If you already are a fly fisherman, you would recognize the words nymph, spinner, spent and other descriptions of the life cycle of aquatic insects. The description of the insect is the driving force in the soul of a fly fisherman that causes him or her to tie or purchase the correct pattern of fly to throw on any particular day.
This also is known as matching the hatch. If you are not an avid fly fisherman, then these words may be strange. With this said, I am going to define some terms dealing with the chronological stage of the insect along with the colors of a few species.
Most trout stream species in West Virginia mountain areas are stoneflies, caddisflies, midges and the one we are going to mainly cover is the mayfly. The mayfly (ephemeroptera) is a delicate fly with upright wings, much like a sailboat as it is in adulthood. Their body will curve upwards with a long twin or triple tail. The color and size will vary from species to species. Colors range from dark brown to a sulfer, light-lime color to dark green, white to gray and light yellow to a bright vibrant yellow.
Mayfly eggs are laid on the surface of the water, usually in the riffles. The eggs will carry down stream until they wedge into the sandy, rocky bottom of the stream. After several days the eggs will hatch and the nymph will appear.
There are four types of nymphs. Clingers, which are flat in shape and cling to rocks usually in faster-moving waters. Crawlers, are round-bodied with narrow heads.
They will crawl thru the gravel and weeds of moderate current riffles. Swimmers are streamline and are found in all speeds of water current. Then, there is the burrower. The burrower has tusks on its head, which is used to dig in silt, sediment and sand.
After the mayfly appears from its egg, it will live underwater eating and avoiding trout for one full year. At this time, it will begin its 24-hour adulthood. The nymph will emerge from the bottom of the stream, most in the springtime but some throughout the summer. When they surface, they will begin shedding their nymph skin. The word "hatch" is usually referred as the period of the life cycle when the animal leaves the egg. In fly fishing, it is the time the nymph metamorphoses, shedding its larva skin and proudly displays its new wings. This stage is known as the dun stage. The wings are a grayish color. When able to fly, it will fly from the water to the nearest tree or bush. The fly will mature for several hour as a dun, then go through a final molt and take flight to meet with other mayflies. They fly upstream to where their life began. This stage is called spinning. They have no digestive system at this stage of their lives, living only to mate. During the spin cycle, the fly will mate. The males then begin to die after using all their energy. The females will then lay their eggs and the whole cycle begins again. After the mating ritual, the stream will be littered with the dead and dying bodies of mayflies.
This is the spent stage. The wings are transparent and will lay out flat on the water.
Matching each stage with an artificial fly is what the fly fisherman will attempt to do, comparing colors and the direction of the wings as well as the size. Any small difference and a trout will merely snub the artificial fly. This is called matching the hatch. Rather than just any lure as other fishermen do, the match-the-hatch fly fisherman must become a master at the art of illusion. Fly tiers will go to painstaking lengths to create an artificial fly that mirrors the real one, some as small as a sesame seed to the large green drake the size of a small dragonfly. When the hatch is over for the season, it is time to start tying artificial nymphs again.
These cycles of life for the mayfly have created seasons for the fly fisherman. During May, the sulfer fly will begin to hatch in the thousands. This hatch will resemble a small red cloud or fog rising and falling along Elk River. Hundreds of fishermen will come to witness this phenomenon, hoping to match the hatch and catch their share of active trout. The river will boil with the trout in a feeding frenzy come late evening. As spring and summer roll along in the mountains, several other species of mayfly will hatch. The blue winged olive, blue quill, hendrickson, march brown, green, yellow, gray, golden and slate drake, the light cahill and many more. Also, other aquatic insects that attract the trout are the stoneflies, caddis and midges.
If you are a fisherman and haven't had the pleasure of fly fishing, don't waste another year thinking it is too late to learn. It is a relaxing way to spend a day on the river, meeting others and telling stories of your adventures as the evening becomes night. Fly fishing is not only a warm-months sport, but it can be enjoyed thru the winter months as well. Warm-weather gear made specifically for the fly throwers are at hand at most fly shops. But that is a subject for another column. See you on the riffles.
Tracy McClain is the food and beverage manager at Elk Springs Resort.