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Fly Fishing 101, Part 16
Mayflies


Imagine tiny elegant sailboats, drifting with the current over bubbling waters. Will-o'-the-wisp flotsam. Gently bobbing ever downstream. And the sound of a quiet sip here and there. Barely disturbing the surface. Just trout enjoying a mayfly hatch. Or it could be a late dinner. Not a 'hatch' at all, but a spinner fall.

Mayflies have a technical name, (Ephemeridae,) which translates into "but for a day." These beautiful insects hatch, mate, and fly back to lay their eggs on the water in just one day.

Some rivers and streams are very famous for mayfly hatches. The Spring Creeks (both in the east and west) western rivers like Henry's Fork of the Snake in Idaho and the AuSable River in Michigan are but just a couple. Some still waters lakes also have large mayfly hatches. These insects are premier dry flies for fisherman. This is where the book, Selective Trout by Doug Swisher and Carl Richards originated. This book, published in 1988 has become a standard, and is still available. I recommend it highly. A new revised copy with new flies and illustrations by Dave Whitlock has been in process for a couple of years. (I wouldn't wait for it.)

The key to identifying mayflies is the upright wing. Looking at the wing closely, it resembles a stained glass window. Various species of mayfly are classified by comparing the little lines (called vinations) in the wings. Each has a name and number, like C-1, C-2, etc. Really.

Mayfly drawing from
The Mayflies, or Ephemeroptera of Illinois
by B.D.Burks. Published by State of Illinois, 1953

You don't need to know all the technical stuff now, but you do need to see if the wings are clear and shiny or opaque. Opaque is freshly hatched. Shiny wings means the bug is ready to lay it's eggs. That is usually in the evening unless it is a dark overcast day. So you do need to look at the wing color.

To that observation, add the color of the body, and if the insect has a tail or maybe two, or three. Some fly imitations for the egg laying insects will have a bit of yellow on the bottom, and one or both wings tied down to the side instead of upright. Almost like an airplane on the water.

For the best success, you really do need to match the hatch. Probably the best book on this subject is Ernie Schweibert's, Matching The Hatch. Published back in 1955, you may be lucky enough to find a hard copy in a used book store. I found a paperback copy in pretty good condition for a couple of dollars. The one difference I would suggest contradicting the book you may want to try using a fly one size smaller than the actual bug. Some guides swear by that one.

Casting upstream, long leader and 6 or 7X tippet for a rising trout, placing the fly above the trout without "lining it" (casting the fly line directly over the spot he is rising) mending the line perfectly so not a bit of drag affects the drift of the fly. Watching the trout wag his tail, tip up and sip in your fly is worth every bit of effort it takes to learn what the bug is.

If you tie your own flies, I really suggest thorax-tied flies. They are nearly impossible to purchase, although I hear there are a couple of fly shops in the Denver region that do tie them. Orvis and others tried marketing a fake a while back. It was a normal dry fly tie with a "V" cut from the bottom hackle. Didn't work worth a hoot.

The trick here is the quality of the hackle (feathers) used in the thorax fly. Hackle tips are not supposed to pierce the surface of the water, but instead bend.

From underwater the trout see tiny footprints of the fly. Since the footprints are part of what the trout key on, the thorax-tied fly is deadly. And the take by the trout is absolutely the same as the previous take of the natural bug.

Thorax flies were developed by Vince Marinaro and are in his book, A Modern Dry Fly Code. Vince was also the person who established the word "terrestrial", ie. Jassid, important to fly fishers. Another book for your reading list.

Green Drake, Hendrickson, Pale Evening Dun, Adams, and Yellow Sally are all celebrated dry fly imitations of mayflies. There are hundreds no, thousands of others.

Each of those thousands of insects has a nymphal form. And a wet fly to match it. In some cases a match for the emerging fly as well. Then figure the jillion sizes of each insect. You would have to have a steamer truck just to carry them all. We will look at the mayfly nymphs next time.

Here is an assignment. Keep your fly dry. Practice presenting a dry fly accurately try casting on your lawn to a small paper plate. Keep the final cast a bit high so it drops gently onto the plate. Short, (20 feet or so) accurate casts. Practice until it is second nature, and you can do it every time.

Stop by the Chat Room and meet some fellow anglers. It is a nice bunch of people - always willing to talk with new fly fishers! Or just share your fishing adventures. Fair skys and tight lines, ~ DB

Have a question? Email me!

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