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Matching the Hatch: A Guide to 'Cracking' the Mystery
of the Mataura River
the Hatch: A Guide to 'Cracking' the Mystery of the Mataura River
is written by Chris Dore, a Queenstown based fly fishing guide
You can contact Chris on mobile 027 693 3027
or email email@example.com
They say that 10% of anglers catch 90% of the
fish. This is never truer than when fishing the Mataura around Gore.
Many anglers have heard of ‘match the
hatch’ fly fishing, but yet relatively few have really experienced
this to any extent. On many waters trout can be ‘brought up’
to a ‘general terrestrial’ or something roughly similar
in appearance to the natural, or maybe cajoled into accepting a
‘standard’ size 12 nymph.
To be regularly successful upon the Mataura
River, one must not only understand the fodder on which the
trout feeds, but how to effectively imitate the different stages
and present them flawlessly to well educated, selective trout.
There is a saying among the rivers locals that
‘when the trout are not rising, nymph them in the ripples’,
and this is just what we do. In-between hatches, when no surface
activity is apparent, indicator nymphing among the Mataura’s
fertile ripples can be highly rewarding.
When nymphing, I prefer to use two nymphs, separated by 10 –
12 inches of trace material, tied directly off the bend of the top
fly. I set my indicator, normally of a yarn type material, between
two to four feet above my top nymph, depending on water depth, and
current velocity. Any deeper than this and I feel I have lost contact
with my flies, as strike detection comes with some delay.
I find most nymphs will work on the Mataura,
as long as they are of the correct size, and of a slim, dark construction.
Hares Ear, Pheasant
and Copper, any of the above will take fish.
My ‘Mataura Box’ is filled with various
in sizes 14 through 20. I weight the 14’s and 16’s with
standard, brass beads but use tungsten on the little 18’s
for greater depth. I carry unweighted patterns in sizes 18 and 20
for use as a more aturally drifting point fly, and for use when
‘sight fishing’ to trout in the shallows, or up near
My standard ‘go to’ set up in normal
river conditions consists of a size 16 beaded nymph as my top fly
used in conjunction with a smaller, unweighted 18 drifting freely
on the point. In general I prefer to use black beads, to avoid unnecessarily
spooking shy fish, but will employ a gold beaded, or ‘flashback’
nymph on overcast days, or when the river sports some color. This
combination may increase, or decrease in size as conditions dictate.
In swollen, or discolored water I might use a pair of size 14’s,
while in low, autumn flows I may employ a pair of 18’s, or
Always start a little below the bottom of the
ripple and slowly work your way into it, casting on an angle upstream.
You’ll be surprised at how many fish ‘cruise’
the slower water near the base of the ripple, picking up invertebrate
dispersed by the flow. Watch your indicator closely, and strike
at any unnatural movement, bumps, minute changes of direction and
brief hesitations… Not always will your yarn ‘take a
Concentrate on the seams, or ‘edge-water’,
where fast water meets slow, and do not disregard the extreme shallow
water adjacent to your bank, especially mid afternoon when large
numbers of nymphs enter the ‘drift’ before emerging.
A sure sign of an imminent hatch is when the fish move into these
shallows, and often you will see an increased number of nymphs collecting
along the slack, edge water.
Fish through the ripples slowly, covering any
likely pockets, or seams with patience.
The trout will often not see your nymph on its
first pass, or even your second, due to the large amount of food
already in the drift.
Many anglers work through these ripples way
too fast, anxious to cover ground. Little do they realize that a
good ripple can be fished through time and time again, as many trout
are passed by, and fresh fish move up from the pool below. Look
for the more stable ripples offering both deep ruts and shallow
edges, those which run into the deeper, more established pools.
The pool provides cover and shelter to the trout, whilst the ripple
above provides the food supply. To find a good ripple is to locate
a goldmine, and often a highly productive day can be had by fishing
just one ripple and the adjoining pool alone. Slow down and watch
your catch rate increase!
As the rise commences, be careful not to ‘rush
in’. By doing so you risk putting down the early risers, and
pushing them outside of a comfortable casting distance. Instead,
sit and observe as more trout begin to rise, and move out towards
It is wise to target these ‘edge feeders’
away from the main pod, which usually begin feeding out some distance
from the bank. The more times a trout rises the more confidently
he feeds, and covering a fish before he loses his wares usually
results in him going off the feed. Pick one consistent riser and
cover him repeatedly.
