I have taken enough fish this way that I believe it is in fact happening.  Either way It has given me another option to continue fishing the hatch and those enormously fun giant flies.
Photo by Jason Neuswanger
The nymphs are obviously most active in the afternoon leading up to the hatch but I'll let you in on a little secret.  I have autopsied enough harvested fish in May with Drake nymphs in them that the light bulb finally came on.  They may not be all over the place, but there are enough available year round that they're a food source of opportunity the fish will not disregard if you happen to have them on the end of your line.  Just like a Dragonfly nymph.  Try them in May or June if the water you're on has a population and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
For nymph patterns I like the Silvey's Hex or Pat's Hex nymphs.  Other popular patterns are Alvin Theriault's Maine standard the Maple Syrup(this is probably the #1 fly in Maine), Great Woolly, Burke's Hex, Yellow Wiggle, or any number of outstanding flies.  They all work and if you google them you will be swamped with options to try.  If it's big, is yellow or tan and has some movement, you're probably golden. 
Just don't ask me to tie you up any Silvey's Hex nymphs, I love 'em but they suck to tie and take way too long!  You can purchase them here, though:
My most consistant action is using nymphs on sinking lines but like anyone else, once they start to pop I'm casting dries.  It's just way too much fun to resist! 
I use 3x tippet for the most part to minimize line twist, helicoptering, and break-offs which will then require me to fumble around in the semi-dark cursing while I tie on another fly.  Not a recipe for success.  Sometimes 4x if I think the fish are fussy but I don't like it in this situation and in the low light the fish don't seem to be turned off.
So, now that you know a little bit more about the hatch and the mayflies, which ones are you fishing over?  Whatever your flavor, it's going to be fun! 
Now go gear up!