mayfly Hatches
  |  First Published: December 2011

If there is one element to the flyfishing world that sets it apart from any other aspect of fishing, it is the mayfly hatch.

Mayflies are small aquatic insects that have an intriguing three-stage life – and all three stages attract the attention of our friend the trout.

Mayflies live in both rivers and lakes, and have many different species across the cooler southern states. The best hatches are typically found in Victorian lakes such as Harcourt, Andersons and Wendouree as well as the north east tributaries of the Murray, Tasmanian waters such as Little Pine Lagoon, Penstock Lagoon, Four Springs Lake and Arthurs Lake as well as many rivers and in New South Wales the Snowy Mountain waters such as the Monaro streams.

Typically they are a spring and autumn hatch, however the best hatches in Tasmanian lakes are during summer.


The mayfly starts off as an egg (what came first, the mayfly or the egg), which then grows into an aquatic nymph. Depending upon the species, the nymph can live up to two years. Again depending upon species and environment, the nymphs can be quite small (hook size 16 and 18) to relatively large (hook size 10 and 12).

When the season and weather is right, (the predicting of which is something resembling voodoo), the nymph swims to the surface and hatches into the dun. The dun resembles a miniature sailboat, with a bold upright wind. The dun stays on the surface until the wings dry out, and then off it flies to find a sheltered piece of shore on which to continue its lifecycle.

Duns generally live for a day or three depending upon the weather, which is crucial for the next part of the lifecycle.

The dun then has another emergence, this time on dry land, where it hatches into the spinner. The spinner is a shiny, sleek insect with clear wings and long tails. The spinner has no mouth at all – all it does is mate on the wing and then die. Often the spinner will live for a matter of several hours, sometimes longer, often shorter.

Imitation and fishing of the three stages

The nymph is best imitated with a subsurface wet fly, generally a brown nymph in the size appropriate to where you are fishing. If the water is shallow then an un-weighted fly is best, however if fishing flowing water then a weighted, or bead head nymph is the go, as this will fish deeper in the water column.

The emerging stage is the most productive in lakes, and the easiest for the beginner to take advantage of. Fish flies such as parachute emergers, highland dun patterns and those which sit relatively low in the water.

The spinner stage can be the most difficult, as trout feeding on spinners can get quite selective in what and how they feed. Often they can be seen leaping after spinners on the wing, and they can be a tad hard to tempt! When they switch to feeding on spent, (or dead) spinners life gets easier, and then patterns such as parachute spinners (in the colour to suit) is the go.

Many a fly angler is heard to say “may time fly ‘till mayfly time”, with very good reason – it is the highlight of the fishing season.

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