Fly Fishing 101, Part 16
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
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
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
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
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!