Outdoors -- Hatch starts fishing frenzy

August 05, 2007|By BILL ANDERSON

If you happen to be down along the Potomac just before dark this week, you have a really good chance of seeing one of the main events of the midsummer period.

Just before complete darkness, swarms of large white mayflies move upriver. The numbers can be amazing, and if you happen to have a light or gas lantern sitting there, it will soon be covered with flies.

Many rivers in this part of the country have this fly hatch. The flies are known by many local names including white miller, white fly and fish fly. In our area, it's mostly known as the white miller hatch.

On the Susquehanna River, near towns like Harrisburg or Middletown, Pa., they are usually just called white flies.

The start of the white miller hatch is a special occurrence because of the tremendous number of flies that emerge nearly every evening. On most streams and rivers, the hatch will begin in late July and can last well into September. The main portion of the hatch coincides with the hottest, most humid weather of the summer.


Over the past few summers, the beginning of the hatch has varied a great deal from year to year and stream to stream. But you want to witness the beginning days or evenings of the hatch. The general rule is the first two weeks are usually the best fishing, but you can expect at least decent action on white flies until the hatch ends in September.

The hatch actually begins about an hour before dark. You can see the duns popping to the surface where they ride the current for a short distance before flying off. You catch fish during this period, but this is really just a warmup - the spinner fall.

The spinner stage usually does not start until just before full darkness. It's easy to see because there will be swarms of flies. Soon, the surface will be covered with dead and dying flies.

When the surface of a stream or river is covered with floating groceries, it creates quite a stir - particularly in the early days of the hatch. Nearly every species of fish found in the river will get into the act and the fisherman is likely to catch smallmouth bass, sunfish, rock bass, carp and catfish and fallfish.

When the fish are really excited about the hatch, you can catch them on spinning tackle using small surface lures or lightly weighted plastics.

A winning presentation is to take a three- or four-inch white plastic grub and rig it like a weedless plastic worm with no weight. The lure is then fished in the surface film with an upstream cast and small twitches. This is not an easy rig to cast unless you are using light spinning tackle.

Fly anglers can use any number of patterns since the fish are not particularly selective. I have always tried to go with very durable patterns like the Wulff dry flies or small popping bugs. A lot of the fishing occurs in the dark, so you want your fly to last as long as possible. Many dry fly patterns are slimed after one fish and you don't really want to change flies after every fish.

The white miller hatch is a real happening on many of our rivers and streams. It is consistent and predictable, and probably the best thing about this opportunity is that it usually lasts for many weeks.

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

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