Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Soft-Hackler’s Fly for the Apocalypse

     The Old War God Of The Desert continues to heap apocalypse upon the Far West, & in addition to record high temperatures, rampant forest fires, inescapable smoke, low stream flows/high water temps killing salmon & steelhead, He has seen fit to loose a dreadful plague of insects upon the land – yellowjacket wasps! 

Nothing left to do but imitate the plague insects & swing them in the river at smokey dusk.

Winter is the great killer of insects, & during these times of mild winters there are fewer killed, resulting in an abundance of breeding females whose bodies produce more eggs in response to warmer temperatures. Hence, the wasps are thick this year, & aggressive in the heat. They are attracted to water, where they hunt other insects, & are common around all trout streams East & West during high summer. 

In the hierarchy of summer terrestrials I would place the yellowjackets right up there with grasshoppers. Really, other than this insect’s off-putting reputation as a nasty customer, I can think of no good reason for the wasp’s lack of popularity as bait, as, due to their attraction to water, a lot of them end up in the water, & occasional checks of stomach contents in late summer reveal that trout eat quite a few of them.

Yellowjackets exhibit a strange behavior in hot weather. The brighter & hotter it gets, the more aggressive & reckless they become. And I don’t know if they are trying to drink, or are attracted to the coolness, or, possibly, they become so aggressive that the scent of the water causes them to lose whatever cautionary instincts concerning water that they might possess, but, it is a level fact that many end up in the water on bright/hot days.

We see wasps at dusk hunting sedges over the river. I watched one bumble along trying to carry two captured caddis at once, which proved too much weight, & the wasp, refusing to release the brace of caddis, fell to the water. I watched it buzz & struggle mightily, carried down the seam where I knew trout to be lurking – big trouble – yet nothing rose to take it…

Though I’ve often observed wasps struggling on the surface film, I’ve never seen a trout rise to eat a live one. Then, trout aren’t that dumb & it stands to reason if you try to eat a live one you’re probably going to get stung (though, I’d bet a bass will eat one). My observations lead me to believe that trout prefer drowned or nearly-drowned wasps. They are heavy insects & their raucous struggle on the surface film soon breaks them through it & they drown, slowly, hanging on to the wet side of the film. A happy circumstance for the soft-hackler savvy enough to be carrying the imitation, late July into early September.

Walked down to the river & fished the Yellowjacket for about an hour last night, took some photos & released a couple fair trout. Muffed a third one when it jumped & shook the fly. There was no surface feeding evident, yet the Yellowjacket high-sticked under the surface film turned the trick. 

(Reviewing the photos I had to shake my head at my own appearance while angling these days. I get loose when nobody’s around. Forgive me. I probably set a bad example in post-apocalyptic garb – scruffy beard, dirty fingernails, morning coffee evident on the t-shirt, ubiquitous tear in the tattered work shorts – no fashion plate for anglers seeking to meet the auspicious Fiery Apocalypse in glorious full uniform.)

 The rod is an older 9’, 6wt Orvis Clearwater that I upgraded with a better reel seat & guides. It has a slower, glass-like action that I like, though it is much lighter than glass, which I also like. Those who love grass & glass take note: graphite really comes into its own in rods over 8’. And the slower actioned graphites often billed as ‘beginner’ rods usually cost much less than fast models, while affording the graceful action we like in a trout rod. (Fast-action graphite rods set a pace too frenetic for observant, introspective, satisfying, killer-effective trouting. Just saying. Take it for what it’s worth. As you can see, I am an ambiguous example.)            

The reel is a 1952 (same age as me) Ocean City Waneta, about as basic as you can get. The paint is almost completely worn off, yet the reel performs like new. No rim drag. You have to finger the spool on a big fish, which affords one the opportunity to master a whole new skill set.  

While writing this I stopped by the Flymph Forum & posted a pic of the wingless Yellowjacket, & there I was fortunate to receive a comment from Lance Hidy, son of Pete Hidy, who generously posted a photo of a leaf of wasp patterns taken from Pete’s fly wallet. There’s a variety there, which indicates to me that Pete Hidy gave this insect some importance. I am intrigued, though not surprised, that Pete understood the value of this streamside insect as bait, & also that it is better fished wet, as the soft-hackle versions in his flybook suggest – his flies reflect thought & observation, during an era when the mawkish McGinty was about the only wasp simulator apt to be found in a flybook.

And I remember my grandfather telling me that the McGinty fishes better when sunken.              


Hook: #8 Mustad R50-94840

Thread: yellow UNI 8/0

Abdomen: bright yellow UNI floss

Rib: black UNI 3/0

Thorax: black rabbit on tying thread dubbing loop

Hackle: yellow dyed grizzly saddle, 3 turns over the thorax

I coat the abdomen with Hard As Nails


  1. Damn. A blessing from the Hidy clan! It is well deserved because you tie, fish and write everyday.

  2. Bert, it's good to know there's somebody out there who doesn't hold it against me for tying, fishing & writing every day. Well, I wouldn't blame anybody for holding the writing against me. But hey, this is a small, small magazine.

  3. Oh, I hold it against you alright! I am blind with jealousy because you can walk to a world class trout fishery from the house.

  4. Like anything else, there are trade-offs & tribulations. But somebody has to point toward the entertainment. I fancy my job similar to that of a carney. And sure, living in the Fun Zone does have a certain charm.