Presented from Issue 101
That time of year has finally arrived. The rivers start to settle after a winter full of cold weather and rains. The water of the highland lakes warms. Combine this with warmer weather patterns and you little beauty it all begins to happen. What am I talking about, well I reckon you have guessed it by now, the mayflies will be starting to hatch.
The famous hatches from the slow, flat lowland rivers of Tasmania’s Northern Midlands area should be well under way and the mayfly waters of the central plateau should follow, if they haven’t already started.
I would like to point out now that I am not a big one for scientific names when it comes to entomology. To me a red spinner is a red spinner and well you guessed it a black spinner is just that, a black spinner. All I am really interested in is whether it hatches in our waterways and if the trout likes to eat them. If that is the case then I will do my best to imitate them with fur, feather and synthetics.
A lot of the patterns my mayfly boxes have been developed by some brilliant Tasmanian fly tiers and have been favourite patterns for local anglers for many years, whilst others are relatively new in the mayfly fisherman’s box. Of course as fly tiers we all love to fiddle with what is already a proven pattern to see if we can make it float better, make it more visible etc.
I have also been developing a pattern for my local rivers for the last couple of seasons and have had some excellent results with it so we might even have a peak in that corner of my box as well. So grab a cold beer out of the fridge, settle in and I will show what my mayfly box consists of at the moment.
The life cycle of the mayflies I like to target begins beneath the waters surface with the nymph. When the water temperatures and the weather conditions say things are right the nymphs start to move on the bottom in readiness for their perilous journey to the surface where they will hatch into the beginning of the adult stage of the mayfly or as they are more commonly called, the dun.
I am guilty of not putting a lot of thought into this stage of the mayflies life-cycle to be completely honest. I tend to make do with a few generic nymph patterns including a very basic brown nymph and the ever reliable hares ear/ hare and copper nymphs.
Along with these I carry a few of the more specialist nymphs developed by various fly tying innovators around the state and further afield. These can and do include light and dark ostrich herl nymphs, pot scrubber nymphs and Rob Sloane’s possum nymph in green or brown. The other nymph I like to carry is called the 007. The original pattern called for a black body and hot orange butt, though I have had good success at mayfly time using a brown body combined with a red butt.
You literally could fill a thousand fly boxes with the various nymph patterns out there to imitate the different mayfly species in our waterways but with the above mentioned selection I have enjoyed plenty of success.
Whilst on the subject of not needing to many flies to imitate the mayfly nymph I noticed an article in the latest edition of a favourite glossy magazine by New Zealand angler Simon Chu. He introduces us to a nymph called the String Thing which I think could be quite useful on some local waterways. Like all good flies it looks quite simple to tie, yet is still very durable. I guess another trip to the local store complete with strange looks from the women is in order.
If the poor old nymph is lucky enough to sneak to the surface without getting smashed on the way then he can enter the emerging stage of his life-cycle. He gets to struggle around in the waters surface for a period of time while he hatches out of himself and becomes the adult mayfly.
This is the stage of the life-cycle that I most like to imitate and you will find my fly box full mainly of emerger style patterns. I have a preference for using parachute hackle style flies to imitate this stage of the hatch with my current favourite being a fly I have been working on for the past couple of seasons that I have recently named the Mechute. It has rarely let me down at all over a very intense testing period on some local rivers and smaller creeks around home. It is now in the second stage of its development to also make it just as effective in the more famous highland mayfly still waters, if all goes to plan that is. Other flies I like to carry include the shaving brush style of flies with local tier Simon Taylor’s possum version the favourite due to its better, in my opinion floating capabilities.
Of course what Tasmanian fly box would be complete without a few Barry Lodge emergers, Parachute Adams, Brett Wolf Emergers and the good old Possum Emerger. I was first introduced to the effectiveness of the possum emerger quite a few seasons back now on Arthurs Lake. I had just purchased my first boat so my brother in law and I decided to have a crack at some of the local dun feeders. We launched and given the weather conditions decided to head to the front of Hydro Bay and see what was happening. Man what a decision this turned out to be.
Upon arrival the dun hatch was in full swing and the fish were all over them. Straight away it was on with a possum emerger and into some action. I have never been lucky enough to witness it again but with about a foot of chop on the water you could see the fish surfing down the front of the wave to hunt down our flies that were being stripped quite aggressively. All day, fish after fish those little possum flies kept doing the job without so much as a hint of sinking, falling apart or even the slightest complaint.. Ever since that day I have never headed to a mayfly water, or any type of water for that matter without a few in my fly box. Just like the nymph one can never have to many flies to match this stage of the hatch, but what works for you stick to I say. After all you don’t want to spend all day on the water staring at your boxes deciding which fly to tie on and not actually fishing.
