Hatching white mayflies attract attention

July 10, 2005|by Bill Anderson

When you live along a river as we do, you get to know and expect seasonal occurrences such as the arrival of the early nesting wood ducks and the various fly hatches from spring until fall.

No event grabs my attention like the beginning of the white mayflies that hatch daily. The flies are known locally as white millers or white flies.

The exact beginning varies each year, but mid-July is a good average date for the beginning of the hatch. Early last week, we saw the first flies of the summer. The various fish in the river noticed as well.

Every year I think of a quote from Thomas Jefferson in a paper for the American Philosophical Society paper more than 200 years ago. Jefferson's comments were on his observance of the fly hatch from the Potomac River near Washington.


"These flys are so numerous that they appear some evenings like thick driven snow in a cloud that is hardly transparent," he said. "Their first appearance every year is around the 20th of July, and they continue rising every evening, more or less, for about three weeks.

"They seek the light, for they fly in crowds to a lamp or candle, but they are supposed to be the only genus of winged insect that never see the sun."

Most of the well-known smallmouth rivers of the Mid-Atlantic region have good populations of white flies. And they also are found in many trout streams. The trout streams with the better population feature areas with slow current and muddy or silty bottoms.

Fly fishermen have long noted the importance of this mayfly hatch and have developed techniques to take advantage of the opportunity. During the middle of the summer, most of the smallmouth rivers are at a level that make them available and safe to wade and that is a great approach when fly casting.

Fly tackle makes it possible to imitate the food the fish are taking, and the presentation can be quite like the natural insects. On hard-fished trout streams, fishermen use patterns that attempt to exactly imitate the natural flies, and they are very successful.

When fly fishing for smallmouth bass, I like durable flies, and that means patterns that incorporate deer hair like the Wulff or similar patterns are a good choice. When the fishing action is hot and heavy, you will appreciate the durability of the deer-hair patterns.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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