Trout-Stream Flyfishing in the Upper Midwest's Golden Triangle

Where The Adams Fly Was Born
By Bob Butz

The Boardman River has a long-standing reputation for big browns and oodles of wild brook trout, descendants of the same finicky fish that inspired the most famous fly pattern in the world—the Adams.

The year was 1922. As the story goes, after one frustrating evening fishing the Boardman, Judge Charlie Adams implored his friend Len Halladay to create a fly that would imitate the insect the discriminating trout were favoring that day. Halladay, a resident of the old lumber town of Mayfield, just south of Traverse City, first tested his creation on the tiny millpond there. Of course, he named the fly after his good friend. And today, over 75 years later, flyfishers commonly regard it as the most effective pattern ever conceived.

Depending on water temperature and stream conditions, fly hatches on northern Michigan rivers kick off in mid-May with the coming of the Hendricksons. But the biggest buzz in the local flyfishing community happens in late June with the Hexagenia hatch.

Hex flies are gigantic mayflies that hatch for only an hour or so, just after dark. But the feeding frenzy of hungry trout lasts well past midnight. Trout gorge themselves on Hex flies. Even big browns—which are reclusive, often nocturnal creatures—slip into the current to partake in the feast.

On shallow, swift-running rivers like the Boardman, Betsy, Platte, and Jordan, water that might never relinquish fish over 12 inches during the day can, at night during the Hex hatch, yield regular hook-ups with browns well over that that mark. Though fighting big fish in these narrow, 30- to 40-foot-wide rivers is tough, local anglers often catch 18-inch fish or better during the hatch. Such fish are not uncommon, but they're not hiding under every log either.

Night fishing the Hex is truly an unforgettable experience. After 10 p.m., when the western sky goes from orange to black, you find yourself fishing totally by feel. There's a process before the actual hatch, a sequence of events. First come the mosquitoes, then the dragonflies, followed by the bats skimming low across the water. You might hear a great horned owl, the piercing squawk of a nighthawk, or the twittering wings of a lone woodcock dancing in the evening sky.

Like magic, the Hex flies appear overhead like a million tiny fairies. And just as suddenly the fish rise for them. You cast blindly into the darkness at the splashing sounds, hoping you gauged the distance right and haven't hung one up in the bushes on the far bank. In time, you learn the difference between the feeding patterns of big fish and not-so-big fish. Smaller trout splash frantically at the flies on the surface; big fish slurp, making a kind of popping noise that to the uninitiated might not sound like a fish at all.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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