When surrounded by rising fish it is easy to
attempt to cover each one as they surface, but this often proves
counter – productive. You risk putting down more fish than
you will inevitably deceive.
Is your targeted fish a ‘rhythm riser’,
or does he feed sporadically? If he is the former then you can pick
when he is about to surface and place your fly accordingly. If he
is the latter, then you can but cover the water surrounding his
position systematically and hope for the best. Whilst many anglers
will swear that a direct upstream presentation is imperative when
fishing out a hatch I disagree.
By casting directly upstream to a fish, you
will inevitably be landing your tippet, and part of your leader
across the trout’s window. The finer tippet may transparent,
but as your leader tapers, the line shadow increases, and Mataura
browns are sensitive to this. Additionally, any ‘heavy’
presentations are likely to slap the water within close proximity
of the fish, an action sure to put down your prey. Instead, I aim
to position myself directly opposite the fish and cast across to
him wherever I can.
However, this is often not possible without the
fish seeing you, so casting at an angle from the downstream quarter
is the solution for an unobtrusive presentation. In doing this,
your line, and leader will land well to the side of the fish, and
as it drifts down the current your fly will be the first thing the
trout will see. If you are casting across-stream you can manipulate
your drift so that the fly is the first object to enter the fish’s
window. An added bonus of this casting position is for those who
have trouble with casting accuracy. By presenting your fly further
upstream and overshooting your cast, a ‘tug’ on the
fly line will drag your fly across the surface, pulling your enticement
into the correct feed lane.
Be careful not to perform this ‘cheat’
too close to the fish, however, as an unnatural drift is sure to
alarm him. When the hatch is heavy the trout will hold closer to
the surface, so as to feed efficiently while expending minimal energy.
An inverted ‘V’ wake will often give away the trout’s
presence when sitting high in the water column. When at the surface
the trout’s ‘window of vision’ is much smaller
than it is when sitting deep. This allows the angler to regularly
approach to within a couple of rod lengths of his prey, but his
presentation must now be delicate, and the fly must travel exactly
down the trout’s preferred feed lane. It is important to remember
not to cast to the rise itself. This is where the trout took the
natural, not where he was sitting when he first saw it. A trout
will often drift downstream some distance with the natural, scrutinizing
his target before accepting it.
With this in mind, it is imperative to present
your artificial well upstream of the rise form. Observe the rise
form, for this will dictate on which stage of the hatch the trout
are taking. Trout will often ‘lock on’ to a particular
phase of the mayfly life cycle, and this is where ‘matching
the hatch’ becomes essential to success.
A ‘head rise’, where the nose protrudes
above the surface indicates a dun has been taken. This will often
be accompanied with an audible ‘plop’ type of sound,
as the fish takes in an amount of air with the insect. A porpoising
‘head and tail’ rise signifies the trout are taking
emergers, or nymphs in, or just below the surface film. At this
point, the trout is likely to ignore any high floating, dry - fly
A ‘sip’ indicates a leisurely rise
to a spent spinner. This is often accompanied by the subtle ‘kissing’
sound of a fish gently sucking in a prey incapable of escape. It
is important to recognize each type of rise form, for each indicates
a different stage of the hatch.
When duns are hatching, there may also be spinners
upon the water, and if the aforementioned ‘sipping’
behavior is observed, any presentation with a dun imitation will
be futile. If the trout are porpouising, then an emerger pattern
riding low in the surface film is called for, as the trout will
ignore anything else. This is the key ‘match the hatch’
stage upon the Mataura, and a sound understanding of the emerging
dun is what keeps the successful ‘10%’ of anglers ahead
of the rest.
In recent years it has become recognized that
trout ‘locked on’ and rising to duns upon the surface
will readily accept an emerger pattern. However, the reverse is
not true. A trout feeding within the surface on emergers, or ‘cripples’,
will feed solely upon this phase, and will unduly shun any ‘traditional
Enter the ‘selective trout’ theory…
As mentioned, when trout are feeding upon the
emerging dun they can become fixated with this phase of the hatch
alone. Your pattern must not only resemble the natural in size,
shape and color, but most importantly, its position in the water.
The emerger is the
key to matching the hatch upon the Mataura, a time when the trout
can be seen rising, but not taking cleanly off the top. This often
creates confusion among anglers, who persevere with their traditionally
Favorites,' and 'Blue
Dun' patterns with minimal success.
