Matching the hatch - using what you have.
Most good guides that I know have a well stocked fly box. Maybe some of them have ten well stocked fly boxes, but whatever. The best guides I know have picked out a few patterns for the water they know and work on, and their go to box is loaded up with a whole bunch of the same patterns. Six is the magic number that one of those guides told me. He has six go to to patterns, and keeps a few dozen of each pattern at all times when on that specific body of water.
How was this selection been picked out? It's all about logging time on the water, getting out there, practicing, and making that drift as perfect and natural as can be. It's about learning the water, thinking like a fish and putting in your time.
You're probably not at the point where you've narrowed your selection down to six. If you've played it smart, you've got the basics - some dries, some nymphs, some midges, some streamers, etc. When you visit a region, you should hit up the local shop and find out what regional patterns are hooking fish. If you take a trip with a guide, ask him questions about the flies. What is that guide using, and why? What is that fly attempting to imitate? When you purchase those local flies, make sure you're not just buying one. Get at least a few - just one and you're asking for trouble (it's guaranteed to be the go to fly of the day and you'll lose it on a rock just when things are getting hot and heavy).
But this entry isn't about what you should have. It's about what you actually have. Hopefully, you have something.
So there you are. On the water and fishing for trout. If you read yesterday's post, you might have your handy seine with you and you're looking at a collection of little water logged bugs in a net.
Hmmm, perhaps you're looking at all these squirmy little buggers and scratching your head. What stuff in the box looks like these real life bugs?
Start with size. Are those bugs tiny? Are they so small that you cringe at that thought of tying a size 22 on some 7x tippet? Good. Those are the flies that often surprise the novice angler. Look through your box and find those size 18s, 20s and 22s. Getting close in size is the first step into fooling a trout to eat your bug instead of just letting float on by.
Next up, we go with shape. Look for something similarly shaped. It's pretty basic, yes? Don't put on a wooly bugger when you're trying to imitate caddis larvae.
Color is the next thing we look for. Does the light make that bug look kinda blue, kinda green, maybe a bit red? Look for it. Try it out.
You might not have the exact pattern in your box. It's not the end of the world. You're there, on the water, and you've got something. That puts you in a better place than others. Start with size, then shape, and then color. Put on that slightly big Copper John with a tiny little dropper under it (check your regs to make sure that's legal) and give it a shot. You can bitch about not having the right pattern, or you can try out what you have.
From personal experience, I can tell you that if you don't try, you'll never know. I spent an evening on the water with friends and fishing was rough. I had been fishing a lot, and not tying. My stocks were dwindling and there was an awesome caddis hatch coming off. My caddis selection was hurting, and I didn't have the October Caddis pattern that I would have preferred. What did I do? I fished another color. Did it work? Not as well as I wanted, but it worked. I had to work a little harder on my presentation to earn those fish. When I had a rise, I couldn't afford to blow it on the hook set. The moral of the story is that I was there and I used what I had.
I'll end this post with the suggestion that this is a great time of the year to get your fly box(es) in order. Check your inventory and get prepared in the garage / den / shed / barn before you leave the house. Have a good selection of bugs in all sizes, shapes and colors and be prepared for what you might run into.