After all this effort and finally he is sitting on top of the water in all his glory. The mayfly has to sit there and let his wings dry before he can finally take off for the safety of the nearest bank. Unless of course he lands right next to a crow and gets picked off straight away. On some days this wing drying phase can, depending on weather conditions, take a while to happen. And well you guessed it if the fish don’t nail him from below the smaller birds will do their best from above. Who would want to be a mayfly? It is this stage of the hatch that I find the most visually exciting as the water can at times be blanketed with what looks like thousands of tiny sail boats and all you can hear is the big clopping sound of rising trout all around you. I have seen the water quite literally covered at lakes like Little Pine Lagoon and it be quite an impressive site.
To imitate this adult stage
I like to use palmered body/ full hackle style flies with a nice rear facing wing. The highland dun with all of its variations being a favourite. I will also fish a lot of the emerger patterns mentioned earlier for this stage of the hatch as I find they can work just as well and tend to be a lot more durable. Of course we can’t forget classic flies like the Greenwells, Iron Blue dun, Ashley Artis Ash Dun fly he developed and Jason Garret’s Little Pine Dun which I had a lot of success on in my beginner years.
Finally after all that effort we get to the final stage of the life-cycle, the spinner. The spinner will in most cases fly back over the water, lay his eggs and get ready to die. I like to use either normal hackled flies with tying thread bodies or my favourite, the parachute spinner to imitate this stage. I tie my parachute flies with micro fibbett tails and seals fur bodies. Tied in this fashion they will float all day, always land the right way and will not fall apart after a couple of fish. Of course we can add in more modern styles of flies like the Spun here and we are well on the way to having things covered.
As I mentioned earlier I have been working on a fly for the last couple of seasons mainly for my local Mersey River. A couple of mates whom I fish with regularly had got talking to a guy one day on the river. He mentioned a fly he had developed after years fishing the Mersey and gave them one to keep. They told me about this pattern and its key features so I had a play with it, as you do. By chance I ran into the same guy on the river months later and one thing led to another. Soon the conversation turned to the fact that I knew these two guys and I was generously given a sample of the same fly to keep for myself. I did what every normal fly tier would do and set about refining it to suit my own needs. The original pattern had tail of golden pheasant tips, a greyish coloured body and conventional style hackle that had been clipped smaller all around. It was also quite small in size which I personally had trouble seeing in low light conditions on more than one occasion.
So for me a few things had to change for it to better suit my needs. The golden pheasant tip tail was the key feature I believed so that had to stay. I changed to a size 12 Hanak barb-less hook which I believed better suited the size of insect I was trying to imitate with my version. The body became possum fur which is dead easy to use and floats all day along with a brown rib and I changed to a parachute hackle purely because I love the footprint it gives on the water along with the extra visibility you get from the wing post.
As I mentioned earlier this fly has caught 99% of my river mayfly feeders and as an added bonus it works very well on the caddis feeders to. I also have another couple of variations I am playing with at the moment to see if I can improve its versatility even more but I think I might keep them under wraps till I do a bit more field testing. Here is the recipe for the original version.
- Hook: Hanak H100 BL
- Tail: Golden pheasant tippetts
- Body: Possum tail fur
- Rib: Brown uni-flexx
- Post: White float vis
- Hackle: Whiting grizzly variant wound parachute style
When tying in the parachute hackle I like to use a method seen on one of Mick Hall’s fly tying DVDs. This involves turning the hook down vertical in the vice and winding the hackle around the post in the normal fashion and then whip finishing around the base of the post. I use this method now for all my parachute style flies as it gives a very neat finish and is quite durable. If you haven’t already tried this method give it a go.
So now you know
So there you have it. I have given you an insight into what my mayfly box looks like and which flies work for me, though I should say that on some days I have seen fish not the least bit interested in any of my best offerings only to completely inhale a red tag, but isn’t that what keeps us coming back.
One other fly that I have recently been introduced to but not yet mentioned is Peter Broomhall’s Bruisers Bug. I witnessed the effectiveness of this fly a couple of years back on a trip to NZ, where Pete worked his magic with it on a few fussy big browns. Tied in a two tone brown version with orange legs it has saved the day for me a couple of times on some fussier mayfly feeders. Sounds crazy I know but I don’t think there is a trout anywhere in the world that wouldn’t eat one of those bugs at some stage. Apologies Pete but I’m sure you wont mind as I think the secret of how good this fly can be is well and truly out already.
So before anyone goes crook just let me say that I know there is a million different fly patterns out there that I have not mentioned, some olden day classics and some more modern style flies that are destined to become classics in their own rights. I just wanted to hopefully take some of the guesswork out of it for those that may be starting out or finding it difficult to choose which fly to tie on when they have got duns getting chomped all around them. So fill that mayfly box to the brim with flies and get out on the water whilst the action lasts. And if we see each other out there somewhere give me a look inside your box and I will swap you one of my Mechute flies for your one of your secret killer patterns. Because as fly fisherman and fly tiers we all have that secret killer pattern, don’t we?