May 4, 2013

Allen Afield: Better start fishing because May flies indeed

By KEN ALLEN

"Hatch Guide for New England Streams" by Tom Ames Jr. hit bookstores 13 years ago, and yes, that figure generates a predictable comment from folks like me -- "How time flies."

Mayfly
click image to enlarge

This bogus mayfly looks authentic enough to fool most any freshwater trout with an insatiable appetite for aquatic bugs.

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It seems like yesterday when Amato Publications first published this landmark fly-fishing entomology book, but it has been around long enough to earn the status as a classic for fly rodders living in one of the more populated fly-fishing areas of the country.

When "Hatch Guide" first came out in 2000, a single sentence in the introduction popped my eyes and mouth wide open: "Maine, alone, has, at last count, 162 species of mayflies, the most of any other state."

Two points about the quote generated a lifetime memory:

First and foremost, Maine winning number one for the most mayfly species (and counting) of any other state in the country was news, and that tidbit impressed me with an uppercase "I" to win such a title.

Second, the quote has four too many commas, a record for a 16-word sentence. The editor in me could not resist making this crack.

The book also covers other aquatic insects such as caddises, stoneflies and lesser known bug families, but fly rodders love their mayflies, and why not? While hatching, most species sit on the surface film for a short time before flying off, drawing trout and salmon to the surface to sip them.

This floating trait of mayfly duns (subimagoes) endears them to us, because folks can easily capture a bug that fish are targeting, study the size, color scheme and silhouette and match an artificial to the natural. The latter includes upwings, six legs below these appendages, distinct abdomen, thorax and head, and two or three tails -- three being far more common than two.

(Ephemeris such as Isonychia bicolor, an uncommon exception to most mayfly larvae, get on top of a dry river rock above the current or crawl ashore before shucking the nymphal case so fish key on them as larvae.)

On the opposite extreme to mayflies, many caddis species rocket up from bottom, burst through the meniscus and fly ashore to hide under leaves or limbs. Caddises usually make themselves less available for scrutiny, so these ultra-common insects can be more difficult to match -- not impossible but more problematic than catching a drifting mayfly dun on the surface.

This month in Maine's bottom third, mayflies begin hatching in great numbers, which gives us a hint as to why centuries ago that the British put "may" in the name to acknowledge the fifth month. Before World War II, Brits and Americans spelled "mayfly" with an uppercase "M" and as two words.

Waters such as Little Ossipee River in Newfield and Shapleigh; Pleasant River in Windham; Presumpscot River also in Windham; Crooked River in Casco, Harrison and towns north of there; Nezinscot River in Turner; Sheepscot River in Palermo and St. George River in Union, Appleton and Searsmont produce dependable hatches this month.

When no insects float on the water and fish make no rise rings, folks should hold an insect seining net in a chute between two rocks to help see which bug is active and then dead-drift a nymph that imitates the prevalent mayfly larvae that will hatch later each day. A Hendrickson, Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail, Zug Bug or Flick March Brown work for many mayflies.

Many nymphs hatching in May cling or crawl on bottom until the time comes to swim to the top and metamorphose. Before changing to duns, they move around more on bottom and the current washes some of them downstream -- semi-prisoners trying to get back on bottom and anchor themselves again. Fish feed on the hapless bugs carried in the flow.

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