Small mayflies make for good fishing in fall
October 18, 2007
Every fall, fly fishermen are keenly aware of a small mayfly that is of great importance in rivers throughout the West. Such is the case in our region as anglers anticipate the prolific hatches of the tiny Baetis mayflies.
Baetis are also known under the more common name of blue wing olives. As the name implies, they can be olive in color, but they even come in shades of brown or gray as an adult.
They are as tiny as three millimeters in length. Most anglers in our region use adult imitations in hook sizes of No. 20 to 24. These are incredibly small hooks.
Nymphs should be tied in about No. 18 to 20. A good generic pattern is the pheasant tail nymph in either the standard or bead-head style.
New anglers often miss seeing the rising fish when they are feeding on the tiny mayflies. The rise forms can often be subtle and appear as nothing more than currents in the water. The insects are also small and difficult to distinguish on the water.
Once an angler does see the rising fish, he or she has a pretty good chance of catching the fish if it is rising consistently. An Adams in a standard tie or parachute style will typically work just fine for the Baetis. My favorite imitation for these tiny insects is a Quigley Cripple in the appropriate size.
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Many anglers overlook the water adjacent to the bank. Oftentimes this is where the mayflies tend to get concentrated. Because anglers are searching the middle of the stream, they may never see the fish literally right at their feet.
When insects are not hatching, using the nymph imitation works extremely well during the fall. I typically fish a pair of these nymphs under an indicator for the best results.
Because of the large numbers of these insects, the fish tend to be receptive to a fly fisher’s imitations. Many anglers will do extremely well during the fall fishing nothing but Baetis patterns.
Many feel that it is too hard to land a large fish on such a small fly. This is true, but there is a trick that can help you land more fish.
First of all, choose a fly in a size 20 or smaller that has a straight or ring-eye hook rather than one with a down-turned eye. The reason is that the gap of the hook ” the distance between the shank and the point ” is greater, which allows for a better hook-set using these small hooks.
You can also offset the point of the hook slightly to the side, which some feel allows the hook to better stay in while fighting the fish with a barbless hook. In my experience this works very well on small hooks.
It is amazing how large fish will eat these tiny mayflies. I am always reminded of the pounds of meat philosophy. Large fish will eat these tiny insects because cumulatively, they account for a huge meal. Just the shear volume of these insects allows the fish to gorge themselves and take in many more calories than they expend.
Think small when it comes to the fall for consistent action. The tiny Baetis mayfly is an insect not to be overlooked in importance.
Be sure to have some of these in your box for fall fishing.
Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.