Marvellous mayfly fishing in Tasmanian LakesThe mayfly has been closely associated with Spring and fly-fishing in the northern hemisphere for hundreds of years.
Claudius Aelianus the author of a book on natural history written in the fifth century writes of tackle and fly making. While translated from Greek, the message is clear, the process was already well developed in Macedonian rivers. One can still get a glimpse of these early times and an appreciation of their enthusiasm. Advances in the development of better equipment and methods for their sport could only have been bred through free thinking. The earliest flies were tied from furs and feathers, many of which are still included in modern dressings, to represent mayflies and the immature nymphs. These were undoubtedly fished wet fly style in rivers and streams using relatively crude poles and horsehair lines.
It is generally agreed that these representatives of the Order Ephemoptera (meaning literally, short-lived with wings) are responsible for the earliest development of the fly-fishing method.
The abundant insect
Few people other than trout fishers are familiar with mayflies. On a global basis, the mayfly is well known as being closely associated with trout, especially the brown trout, and forms an important staple item in this fish in freshwater streams and lakes.
Mayflies are aquatic insects that complete almost their entire life cycle under water.
They require clean cool water from which they obtain dissolved oxygen through feathery external gills that can be found on the sides of their bodies. Healthy quantities of aquatic plants are necessary for their food and shelter.
The wonderful thing about mayflies is that trout love to feed on them.
Several mayfly species feature in Tasmania. Some species are to be found in lakes and others prefer streams.
It is not essential to have a comprehensive knowledge of the different species to catch trout, but it is useful to have some knowledge of their habits, especially when a hatch is experienced or to be expected.
Know your bugs: the secret lives of mayflies.
Mayflies represent a primitive form of insect that has an unusual life cycle. They are unique in the insect world because they shed their skins twice.
The may fly life cycle.
Many of the more advanced insects such as butterflies have a life cycle that scientists have described as having a complete metamorphosis. This cycle will be familiar to small children and all who marvel at the wonder of nature, the world over.
The complete metamorphic cycle progresses through egg, larva, pupa and the winged adult stage.
The mayfly cycle progresses through egg, nymph, first winged stage, (dun,) and adult winged stage (spinner.)
Tasmanian trout eat lots of mayflies as nymphs, duns and spinners and this type of feeding activity is something to get really excited about.
Fishing the may fly hatch. A day on a mayfly lake.
Today, in our minds, we are going on an adventure to Arthurs Lake in the Highlands of Tasmania to search for brown trout to catch. If we are going to be successful, we need to apply the three F rule. The three F rule is easy to remember. Find fish feeding.
The best way to find fish is to dive below the water and look for fish. Come along for a ride on my back as we have a look around, I'll point out what I want you to see.
One of the amazing features of the lake-bed is the amount of lush green plants that grow here. There will be places where that growth is sparse and places where the growth is lush. That's what the mayfly nymphs want. Water that is two to three metres deep with a soft muddy bottom supports plenty of weed and countless nymphs.
As we dig through the weed, we find them living their secret lives amongst the strands.
Amazing, as it seems, enough nymphs avoid being eaten alive by fish, saving them from extinction.
The time that the nymphs are most vulnerable is when they are swimming to the surface to hatch into a dun. And especially when they are in the process of hatching (emerger) Another name for a dun is a sub-imago. We shall call them duns. When this migration occurs we call it an emergence, or simply a hatch.
This underwater activity is not always obvious to air breathing creatures like anglers and wallabies etc. I am sure that the wallabies don't think about it, much less give a damn, after all they eat grass.
But the trout, they eat insects and go nuts. Several types of birds enjoy a feed of mayflies and can be useful to us when searching for the best areas to fish.
During the early stages of the hatch, fish will be found patrolling the surface of the weed terrain like Stealth Bombers searching for over-zealous suicide nymphs. As the hatch progresses, larger numbers of nymphs will be found accumulating close to the surface and the trout, looking for the easiest meal, will be in hot pursuit.
Signs to watch out for.
Now that we are back on board our boat, shivering like idiots, we will see the occasional boil on the surface; this is a result of fish turning below the surface to intercept swimming nymphs. Nature takes no prisoners. You can almost hear them scream.
When the swimming nymph reaches the surface a barrier meets it. This barrier is known as the meniscus. The meniscus is what allows us to float our dry flies in the surface, but for our little friends, represents a monumental challenge. The meniscus is like the force fields on "Lost in Space', separating the two worlds, air and water. "Oh the pain of it all."
The poor little nymphs present an easy target for the trout as the meniscus or surface film, which is actually a layer of water molecules, traps them. Soon though, the skin near their head splits and they are free to wriggle from their skins, revealing their wings. Trout smile as they inhale these squishy, but nutritious little morsels. Not surprisingly they taste a little like chicken.
Duns are poor fliers, they are dressed in drab tweed overcoats, but fly they must. The fluttering duns try out their new wings, the trout show no mercy as they stuff themselves full, and put on a show for us. The carnage continues as the trout make splashy lunges at the duns as they drift along in the currents of water and wind like little sailboats.
Mayflies hatch into a winged insect for one reason only, to find a dance partner. In the absence of nearby phone booths these mild mannered duns remove their drab overalls behind the bushes, revealing their dazzling dance clothes while no one is looking of course. They are called spinners and are ready for the spinner B and S ball.
The transformation is complete. Spinner couples yet again take to the air. They are splendid and generally cut a rug. Dancing spinners can be seen performing the nuptial dance in private places often well away from the water. Go John and Olivia. Don't forget to grease your hackles boys.
After a few rounds of mind-blowing dancing they are in ecstasy. Coupled male and the females return to the water to lay their eggs.
Soon they will perish but the eggs sink to the bottom of the lake as the seeds of the next generation have been sown. They are spent spinners.
They die, as they possess no mouth parts capable of feeding. They certainly are short lived with wings.
Predicting good sport
Dodgy weather and hatches.
The largest emergences of duns occur on days with overcast conditions. High humidity helps protect the newly hatched dun from dehydration. Drizzle, rain and snow, even blizzards do little to deter them, however, the best fishing is usually associated with wind.
Wind helps to break the meniscus and makes it a little easier for the duns to hatch, resulting in a greater numbers on the surface. Wind also tends to channel the flies and pushes them into lanes, making it easier for the fisherman to locate the fish.
When the peak of the hatch coincides with a stiff breeze, they are pushed quite quickly along the surface. Well defined wind lanes means trout will be easier to track as they make their way up wind in search of their next victim
It would be fair to say that foul weather is to be expected in the highlands at any time, summer or not.
The fact is that calm waters rarely create the right conditions for good mayfly fishing.
A full on hatch has to be seen to be believed and when experienced makes up for a lot of less productive sessions.
May fly-fishing can be worthwhile in some wild weather, however safety should always show precedence over a few trout.
As always, it is necessary to be well equipped. It is foolish not to take advantage of well-designed modern clothing and equipment. To suffer adverse weather conditions is unnecessary, and removes much of the pleasure from the experience. When you dally over the high price of that special jacket, consider the cosy comfort well designed all weather gear provides. What price do you put on your personal well being and enjoyment?
Pros and cons of boating versus shore fishing.
Fly-fishing from a drifting boat is a great way to present our flies to a large number of trout.
A boat provides us with great mobility. Many trout will see your flies if the boat is handled correctly and bag limit catches are possible and not uncommon.
Fly-fishing from the shore or better still, wading or even float tubing, can also be rewarding and quite relaxing if you are fit and mobile, and I think that good presentations can even the score a little. It depends also on factors such as your personal taste, your budget and the conditions of the day.