Hexagenia Limbata: A Fly Fisher’s Dream



If you have ever had a high fever or dabbled in psychedelic offerings before heading out to wade in the coal darkness of nighttime pond, you have most certainly had an impression of how dreams can emerge in the awake time. The addition of rain, loon song, and the concentric sound of trout breaking water converge to paint something entirely unearthly. At the height of the hatch, there is a 30 minute period in which my senses are at capacity. In the darkness, the silhouettes of giant mayflies keep me casting despite a total lack of awareness of where my line will come to rest. In between fish, I feel the rhythm of sleep….casting, retrieving…casting… coupled with an electric hum that has my wrist ever ready to set the hook upon taking.

It is, of course, a strange combination. To be meditative while simultaneously flooded with the chemicals of expectation. This is the unique experiential offering of the hex hatch, never mind the great fishing that can sometimes occur. The trout, brook trout of all sizes, might share in my assessment this evening. For them, the hexagenia must seem like a sort of “carnival of nature”. Supersized mayflies that reliably appear from the water’s surface year after year; it’s a colossal bonus round for lazy eaters, especially those who enjoy late night snacking.

When a big trout does take, I feel my disadvantage. Trout, native to the water, are ever graceful in whatever condition their environment presents. Not so much for us visitors. To net a strong fish in the dark and get him safely back on his way feels a little like walking drunk… down basement stairs… with a burnt out light bulb…while carrying a futon mattress…by yourself. When a fish departs my catch with a strong, shadowy swirl, I am largely relieved. It is not until I am in process of gathering my line that I have the headspace to revel in the wonder of the whole bit.
At 10:45 p.m. it is time to come off of the water. I am fortunate to have a friend who has offered access to this experience for the past couple of years. The hospitality that is laid out upon arrival is, in my view, perhaps even more unique and unexpected as catching 3 pound brook trout wading in a pond, at night. As we carefully shuffle to land, I smell the sleepy call of the woodstove. Todd knows that the fish have quit long before we do and has made his way to the cabin to provide a much needed warm-up for 3 rainy fishers.
Art, Molly and myself soak up the heat and spend some time chatting while writing in the cabin journal. What to say? I do my best to characterize my gratitude for it all. The water, the trout, the generosity, the rain, the willingness to accept my fly, the friendship of fellow fishers. My tired scribbles fall short. It’s nearly impossible to write the magical, weird wonder of fishing the hex hatch. I will simply honor it by being quite sure to never miss it for every year that I am able to participate.