Driftless Hex – A Brown Trout Story March 17, 2021 – Posted in: Community – Tags: , , , ,

I’ve known about the hex hatch for longer than I’ve been I’ve been looking for the fish that eat them.

When I first started reading outdoor magazines, there was an article about the Upper Midwest in Field & Stream Magazine about “bugs the size of hummingbirds” and how they “danced in the heads of anglers like brown sugar plum fairies.” At the time, it didn’t mean much–but the idea was planted and it took root.

Driftless Hex A Brown Trout Story

Over the following years here and there I’d hear rumors whispered in hushed voices. Fishing with Captain Cole Nanney all spring, dry flies came up often. And again I heard from him a quiet reverence for the hex. When I got the call, all I said was yes. I was offered a chance to tag along, and there wasn’t anything in the world that could stop me from taking it.

Running back roads in the dusk, I couldn’t have been more turned around if I’d been blindfolded and tossed in the back seat. Hiking in was a similarly disorienting process. Paths I couldn’t see heading to places I didn’t know. It was fitting. This wasn’t my hatch. Even with the rod in my hand I didn’t belong.

As the light bottomed out we stood and waited. Conversation flowed like the water below us. And then we saw one. One of the largest insects I’ve seen fly. More dragonfly than mayfly. And then we saw another. And then the air was full of them.

The first rise wasn’t long after and as we stood in the dark the rhythm of the fish replaced the rhythm of our words. In the gloom a disturbance broke things up. Surely a muskrat. I tried to confirm but got a knowing scowl. It was no mammal that caused it.

The following hours passed in about fifteen minutes. Standing in the dark. Cast, mend, follow. Again and again. Then my drift lined up with an ungodly rise.

I set.

The line went tight.

First towards me.

Than up.

And then down, down, down.

I made a call for help.

Cole dove into the dark. Headlamp bobbing and shipping water. The fish went through a grass island but didn’t snap. Line was freed and then it was in the net. Comically over sized. Thrashing out of the net and being landed a second time. Slowly coming closer.

“How big?”


Then it came into sight.

Author: Torchbearer Danny P. is the 3rd largest small fish enthusiast in the upper-midwest.  In addition to small fish, he also enjoys exploring overlooked ponds, creeks, drainage ditches, sewers, and the occasional puddle. These are also neat places to take photos and sing the Mii home screen song with their partner in crime when the bite is slow.  Afterwords, many, many months later, he writes about those fun little trips and posts them on Instagram.

Torchbearer Danny P