Mayfly Hatch Bass
Find a swarming hatch of mayflies... it’s cast-and-catch time!
Summertime in the South can be a bit taxing, on both the bass and the bass fishermen. Highs in the 90s quickly have water temps boiling up into the 80s. And before the summer is out, even the water temps will break the 90-degree mark in many places.
This time of year, many anglers will make their way offshore to chase the large majority of the bass that make their way off the banks and onto the postspawn haunts where they’ll hang out until fall. But you shouldn’t underestimate the number of fish that stay shallow. There are quite a few bass that stay up throughout the summer, choosing to seek out shelter from the sun in shade or perhaps in some creek with a steady flow of cooler water.
Targeting fish in these areas can lead to some big bites and really productive days on the water. And typically there’s less boat traffic than you’ll find out in the open water, from both joyriders and other bass fishermen.
You can look for shallow fish under docks and overhanging bushes, or around laydowns and shallow brush. If you can find a creek with a steady flow of fresh water, you can typically find a population of bass hanging around in the shallows throughout the summer, since the water temps can be upward of 10 degrees cooler at times.
Bass are cold-blooded creatures. So their body temps are regulated by the environment around them. That’s why the majority of them move offshore in the summer, to seek out cooler temperatures in deeper water. But if they can find these cooler temps and stay shallow, they can find some reprieve from the heat in the cool waters of a creek or in the shade.
And there’s another big motivator for bass that push many of them offshore if they can’t find it shallow— food. As the majority of the shad and other bait sources move deeper for the summer, a lot of the bass follow right along with them. So if you want to find fish shallow in the summer, you need to find the bait.
This is where the mayfly hatch comes into play, a natural phenomenon that happens across the south that will keep bass shallow, especially at the start and sometimes throughout the summer. Every year, mayfly eggs that have been previously deposited hatch into larvae in the water. Then the larvae turn into nymphs that live underwater for roughly a year.
After that year is up, they then emerge from the water, sprout wings and turn into adult mayflies that live for roughly a day or two. During their short adult lifespan, these mayflies lay eggs in the water that will hatch and then remain there for roughly a year until those nymphs mature into mayflies again and continue the cycle.
You can find these mayfly hatches in lots of different places. A mayfly hatch may occur from the backs of creeks, bluff walls on the main lake and everywhere in between. Though it’s hard to predict exactly where to find a mayfly initially, the good news is that once you find one, you can usually return to that same place several times throughout the summer—and even year after year—to find the mayfly hatching out again and again in the same place.
This process creates an absolute buffet for bream, bass and other fish. The fish are surely feeding on the nymphs as well below the surface, but the immediate giveaway that you’ve found a mayfly hatch is the sight of fish busting on the surface along the bank. As you make your way closer, you’ll either see a bunch of the mayflies buzzing around, or you’ll see them hanging from leaves and limbs, as thick as grapes at times.
Mayflies are more active during certain times of the day. The first 30 minutes and last 30 minutes of daylight are really when you’ll see the most activity. The flies take flight and buzz around during these time frames. As they grow weaker, they’ll fall to the water where bream, bass, catfish or other predators eagerly await. You’ll often even see turtles easing around taking advantage of this easy meal. It’s a free-for-all those first and last 30 minutes of the day.
On occasion, if a summer storm rolls in, you’ll see similar activity around a mayfly hatch. The mayflies will start to buzz around, and the fish become increasingly more active. If it starts to rain, the rain will actually begin to knock some of the flies down into the water and keep the feeding frenzy going. But the majority of the time in the summer, the mayflies are fairly inactive during the day, and you can run right by them without even realizing they’re there if you’re not paying close attention.
During the heat of the day, the mayflies like to stay tucked in under broad leaves if they can find them nearby. But they’ll also cling to limbs, pine needles, docks and whatever else they can find to grab onto. And they just sit there, waiting for that magic hour to roll around again when they become active.