The emerger is not quite a nymph, not yet an
emerger (sounds like a pop song), and thus a specialist imitation
is required to fill the void left by the more traditional patterns
of nymph, and dry fly variety. Most dry flies available today imitate
the adult dun. Tied to ride high upon the surface, they lack what
I believe is the key trigger for selective trout - the sunken abdomen.
Even those tied 'parachute style' fail to correctly
imitate this I feel, for whilst they permit the body to hold flush
in the surface film, the lower abdomen does not hang invitingly
below, on par with the natural. Now many may think that this is
taking things too far, but allow me to assure you, such inane details
can, and will make all the difference upon the Mataura and many
other waters in fact.
Bob Quigley, creator of the popular 'Quigley’s
Cripple' emerger wrote "On many occasions, traditional types
of patterns will suffice, but during blanket hatches—especially
on hard-fished waters—I've found fish that want neither nymph
nor dun. They want both. A nymph can swim away, and a dun can fly
away, but trout have learned that a dun caught trying to emerge
from its nymphal shuck can do neither." This could easily have
been written of the Mataura, and not having a good emerger pattern
in ones fly box is where many anglers fail.
So what makes an efficient emerger pattern?
Bob Wyatt in his book Trout Hunting claims "The significant
visual aspects in these forms - size, silhouette, posture and behaviour
- are all primary triggers to the trout’s predatory response.
It is worth working out a strategy based on a reliable set of designs
that fit the trout’s flexible and inclusive prey image and
which incorporates one or more primary triggers." Working on
this theory, Bob then designed the Deer Hair Emerger (DHE).Tied
to be simplistic and more durable than the Klinkheimer series and
other parachute ties, the DHE incorporates an erect wing, and hanging
abdomen, two of the aforementioned 'triggers'.
Tied on a curved, emerger style hook (kamisan
B-100) Bob uses an olive / brown mix of seal and hare fur for the
abdomen, fine deer hair for the erect wing, and spiky hares fur
for the thorax. Tying details and images can be found on the FlyTiers
page at www.danica.com/flytier.
Floatant is applied only to the wing and thorax to ensure the lower
abdomen hangs subsurface.
On smaller patterns (18 - 22) Bob says he uses
snowshoe, a finer fur which is easier to manoeuvre on the smaller
patterns. I have been experimenting with the hollow fibres from
rabbit’s foot, and chamois fur, and have found both of these
to provide adequate floating properties.
I have been using this pattern a lot over the
past season, favouring the more buoyant properties of the deer hair
over my old faithful, the CDC Emerger. Its more durable properties
are also a desirable attribute, and as a guide, is something I require
in all my flies. Whilst CDC patterns are often referred to as 'once
and aways' (one fish and they are gunged up and out of action for
the remainder of the day), the DHE can be used on a succession of
fish without requiring replacement.
With its hollow fibres and resulting built in
'air pockets', deer hair seems to float longer than CDC and is easier
to rejuvenate when waterlogged. A few false casts and your fly is
again ready for a new drift. The only modification I have made to
Bobs original tie is with the addition of a few strands of Zlon,
tied in at the tail to suggest the nymphal shuck. The emerger should
be fished in the same manner as a traditional dry fly - cast upstream
and across at your target, and allowed to dead drift. Whilst the
natural may be struggling in the meniscus, these movements are minimal,
and I have not found this necessary to imitate.
At times however, you may be required to move
the fly momentarily to catch the fishes' attention, as it drifts
amongst a myriad of naturals. A single twitch is all that is required.
Not all emerging mayflies make it through the surface. Due to defects
or lack of vigour, many will expire while at the surface, and will
remain available long after the hatch has tapered off. These will
drift at the mercy of the currents and congregate in backwaters,
eddies, and other slack water locations. Using a combination of
the knowledge of such places, and a good emerger pattern, it is
possible to rise fish long after the initial surface activity has
In Norman Marsh’s book Trout Stream
Insects of New Zealand (Millwood press, 1983), he aptly describes
the appearance of the spinner in one word…’Brilliant’.
Spinners are notably slimmer and more elegant
than duns. In their final stages, Deleatidium spinners are a mahogany
– red in color with amber, or ginger colored legs and cerci.
