It’s Mayfly magic time for most of the country and it’s in full swing here in Michigan.
Mayfly hatches are incredible phenomena that can be a major factor in the bass habits and how you can catch them.
While quite prominent in the north, I’ve seen them occur on Kentucky Lake, the Coosa River system and basically all over. A year ago, we saw a big hatch in the River Rumble on the Mississippi at La Crosse, Wis. It starts in June and runs into July.
Lake St. Clair near Detroit, listed by Bassmaster Magazine as the No. 1 bass lake in the country, experiences massive mayfly hatches every year. The hatch is so huge that convenient stores around the lake use snow shovels to clear them off their sidewalks and parking lots!
There are different species of mayflies, but they’re all like candy to every species of fish. When the hatch occurs, everything from walleyes to panfish bass and carp devour them.
The mayflies will concentrate the bluegills so the bass enjoy the smorgasbord of gobbling bluegills as well and mayflies.
It’s important to understand the life cycle of the mayfly to fully capitalize on these hatches that occur frequently over about a three-week period.
They began as larvae on the bottom of rivers and lakes, a time when they are equally attractive to predators. We refer to larvae as “wigglers” which are trapped and sold as livebait throughout the north. Wigglers are especially deadly on panfish and popular among ice fishermen.
When they mature, they float toward the surface and a fly emerges from the shell of the larvae. As they reach the surface, the mayfly will sit on the water and fly when their wings dry.
A telltale sign of a mayfly hatch – other than seeing the bugs fluttering on the surface – is to notice floating larvae shells. These shells are 3/4 to 1 inch long and what I look for along the shore if I suspect there has been a hatch and no flies are visible.
Hatches generally occur during the evenings and will continue into the night. Once they fly, the flies mate quickly and die within 48 hours. They fall into the water or land in a tree, usually one that overhangs the water’s edge.
In fact, overhanging willow trees are often the host of hundreds of mayflies during a hatch, which is why some people call them “willow flies.”
Mayflies also are drawn to light, so trees near lighted docks or shorelines tend to be covered with them. You never want to park your bass boat under a light at a lake motel or you will find a blanket of dead bugs on your rig the next morning.
When I see bushes or trees with mayflies clinging to them, I’ll throw a soft-bodied KVD Sexy Frog into the bottom of the tree to shake the bugs free and get some of them to fall into the water.
This can cause the same reaction from fish that you get on ponds with automated fish feeders. When the mayflies land in water, it triggers a feeding frenzy.
Most any type of topwater will catch them but I prefer smaller, finesse poppers that come closer to matching the size of these bugs. That’s especially important on clear lakes where size and color becomes more critical.
Mayfly larvae are a brownish pumpkin, so I try to opt for similar colors in 3-inch tube baits or grubs.
Most of the fish are feeding in the upper part of the water column and they’re just roaming around looking for anything that resembles a wiggler or mayfly.
So, if you get to the lake in early morning and recognize a hatch occurred over night, tie on a topwater or small soft plastic bait and prepare to do battle! The bite will be on!
Remember, it’s all about the attitude!