But you can bet on one thing, the fish are still there hanging around, even when the mayflies aren’t buzzing around. Knowing the food is there, they don’t often wander far away. So you can actually create your own little feeding windows by tossing a bait into one of the heavy-laden limbs and snatching a bunch of the mayflies into the water.
The moment you do this, the surface will usually explode with activity, even in the heat of the day. Starting a feeding frenzy like this is a great way to get the fish fired up and generate some bites. The bass relating to a mayfly hatch typically feed best early and late in one of those natural feeding windows. But creating your own brief window of activity like this is the next best thing.
And you can do this again and again throughout the day. It’s really nice if you can find a few concentrated mayfly hatches in fairly close proximity to one another. That way you can fish one for 30 minutes or so, and then ease over to another to let the first one rest. These mayfly hatches are like magnets for bream and bass, and they’re constantly collecting more and more fish if they’re left alone for a bit. So if you can find two or three of these hatches, you can rotate around and greatly increase your odds of catching more fish.
With mayfly hatches, certain baits work better than others. This is definitely a match-the-hatch situation where you’ll want to pick a bait that closely mimics what the bass are feeding on. However, you don’t want to focus on picking baits that match the mayflies, but instead try to match the small fish that are feeding on the mayflies.
The most obvious and typically productive baits are topwaters that resemble small bream or bluegill feeding on the mayflies. So poppers, 1/4-oz. buzzbaits and hollow-body frogs are all great options when the fish are actively feeding on the surface. These are especially effective in those early and late feeding windows, during low light.
However, subsurface baits are also great options. Basically, try any bait that imitates a small bream that might be cruising around looking for a mayfly to pluck off the surface. So small spinnerbaits, vibrating jigs and squarebills work exceptionally well. Waking some of these baits just below the surface also helps the baits better imitate a bream on the hunt.
A Texas-rigged worm is always a great cleanup bait when fishing a mayfly hatch. Some of the fish get their fill from chasing around the bream and bluegill and settle in a bit, almost becoming lethargic after a while and reluctant to chase anything. But even still, these bass have a hard time passing up an easy meal and will often eat a Texas-rigged soft plastic even if the fish are no longer busting on the surface.
When you do find a mayfly hatch, it’s a good idea to cycle through the water and the baits multiple times. These fish typically have a lot of food to choose from. So it sometimes takes a while to trick one. It can be very frustrating to sit there and watch a big fish blow up on a bream time and time again and not be able to tempt the fish into biting whatever it is you’re throwing. But if you continue to rotate through a set of proven baits and continue to make your way around and around the area where you’re seeing activity, you’ll often get that fish to bite.
When choosing your color options for the baits you’ll use, it’s important to pay attention to the water clarity. If the water is clear, it’s a good idea to go with more natural color, like bluegill patterns, with your hard baits and skirts. The more stained the water gets, you should start transitioning over to paler baits. The bream and bluegill naturally start to pale out in muddier water. And when the water gets really muddy, that’s when you’ll want to go with the more solid whites and chartreuse colors, incorporating blades as well to draw the attention of the bass.
Fishing a mayfly hatch is primarily about two things, location and timing. If you can find a hatch, it’s like a gold mine. Bass just keep coming to it as the bream and other small fish smack the surface eating the flies. And then when you factor in the timing, knowing that the first and last 30 minutes of daylight are the best times to be there, you have a recipe for almost sure success.
There are times when a mayfly hatch is just getting going and the fish haven’t found them yet. But that’s rare. And they typically only last a couple days, so if you do find one you’ll want to fish it while you can. Usually, though, the same areas will produce multiple hatches throughout the summer, so be sure to keep an eye on the area each time you fish that fishery throughout the summer.
And as for the fishing itself, remember to keep it pretty simple. The bigger bass aren’t eating the flies as much as they are eating the smaller fish that are eating the flies. So pick you out some baits that mimic those little baitfish and bream, and you’re good to go. Beyond that, it can be as simple as casting and catching when you get on a good mayfly hatch.
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