They have clear, glassy wings, which reflect light when upon the
water, giving off a ‘shiny’ appearance. Again, the differences
between the spinners of the two featured species are minimal, and
both can be effectively imitated with the one pattern. At times
of little wind, male spinners will form ‘mating swarms’
near the water to attract females. After mating the males will expire,
while the female returns to the streamside grasses for her eggs
to mature. Female spinners require moderately warm, calm conditions
in which to lay their eggs. Any wind stronger than a light breeze
will bring difficulty to this process, and often precludes spinners
from reaching the water. Thus, both dawn and dusk are favored times
to experience a fall of returning, egg laden spinners. Some of the
most prolific spinner falls will occur within the final hour of
daylight, a time when the wind will often drop along with the setting
sun, and when most birds which prey upon mayflies have taken to
their roost. However, a spinner fall can occur at any time of the
day providing the wind is kind, more so in overcast weather.
In his book, Norman Marsh’s Fly Box
(Halcyon press 1995), Marsh suggests that while aquatic insects
enjoy warm conditions, they dislike direct heat. This explains why
spinner falls will occur throughout the day in cloudy conditions,
and of course, at times when the sun is at its least intense. Early
morning spinner falls too are a regular occurrence upon the Mataura,
coinciding with the rising sun warming the grasses in which the
spinners rest. Female spinners will invariably fly in an upstream
direction before laying their eggs. This behavior, in conjunction
with the downstream drift of her eggs ensures a stable colonization
of mayfly within that section of water. Without these upstream flight
patterns, mayfly populations would eventually drift into the sea.
Spinners will land on the ‘ripples’, the sections of
increased surface velocity to drop their eggs. The ripply surface
minimizes the meniscus, enabling the egg ‘cluster’ to
pass through the surface film with minimal difficulty. The meniscus
will be thicker upon the pools, and some smaller clusters may not
successfully break through this. Each ‘cluster’ comprises
of around 500 eggs and is deposited along with a temporary binding
agent, to ensure the ‘cluster’ remains intact throughout
the descent. This binding agent will soon dissolve, allowing the
eggs to disperse amongst the rocks and crevices of the streambed.
After depositing her eggs the spinner will then expire herself,
falling ‘spent’ upon the water to provide the trout
with a final feast as they drift peacefully down through the pools.
Deleatidium vernale are often referred to as
the ‘Mataura midge’, and will return to the river in
many thousands, inciting great sport at last light. Great swarms
may be seen hovering above river, and then just falling like stones,
as they meet their watery demise. Trout will ‘lock on’
and feed selectively upon these spent spinners as they drift upon
the surface in their thousands. Spent mayflies drift at the mercy
of the currents, and are often concentrated in great numbers amongst
the backwaters, eddies and along the slower river margins, providing
dry fly opportunities long after the initial rise has ended.
These are also productive locations to prospect
during the lighter spinner falls, as larger numbers of mayflies
here will keep trout more interested than those few drifting down
the main river. These will not float forever, and will eventually
sink, more so in the more turbulent water of the ripples. Trout
will feed upon these sunken spinners well after the rise has ended,
and the angler who targets the bases of ripples with a suitable
imitation will increase his success as the rise tapers off.
So how do we imitate these creatures of which the trout scrutinize
closely in glassy calm pools, and glides? The answer is carefully,
and with an observant eye. Size, I believe is the most important
aspect of a spinner imitation. The difference between a 16 and an
18 pattern may not seem important to us, as anglers, but to the
trout, these extra few millimeters will mean the difference between
a sip, and a refusal. In their book, Selective Trout, Swisher
and Richards suggest that as the size of the natural gets smaller,
the trout will become more selective, and it becomes imperative
that your imitation matches the hatch in both size and silhouette.
Many trout are put down by flies which are too heavily dressed.
If in doubt as to which size to use, choose the smaller. An angling
buddy of mine believes in presenting a pattern slightly larger than
the natural to spark the trout’s interest, but in my experience
on the Mataura, I have found this to be detrimental to success.
Worth mentioning is that I do not use an imitation
of the upright spinner (those still alive, and returning to lay
their egg sack), and find that fish will readily accept a suitable
emerger, or parachute pattern when targeting these. This all changes,
however when the spinner expires and drifts helplessly upon the
surface. Trout will now become extremely selective during this phenomenon
recognized internationally as the 'mad Mataura rise'. If trout are
opportunistic feeders, then what causes them to lock onto one food
form and feed so selectively?
John Hayes in his and Les Hills excellent book,
The Artful Science of Trout Fishing suggests that trout
are more likely to feed selectively when food is abundant. When
one food source is readily available in abundance, trout will key
into this to take advantage of the opportunity to maximize food
intake whilst minimizing their energy expenditure. Dr Hayes then
goes on to explain that trout must discern between various forms
of flotsam and other floating debris and authentic prey items.
