The Hex at Henderson with Dorothy, Don and Dave

June 5, 2024   I’ve only had the chance to fish the famous Henderson Springs Hex hatch twice over the past several years, and it’s haunted me ever since. So, when the opportunity arose to book the small cabin with its six bedrooms during the peak of the Hex hatch, I jumped at it and invited some of my older friends. This year, I invited Dorothy Zinky, her friend Jo Ann Wheatly, and Don Cheserek for three days at the ranch. The average age of our group was 80, and I planned to cook all the meals and handle all the logistics for the weekend during what I consider one of the most fun and uniquely exciting events in fly fishing—the two hour Hexagenia hatch before sundown. I also anticipated some dry fly fishing during the day to pass the time while waiting for the main event and even planned an evening lakeside dinner before the hatch and a bonfire at the “Pavilion” afterward to compare victories.

The Pavilion – Staging area for the Hex Hatch

As the date approached, Jo Ann had to postpone, so I replaced her with a good friend of Dorothy’s and mine, Dave Bearden. Dave is the son of Len Bearden, my boss at the Millpond in the ’70s, and we’ve fished together since we were kids. He graciously accepted my invitation, making me not the youngest in the group and giving Dorothy company when I fished with Don.

There are some logistical tricks to achieving great success at Henderson Springs. Each lake has its own unique qualities, so when the fishing slows down in one, it might pick up in another. Therefore, being able to quickly get out of the water with your float tube, throw it on top of your car or in the truck bed, and temporarily store your rods ready for action allows you to move swiftly and efficiently from lake to lake. Meal times at the lodge should be planned around the hatches. The typical Hex hatch begins around 6:30 pm and ends well after 10:00 pm. And don’t forget to bring a headlamp for use on the water.

Independent movement

Fishing the five lakes at Henderson Springs in the late season can be challenging due to fishing pressure and rising water temperatures. However, even when the lake fish apopulations drop by 80%, the remaining big and smart rainbows still show up for surface food, making them a challenging target even in the summer months. Unlike the frenzy of March and April when catching 30 fish per person per day while fishing chironomids, nymphs, and leeches is common, the scarcity of fish in the summer is noticeable. As a group of four, we averaged about 20 fish per day by blind casting subsurface flies in the afternoon. But everything changes during the Hex hatch in the last two hours of the day when opportunities to catch fish are numerous, and success favors the prepared.

We fished the first evening’s magic hour on Clear Lake. Around 6:00 PM, fish started rising to Calibaetis Duns that were hatching along with a sparse number of Hex. It was unnerving to watch fish feed on tiny mayflies around a huge Hex dun, ignoring the “steak” for the “hors d’oeuvres.” But as the evening grew darker, the Hex hatch kicked into overdrive with emerging nymphs and trout chasing them to the surface, still ignoring the Duns. So many fish were working the nymphs that blind casting a nymph was much less successful than leading a fish with a cast. For some, it was frustrating casting high-floating Hex Dun patterns at the splashy rises of fish eating emergers during the early part of the hatch. Halfway through the evening hatch, Duns could be seen blanketing the water, and the fish switched to the easier food and started gulping them. At this point, you could catch as many as you wanted as long as your fly was floating perfectly and not waterlogged.

The last two evenings we fished Long Lake, the main Hex Lake at Henderson Springs, thanks to its engineered mud flats necessary for good nymph proliferation. Mark Henderson did mud transplants many years ago to establish the great Hexagenia hatch on the ranch. Like on Clear Lake, the first night on Long started with a Calibaetis hatch. After a windy day, as soon as the ripple was off the lake, fish could be caught at will on small #16 Calibaetis Dun imitations. The trick was knowing when to switch to a Hex Nymph, Emerger, or Dun. What I learned on this trip was to take two or three rods out with different flies for the different phases of the hatch. I had a rod with a sink tip for the nymphs, one with an emerger, and the other with a Dun. Bring a headlamp to tie knots in the last hour since more than half the total fish most of us caught were in the last hour of a three-hour session.

Most of us stocked up on Hex flies at the Fly Shop in Redding, and in my opinion, many of them were oversized compared to the smaller Hex at Henderson. The larger flies made hooking fish more difficult, with the bulk of the fly pushing the hook away from the fish. My best luck was with undersized Emergers with nymph bodies hanging below the surface layer. I had one fish hit one of the bigger Duns from the Fly Shop multiple times, unable to get it all the way in its mouth.

The dark fly in the middle was the clear winner

A great night of Hex fishing is 5-8 fish. The fish were averaging over 20 inches, and it takes time to play them, release them properly, and refresh your big fly after it’s been slimed and drowned.  I farmed lots of opportunity every night.   I got takes with no contact over a dozen every night.   Next year, I think I can increase my averages if I don’t mess with trying to fix the flies after every fish. I will have a fly strip with ten Duns, one for every fish I plan to catch in two hours, the goal being to use a new fly for every fish I plan to catch in the last two hours of the hatch when they are gorging on Duns.   Landing fish quickly and gently can also add more numbers to your night.  And as it says in the fine print on the instruction manual “Bring Big Nets with Long Handles”.  Big nets make it much easier to quickly land and release fish unharmed.


On another good note, I got all three of my guests to catch fish over 22 inches by fishing Pony Pond deep. The access to Pony is difficult and can only accommodate one or two fishermen in tubes. Don caught his best fish on a Black Balance Leech on an indicator. He fought the beast like a pro, landed it himself, and released it unharmed like a teenager. He’s still got it at 87. Dorothy got her beast fishing with Dave, but she made it look impressively easy at 92. Dave and Dorothy transported their tubes and rods in separate cars, and Dorothy still amazes me by putting her float tube on her car by herself. At the campfire, I learned that she drove 14 hours from Montana just to fish these three days with us. And she drove back to Montana by herself when she left. Dorothy rated the Henderson Hex hatch a 10 out of 10 for the quality of fishing, which means a lot coming from one of the best women fly fishermen alive. Dave and I fished Pony together on the last day for a couple of hours trying to catch “Walter.” Things looked good when we hooked a double at opposite ends of the tiny pond. We converged to the middle to compare catches, and Dave’s fish beat mine by one inch at 24 inches. I want a rematch soon.


Don’s Beast

Dorothy with a Big One


Big Hex Fish

The Hex Hatch did not disappoint, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to share it with some friends who might never experience it again, as we never know what tomorrow will bring. From beginning to end, my adrenaline was pumping, and as anticipated, it’s not a simple thing to catch 8-10 fish out of the mayhem that is the Hex hatch. Next time, I’m tying a single fly for a single fish and setting the bar at 8 fish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * logo