03/08/07 – Mayflies are trout food nothing more nothing less, at least that’s what they are to me. Ask an entomologist and I’m sure you’ll get a different answer, as you should. You see, my only interest in mayflies is how they will help me hook up with a trout and an entomologist’s interest in mayflies is – well, now that I think about it I don’t know why an entomologist studies mayflies.
Mayflies aren’t particularly beneficial or harmful to humans and so their level of importance in the grand scheme of things is low but they do get a lot of study. And like all things that get a lot of study the devil has proved to be in the details. You see, after looking at the details entomologists have determined there are over 600 species in North America alone – over 2,500 species of mayflies worldwide.
“How do you know what they are? There are so many of them and they’re all different.” That question and statement are regulars here at the shop. Many people, even those who have been fly fishing for a long time, are at a loss when it comes to identifying mayflies. They are simply overwhelmed.
My answer to them is I don’t care what they are. What I do care about is what size, shape and color they are. Now you may think that makes it simple. After all, just a glance will give you that information. Wrong. The problem with the “just a glance” approach is that the darn things won’t sit still long enough to let you get that glance. Bless the errant mayfly that lands on your shirtsleeve and gives you a look. Capture the ones that don’t.
Yep, that’s the best way to determine what pattern to use – capture a specimen. Use a seine or a long handled bug net, your hats – anything but capture one and “matching the hatch” gets really easy. If you can’t capture one here are some things to keep in mind.
Mayflies don’t come in a lot of sizes or all that many colors. Olives, Sulfurs, Grays and Mahoganies are the four shades of color I see most often. I know someone out there is saying what about Light Cahills; they’re almost white and aren’t there some black mayflies? And the answer is yes but the majority of mayflies will fall into the 4 color schemes I mentioned.
Olives are generally, fairly small say 16 to 22 with an occasional size 14 thrown in. Sulfurs run a little bigger with a range generally running from 14 to 18. Grays are often bigger and many of our early season hatches like the Quill Gordon or Gray Fox and they will run in size from 12 to 16. That leaves us with the Mahoganies, which range from tan to reddish brown and run in size from 12 to 16. Now if you look back at those sizes you’ll see that each group has some size 14 and size 16 flies and only the Gray’s and Mahoganies have size 12 – that’s a hint. Yep, most mayflies are small.
So to make it really simple just go out and buy a size 14 and size 16 mayfly pattern in Olive, Sulfur, Gray and Mahogany and you’ve got it licked – right? Well almost. I would feel fairly good about a small selection like that if I was able to get those two sizes in two types. I’d like some high floating Catskill imitations and low riding Comparadun or Emerger patterns. Then I’d be happy…………until the caddis started hatching.
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