Hayes on Mayflies

Peter Hayes
It is no surprise to me that as a trout fishing guide my December and January book out well before the other months. The repeat clients come primarily for the opportunity to fish the Highlands tremendous dun hatches.
By mid December the highland lakes that are suitable for the mayfly reach temperatures that signal "hatch'. If you are lucky enough to be out on one of the huge hatch days you will experience a show from nature that you won't easily forget. Duns coming off in the thousands, miraculously popping from beneath the surface like little jack in the boxes.
Trout love to eat them in all their life cycles. Mayflies must surely be one of the trouts tastiest foods and they seem to not be able to let a single one go past. Just like me with a box of mixed chocolates. I will sort through looking for the Turkish Delights then eat every one of them. Mayflies are a trout's Turkish Delight.
The ascending, wriggling nymph must drive the trout into a wild frenzied state. When a trout comes across the struggling, hatching, emerger in the surface film it must be almost to good to be true. Then there is the high sitting, brown wind surfing dun. Drifting predictably with the wind straight into the upwind swimming mouth of Mr Speckles. But then -.. the best fun of all is leaping high for the mating spinners laden with eggs. Yum !
I once read that a gram of dried mayfly to a trout is the equivalent of 5000 calories to a human. A much greater energy supply that even the most lavish dessert we can eat. No wonder they like them.

History and trends
Most any shallow weedy water in the highlands grows good numbers of mayfly. The more obvious and better known waters are Little Pine, Penstock and Arthurs Lake.
Thirty years ago I fished these waters a lot and it was all done from shore. I remember well the prolific dun hatches in all these waters. I remember the fish sipping gently as they worked toward my waiting fly. The take was always slow motion, a sipping nose from fish with heads the size of a Sherrin football..... a wait for the closing mouth and the turning down of the head then a smart setting of the hook. You know the rest.....boy it was good.
Then, 15 years ago I started guiding and I have witnessed the slow demise of the highland mayfly. I think the past 4 years have failed to show me even a half decent hatch. And perhaps as much the problem as the changing environment which has lessened the hatches is the change to the feeding behaviour of the trout.
These days trout seem to feed in fast furious spurts then retreat to the depths to feed on the ascending nymph rather than the dry. Very often quick spashy rises result from the beat of the tail as the trout hurriedly retreats to safety. These erratic nymph feeders are almost impossible to catch on a static dry. It saddens me to say that I believe we, the anglers, are to blame for their poor table manners.
Too many boats, too many motors, too much speed and too many anglers. I once thought Jason Garrett was a traditional old snodger with a tweed jacket when he suggested to me that most fishing should be done from the shore or with thigh boots not full length waders.
Now I understand the wisdom of his ways. It is my opinion that some of our lakes should be gumboot only fisheries in December. We have all made a rod for our own backs and guides like me unfortunately, and unknowingly, sped up the process.
We are all buying bigger and faster boats so we can tear all over the lake looking for passively feeding fish to cast to. These fish don't exist because we tear around the lakes in bigger and faster boats looking for passively feeding fish to cast to.
I am proud to say that some years ago I lobbied successfully to introduce a 5 knot speed limit in the Cowpaddock. Man I came under some flack at the time but many thinking anglers now see the wisdom of this and they are happy to abide by the rule at Penstock too. Have a think about just one knot on some waters. I assure you it is more respectful to the trout. After all it is their environment that we are in not vice versa.

Fishing methods :

Dry Fly, Traditional Vs Modern
When I was a boy it was normal to use just one fly (a palmered highland dun of some pattern) on a tapered leader. Prior to and after a hatch this fly was bait fished in a static manner. Some fish were caught like this but not many. During the hatch feeding fish were sought after and cast too. The fly was left static in the path of a feeding fish. The strike was performed "God save the Queen" after the take and if everything was right we hooked and played a trout.
Good bags were often had by good anglers. Now that things have changed I don't believe that the good anglers do as well with this method as they once used to.
When I started guiding 15 years ago I used parachute duns exclusively. I nearly always used two flies tied about 3 feet apart. The dropper was often a size 10 with a mylar tail. This was an attractor with the smaller #12 point fly following behind. This system worked well and one reason was the two flies fished a larger area. The dropper was a large and visible fly that "drew" the fish that would often take the smaller fly.
The attractor was bright and on dull mayfly days this seemed to make a difference. The parachutes sat down in the water unlike a fully palmered dry and the fish not only saw them more easily but they took them more readily and we had better hook up rates.
Then along came Shayne Murphy who I consider to be a great angler. Shayne and I started pulling our dries. We pulled like boy scouts even though the conventional wisdom was to not allow a dry fly to drag.
As soon as the flies landed near the rising fish we gave a smart 3 foot strip. After a short hesitation we would pull a further three feet. I can't tell you how many fish we used to catch like this. The movement clearly attracted the fishes attention. The leader noise scratching the surface helped turn their heads too and the resulting takes were spectacular smashing affairs. We never hooked a fish-.. they hooked themselves deep in the mouth. This was clearly a more successful method.
Then came the poms John Horsey and Martin Cottis. They brought longer 18 foot leaders of level 4 pound. Seals fur dries with fluro heads. Constant casting of short lines and constant movement. Raking and reaming the water. Every inch of it. It was so successful that 10 years on this remains the most successful dry fly fishing system that I know of.
It sucks really. I think I would rather trade my 5 meter tri hull sportfishing boat with 130 HP Honda, Minn Kota electric motor, Lowrance colour depth sounder and fish finder for a day on Little Pine 30 years ago with my gumboots and Glad garbage bag raincoat with arm holes in the corners and my fibreglass 1021 rod.

Nymph fishing, Static Vs moved
I had two local guys on the boat a few years ago in the Cowpaddock. I fished one of them with two brown nymphs under a woollen indicator. One nymph at 3 feet the other at 8 feet. The other rod was rigged with an 18 foot flurocarbon leader with three brown nymphs of varying designs and weights. We fished these rigs for an hour or so before the hatch and a similar time after the hatch. At the end of the day one method produced 14 fish and the other 13. Both methods were equally successful but on many occasions one system was better than the other for periods of 20 minutes or so.
On another day I had a very skilled fly fishing father and his novice teenage son who had a broken right arm. The father cast possum emergers accurately to rising fish for several hours and only had 2 fish to show for his considerable efforts and skill. When the son was beating him 11 fish to 2 Colin said "Haysie for chris sake give me an indicator and a nymph'.
I have seen this dozens of times in a dun hatch at the lakes. An indicator with a nymph down 8 feet is a deadly thing.
Again, and sadly, this is a good method of catching fish but do I really want to fish like this ? No I don't, it's not good for the soul.

Go to it
However you choose to fish and whatever stage you are at in fly fishing mayfly time in the Highlands of Tasmania is a special time. Go and participate in it as it is today and enjoy nature at its best. Think about your part in it and learn to be a better custodian than we have been previously. Unfortunately It is a fact that our sons and daughters will never witness the mayfly fishing of 30 years ago.

Peter Hayes
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