August 30, 2021
One of my favorite fishing memories involves hooking pint-sized native brookies as quickly as I could cast as flocks of cedar waxwings strafed overhead.
Every time my fly alighted in the vicinity of a rise I was rewarded with a nearly instantaneous strike. The trout action was so fast that I quickly lost count of how many fish I landed.
The only thing that detracted from the experience was the incessant mosquito bites I received. The fish and songbirds were gorging themselves on mosquitoes hatching in the warm evening glow.
I was only 12, but it's stuck with me. In the decades since, I have noticed a pattern emerge, and now I almost relish the bites that accompany the fast-paced fishing of a mosquito hatch.
TIMING THE HATCH
While mosquitoes are a nuisance to us, they are a welcome food item of our finned friends. The small backcountry ponds that trout often call home offer mosquitoes the perfect place to deposit their eggs. In many of them, the abundant biting insects form the majority of the forage base.
Trout anglers don't hold them in the same regard as mayflies or caddis, but mosquitoes go through the same four stages of life that all aquatic insects do: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Trout rely on them as a source of protein in all of those stages, though anglers should focus most on the adult stage. In the dog days of summer, when other hatches are few and far between, the ubiquitous mosquito is busy bolstering its ranks. While the warmer water temperatures at this time of year send trout toward the bottom, the all-you-can-eat buffet that a mosquito hatch presents is too tempting to be ignored.
Most mosquitoes can survive in temperatures between 50 and 95 degrees. They start to hatch once the mercury hits 50 and continue to do so until the temperature dips low in the fall. When ambient temperatures rise above 60, they really begin to thrive. Though mosquitoes will occasionally come off the water in the morning, most of the hatches I've encountered come much later in the day.
The ponds they spawn in offer ample water to lay eggs, but the adults can dry out with prolonged exposure to the sun, so they tend to avoid the hottest hours. Rain can also kickstart mosquito activity; the moist air that lingers after a rain presents an ideal climate, and they move in droves. Plan your fishing trips for the evening or after a downpour for the best chance at a fishable hatch.
You won't find a mosquito pattern listed on anyone's top fly list, which is surprising because they sure seem to be everywhere you find trout. They haven't been romanticized in the same manner mayflies have, and as a result there are precious few mosquito patterns out there.
Fortunately, it doesn't seem to matter much, and I've had success with the same simple pattern from Alaska to Maine. Look for a black-and-white pattern with a striped quill body, grizzly hackle fibers for a tail and grizzly hackle for the wing. You can pretty much imitate mosquitoes wherever they are found with this pattern, but be sure to carry it in sizes from 12 all the way down to 20.
Tackle selection for the mosquito hatch is simple; any rod you prefer for dry flies will serve you admirably. Just be sure that you match the rod to the size of the fish present. My favorite dry fly rod is a glass 3-weight that deposits flies as delicately as a leaf on the wind, but the light stick gets outgunned by fish over 12 inches.
Warm water temperatures cause lactic acid to build up quickly in fighting fish, so you should get them in as quickly as possible to ensure a good release. If you’re going to encounter larger fish, upsize to a 5- or even 6-weight. An ideal all-around setup is a 5-weight spooled with a weigh-forward floating line.
Still-water trout have more time to examine an offering than their stream-borne brethren, so you'll need to approach with even greater stealth. To minimize the chance that my fly line will spook rising fish, I use very long leaders, usually a 12-foot-long knotless leader and a few additional feet of tippet to increase the distance from the highly visible floating line. Even with the extended leader, turning the fly over is rarely an issue with tippets as fine as 6x or 7x. If you're dealing with larger mosquitoes, around size 12, you can go as large as 5x to flip over the larger counterfeits.
Even though the protracted leader cuts down on visibility, resist the temptation to cast right on top of fish to ensure you don't spook them. You don't need to hit them right on the nose to get them to eat; still-water trout move around more than ones in moving water. They don't have the luxury of holding steady in a current break or seam as food drifts right overhead.
Instead, they chase their meals down. You also don't have the sound of moving water to cover up any line slap, so you need to be as sneaky as possible. Prioritize a gentle presentation over proximity and let them find it on their own. I try to guess which direction a trout is moving and lead its last rise by a couple feet.
You can catch plenty of fish from shore, but getting away from the bank makes casting much easier and moving to rising fish becomes less of a chore. Canoes are the traditional means of fishing trout ponds, but portaging a 12-foot boat down a narrow trail can be difficult.
These tiny ponds are perfect for float tubes, which are easily transported on your back. Whatever boat you choose, consider trolling to kill time between hatches. The erratic motion imparted to a fly by oar strokes or kicking fins is too much for trout to resist. Bring a handful of streamers such as Gray Ghosts, Golden Witches and Mickey Finns to drag behind you, along with some non-lead shot to help get them down a bit.
If you do decide to wade, consider donning waders even if water temps don’t require their use. Because these ponds are often tannic, they are host to other biting invertebrates. I had the misfortune of having to pull several leeches off of my legs after a very productive hatch one evening. Leeches prefer the same shallow, protected areas of lakes where hatches often take place, so don’t give them anything to latch onto.
- 1. The Saint Regis Canoe Area in New York's Adirondack mountain range offers anglers plenty of places to wet a line. The 18,400-acre expanse is home to 20 ponds with healthy brook trout populations, with some fish reaching bragging size. Trout populations remain steady, as many of the ponds are stocked.
- 2. Vermont's Northeast Kingdom is home to plenty of ponds that benefit from mosquito/trout interaction. Historical survey data shows healthy populations of brookies in Noyes, Job's, Martin's and Unknown ponds (the latter is also known as Avery's Gore Pond). Many of these are stocked on a put-and-take basis, but natural reproduction occurs in some.
- 3. New Hampshire's Kancamagus Scenic Byway is home to a variety of attractions to keep families entertained. The roadway parallels the Swift River, which offers anglers excellent opportunities before the throngs of tourists arrive for the day. But that's not all the Kanc has to offer. A hike to Falls Pond or Greeley Pond can offer excellent fishing when the mosquitoes bite.
- 4. Baxter State Park in Maine offers some of the most breathtaking views in the East. It's also a brookie hotspot with dozens of prime ponds for those willing to walk. Some are easier to get to, such as Kidney, Daicey and South Branch ponds, but all produce quality fish. The July hex hatch draws the most anglers, but hatching skeeters can bring fish to the surface throughout the summer.
- 5. Cape Cod is known for striped bass, but the kettle ponds that dot the surface are home to brook trout. The bodies of water inside Nickerson State Park consistently produce sizable brookies, thanks in part to a hearty stocking schedule. Massachusetts anglers can combine a seaside vacation with some fine trout angling—if they don’t mind getting bit.
Beat Back the Bugs
Nothing beats a cloud of pipe smoke to keep mosquitoes at bay, but your doctor would probably advise against that particular method. Fortunately the butane-powered repellent devices made by Thermacell offer similar protection. Stash a unit in the boat or clip it to your vest to create an insect-free bubble around you.
Sometimes the mosquito horde is too great, and the Thermacell alone isn't enough. I've had excellent luck using Sawyer's Permethrin spray to ward off both mosquitoes and ticks. Applying the spray directly to your clothing and gear (and letting it dry before use) offers up to 6 weeks of protection. You can also purchase pre-treated clothing from ExOfficio that performs well. Supplement these with a head net and set of bug gloves for the ultimate in protection.