The constant rain has finally stopped and the sun is shining once again. It definitely feels more like summer than spring out there with the humid air. May always goes by fast for me and this year was no different.
When I think of the month of May, visions of trout rising to hatching mayflies come to mind. It’s the best time of the year to catch big trout on dry flies. The key is figuring out which mayfly they’re eating and at what stage of the life cycle they’re in.
Mayflies go through 4 stages in their life cycle: nymph, emerger, adult dun, and spinners. They spend most of their lives in the nymph stage, living on the bottom under rocks and debris. Depending on the species of mayfly they can be clingers, crawlers, swimmers, or burrowers as nymphs.
When the water temperatures warm up to around the 50 degree mark it triggers these mayflies to hatch. During a hatch these mayflies go into the emerger stage where they come out of their nymphal shucks and float to the water’s surface to hatch out into adult mayflies. As adult duns, mayflies only live for 24 hours and their sole purpose is to mate and die. They don’t even have mouth parts as adults. During a hatch different mayflies hatch in different water so it’s important to determine which fly is hatching. By identifying the mayfly you can match the hatch with the right fly to tie on as well as know where to cast. For example, Quill Gordon mayflies like to hatch in the swifter water at the head of the pools and this is where you want to concentrate your efforts. Sulphur mayflies on the other hand like to ride the current and tend to hatch in the middle so it’s important to pay attention to what is going on.
Wild trout can get keyed in on certain mayflies and it’s crucial to have the right size, color, and presentation of fly to catch them. For me, this is what fly fishing is all about. Match the hatch and you’ll catch a lot of fish. Have the wrong fly and you’ll be humbled for sure as the fish will inspect then refuse your offering.
If the fish aren’t hitting the top much, a nymph trailed with an emerger fly can be a deadly combination when fished just before the hatch. The insects are plentiful underneath the water’s surface and the fish will engorge themselves. As the mayflies struggle to come out of their nymphal shuck into an emerger they are an easy meal for hungry trout.
It’s when the mayflies are in the adult stage when the fun begins. Usually this happens in the afternoon. When you start to notice mayflies fluttering on the water’s surface and trout rising, get your dry fly ready as its game on. I like to watch the trout rising and pick out the biggest one to cast to. The fish will usually get in a pattern and rise in the same place so you can key in and know where to cast. A drag free drift with the right fly in the right lane will catch the rising fish.
The last stage of the life cycle is the spinner stage. This is when all of the adults have one last chance to mate before dying and falling to the water’s surface. Usually this occurs right at dark and the action is fast and furious. It seems as if every trout in the hole can’t resist the conveyor belt of dead mayflies drifting along as they’ll continually sip them in until it’s so dark you can’t even see your fly.
Sometimes the spinners will fall early depending on air temperature and weather conditions. We witnessed this just this past weekend. Tara and I hit the river with sulphur duns tied on. When we arrived we saw a few fish rising but after fishing for a while we figured out they didn’t want a sulphur dun. I took a closer look at the water’s surface and noticed there were tiny blue winged olive spinners everywhere.
Without hesitation I found one in my box and tied it on. On my first cast a nice rainbow came up and slowly sipped my spinner in although it broke me off before I could get it in. I missed a couple more after that before they decided to start taking sulphurs. Then right at dark and right on cue all of the trout started engorging themselves on sulphur spinners.
I managed to hook and land a decent rainbow even though it was so dark I couldn’t see my fly. I no longer released the fish when I heard Tara’s reel start zinging. The fish kept bulldogging her to the bottom which usually indicates a nice brown trout. After a couple of tense minutes Tara finally worked the fish to the bank and I slid the net under it.
It was indeed a brown trout and a nice one at that. We admired the 19” butter bellied brown with my headlamp before letting him go to hopefully be caught again. It was a great fish to end on.
The mayflies will continue to hatch through mid-June and you can bet I’ll be on the river every free chance I get until then. Get out and enjoy the excellent fishing taking place right now and catch a big one. Tight lines until next time.