The Big Mayflies

While the Blue Wing Olive and midges hold a place in the hearts of fly fishermen for their year long presence on many rivers, when hard pressed many fly fisherman and all trout prefer the big mayfly hatches that stir up frenetic activity for us and mouth size smorgasbord for trout. The rivers of Eastern and Midwest United States offer some fabulous hatches that provide just such occasions for frenzied fly fishing action.

While big mayfly hatches are typically short lived, they are somewhat reliable can be intense and re-connect us the fly fisher with the reason we so love the puzzle that is fly fishing. Many things affect the exact timing of any specific hatch, water temperature, air temperature, barometric pressure, and time of day. But almost of equal importance as the hatch itself are the spinner falls. They aren’t as heavily pressured and since we know the hatch occurrence their exact timing is more easily pinpointed. Spinner falls are when the adult mayflies return to the water, mate, deposit their eggs and fall to the water, making another easy feast for the waiting trout.

Though they might not qualify as super sized, the Quill Gordons are the first of the year in many east coast streams. This species needs near perfect water conditions and often disappears from stretches of rivers due to agriculture run off or other man made disturbances. The nymphs are clingers and are found in fast water due to their need for oxygen. Because the hatch occurs during cold weather and once began doesn’t seem to stop due to inclement weather, the newly emerged dun needs ample time riding the water for their wings to ready for flight, making them a nice dun pattern to fish, and a great way to sharpen those dry fly casting techniques rusted from a winter of mostly nymphing.

When Quill Gordon is winding down March Browns are stirring. A sporadic hatcher like the Quill spends long periods of time floating on the water, making them a great dry fly hatch. Nymphs move toward shallow, calm areas where rocks are abundant. Emergers struggle mightily to lose their shucks thus attracting eager trout. A lot of time has been devoted to develop imitations of the March Brown nymph such as our all time favorite the Hare’s Ear, March Brown Nymph, March Brown Spider, and March Brown Wet Fly. All our effective and much time and casting should be directed at this stage of the insect.

Green Drakes vary from location. But the excitement they invoke does not. The east and Midwest both sport great populations of this mayfly. Nymphs are burrowers, emerging late May through June, the nymphs are exaggerated swimmers making the poxyback with the marabou tufts ideal to imitate the gills. The nymphs will molt up to 30 times per year making them very accessible to trout. Thus can be fished year round where populations are known.

Though the duns are fished, the spinner falls at dusk are the ideal time you want to fish these. Even the name ‘Coffin Fly’ denotes the prime target they are. Green Drake are very nutritious and due to the intensity of this hatch the fattest trout become satiated. This hatch and spinner fall is best fished at the very beginning and then again at the very end.

Following the ‘Coffin Fly’ comes the cameo appearance of the Brown Drake sneaking in before the Hex. The nymphs are burrowers living in the sand and the silt. The adult emergence happens at night as do spinner falls and they can be on the water at the same time. Fishing the Brown Drake Paradrake imitates both.

Isonychia or Slate Drake begin their emergence in early June in most waters, and unlike the other mayflies in this article, can last for months, the nymphs are swimmers and can be imitated with Zug Bugs, Sparkle Isonychia, and other full bodied patterns. Nymphs can emerge on shore or in warmer water; they make a noisy emergence in the water attracting fish.

Of all the sporadic hatches this one can provide a whole summer of activity, with duns reliably emerging in steady enough numbers to keep them on the fish menu, and artificials on the tippets of fly fishers.

The granddaddy of all large Mayflies is of course the Hex. Calendars are circled, vacations are made, and sleep is lost, for this one insect. The Hex is perhaps most famous in Michigan’s Au Sable River but also significant in regions both East and West. The adults get to size 4, but better results seem to occur with 6 and smaller. Nymphs are burrowers and live for two years. But they molt outside their burrows many times a year, making the nymphs important food for trout and steelhead if present. Hatches generally occur in the waning twilight. This event single handedly promoted Michigan night fishing trips.



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The Blog of Big Y Fly Co: The Big Mayflies
The Big Mayflies
The Blog of Big Y Fly Co
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