As mentioned earlier in this series, trout will
create a 'prey image', utilizing any number of 'triggers' allowing
them to recognize a given food source. Suggested triggers for spent
spinners may include the bodies 'imprint' flush within the waters
surface, the 'light pattern' created by the body floating low on
the surface, and the legs possibly protruding beneath the meniscus,
or maybe the sparkling light pattern thrown out by the shiny, transparent
wings, laying prone, stuck to the surface.
So how best do we imitate this lifeless, yet
I utilize two styles of fly when fishing a
- The traditional Mahogany Spent Spinner tie
- A sparsely tied parachute pattern, for use
on more 'joggly' water, and in low light conditions, when visually
locating ones fly becomes tricky.
The Mataura spinner is a simple tie and is as
Hook: TMC 100 sizes 16 - 18
Tail: 2 betts tailing
fibers well separated via a small ball of dubbing
Mahogany colored poly dub, tied sparse, and tapering
towards the head
Wing: White poly wing, or Z - lon, tied
spent and sparse to imitate the natural.
My parachute is of a similar tie, except I substitute
the poly yarn wing with one to two turns maximum (we are keeping
this pattern sparse, remember) of high quality grizzle hackle, and
a high viz (white, black, chartreuse) post, to assist easy sighting
of the imitation in low light, or glare conditions.
When fishing a spinner fall I like to use the
longest, lightest leader possible for the conditions. This often
means 12 feet of tapered leader attached to 3 or 4 feet of 5x or
6x fluorocarbon. This is a time when ones tippet must not float
upon the surface. Similarly, one may wish to use ordinary mono,
and coat it with a mixture of Fullers Earth and detergent. Either
way, choose a 'soft' brand of tippet, to allow your imitation to
drift more naturally in and out of the varying micro currents.
Often, when fishing to trout rising along the
edges of calm, smooth pools it is not wise to cast from behind the
trout, especially as they are normally holding just beneath the
surface. The landing of ones tippet within the 'window of vision',
however reduced this may be, will put these fish down.
Alternatively, as when fishing emergers, I like
to position myself adjacent to the trout, and cast my fly across
to them. As mentioned, when the hatch is heavy the trout will hold
closer to the surface, thus his window of vision is severely reduced.
You may move in closer to the trout’s position than if he
was holding deep, under reasonable concealment. Your fly will land
to one side of the trout, with the tippet and adjoining leader falling
well away from the fish. When performed correctly your fly will
be the first and hopefully only thing your prey will see.
trout refuse your fly:
- Drop down in fly size
- Try a lighter dressed version of the fly
- Choose a lighter tippet, and present it
from a different casting position
- Try a different shade / colour of fly
Spinners often drift in large clusters, and it
is often difficult to decide if the rise was to your fly, or to
a natural. This is when the use of two dries comes into play. At
these times I will utilize my parachute spinner pattern tied onto
the tippet, then on a dropper off the bend of this, say 12 inches
or so behind I will attach my standard spent spinner pattern. This
not only gives you two chances at deceiving the wily trout, but
the parachute with its hi viz post help you in identifying both
the position of your tail fly, and in detecting any takes you may
not have decided upon. As the spinner fall tapers off and trout
return to the depths, do not believe the dry fly opportunities are
Spinners will drift at the mercy of the currents,
and ultimately congregate in backwaters, eddies, and along the windward
river margins, and trout will cruise these places well after the
main act has ended, rising leisurely to the 'leftover' spoils.
Those spinners which stay in the main current
will eventually be dragged beneath the surface, and even throughout
the spinner fall, those prospecting the bases of ripples with a
suitable nymph or wet fly can pull up some good fish. Traditional
wet flies such as the dark red spinner work well across and down,
and can bring fish to the net in places where the angler has trouble
in deceiving them by way of the dry. There are few specialist tricks
required here, just fish two suitable patterns in tandem, and swing
them through the ripple on a short, tight line, paying special attention
to the meeting of the ripple, and the slower rivers edge.
The Mataura spinner falls are legendary throughout
international angling circles and provide perhaps New Zealand finest
'technical fly fishing' opportunities to a large population of fighting
fit brown trout. Not all Mataura fish are large, 18 inches (a shade
below 3lbs) being the average size, but during a good rise the angler
will find himself with countless opportunities for deceiving free
rising southern trout. How you handle the excitement is up to you.
|Copyright © 2006-2008
All rights reserved
The Mataura near Gore
Deer Hair Emerger