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Lateral view of a Female Hexagenia limbata (Ephemeridae) (Hex) Mayfly Dun from the Namekagon River in Wisconsin
Hex Mayflies
Hexagenia limbata

The famous nocturnal Hex hatch of the Midwest (and a few other lucky locations) stirs to the surface mythically large brown trout that only touch streamers for the rest of the year.

27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
Troutnut is a project started in 2003 by salmonid ecologist Jason "Troutnut" Neuswanger to help anglers and fly tyers unabashedly embrace the entomological side of the sport. Learn more about Troutnut or support the project for an enhanced experience here.

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By Troutnut on May 7th, 2011
In early May, when fly anglers in the lower 48 are kissing the Hendrickson hatch goodbye and welcoming in the Ephemerella sulphurs, interior Alaska is still in the midst of a season we call "break-up." With temperatures in the 50s and most of the snow gone at our altitude, it's no longer winter in Fairbanks. But it's not spring yet, either. The trees show no sign of green. The rivers, swollen with mountain snowmelt, are still choked with massive chunks of their meter-thick winter ice, crashing through the riffles and sharp bends in a thunderous racket as the river carries them down toward the Yukon and the Bering Sea.

If you think this does not sound like dry fly weather, you're right.

The first good fishing of the year is less delicate: it involves heavy spinning gear, ounces of lead, size 2/0 hooks, and dead, cut fish. The reward is the burbot, the world's only freshwater cod, a fish more delicious than its saltwater counterparts. I'm happy to catch burbot at any time of year, but they're especially sweet after 7 months of winter!

Photos by Troutnut from the Tanana River in Alaska

This is my first (non ice-fishing) fish of 2011 and my best burbot yet, my first one of a respectable size, although they get much bigger.

From the Tanana River in Alaska
Here's what the main channel looked like on this trip.  The tributaries up in the hills look like this, or worse.  Early May isn't fly fishing season yet in interior Alaska.

From the Tanana River in Alaska
Typical set-up for burbot fishing: throw the heavily weighted bait in and sit around until something happens.  This calm eddy off the edge of the main channel was relatively free of ice.

From the Tanana River in Alaska

Comments / replies

Oldredbarn's profile picture
Novi, MI

Posts: 2600
Oldredbarn on May 9, 2011May 9th, 2011, 1:41 pm EDT
Yep...Jason...I don't see a single rise in any of these photos...It's good to see you are getting out at least...

It's a long story cut way short, but it was just after Easter in 1973 when my traveling buddy and I had to sleep out on the ground one night up there in your neck-of-the-woods with only our sleeping bags...It crossed my mind during the night to zip them together...Yes we were good friends and had known each other since 7th grade, but it felt like we might freeze to death. We skipped the zipping the sleeping bags together and somehow fell asleep and lived to talk about it.

Lovely fish by-the-way!

"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
Jmd123's profile picture
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2474
Jmd123 on May 13, 2011May 13th, 2011, 10:51 am EDT
Jason, I wouldn't feel any guilt about not catching those fish on flies. Hey, my first nine fish of the year were bluegills that I pulled through a hole in the ice, caught on a teardrop baited with a waxworm. Sometimes a man just needs to catch some fish!!

I too am pretty much a dedicated fly fisher, having not used anything else since 2007 except for this year's two ice fishing excursions. But I will likely be using ice-fishing gear again this winter, though I shudder to think about it now having just gotten through this past awfully cold and long winter...in the meantime I will probably be throwing nothing but flies, and use my significant collection of spinning gear & lures to outfit guests. But hey, I might just do a bit of kayak trolling as well - dragging a Rapala behind my kayak has proven deadly! Although, I could substitute one of my big gnarly pike flies...

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...

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