Mayfly Patterns

In most western rivers, mayflies make up a significant percentage of a fishes diet. While these bugs are not typically the largest bugs in the river, their abundance makes them a perfect option for hungry trout.

I’ve organized the mayfly pattern video tutorials into:

My fly box is loaded with a variety of mayfly patterns like:

There are a few things you need to understand about mayflies in order to be able to tie, and fish, these patterns successfully. First of all, basic anatomy.

Mayfly anatomy

The body of a mayfly is made up of:

  • a tail (3 strand)
  • a tapered and segmented body
  • a thorax with six legs
  • a head with two rather discrete antennae

You can get as detailed and creative as you want when tying mayfly patterns but for the most part, fish will focus primarily on size, general profile, and color. In other words, just make it look relatively similar to the bugs in the river. Fish are smart, but not as smart as we make them out to be.

Mayfly stages of life

Second, and equally as important as anatomy, is identifying the stage of life that the mayfly is currently in. Most of a mayfly’s life is spent in its nymph stage, which is why these patterns usually make up the biggest portion of a fly box and is usually what I fish for most of the day.

As a mayfly begins to hatch it slowly moves its way up the water column and takes on the emergent stage as it breaks free from its casing. This is the most vulnerable stage of life and fish definitely take advantage of this.

It’s always good to have a variety of mayfly emerger patterns that can be quickly tied on if you notice a hatch is beginning to start.

The bugs that are fortunate enough to make it to the surface will then hatch into their adult stage. This is a very short stage of life for the mayfly as the males and females quickly mate, the females deposit eggs back onto the surface and then lie spent on the surface with their wings flat, also known as the spinner stage.

From a fly tying perspective, be sure to create and stockpile patterns that represent each stage of a mayfly’s life nymph, emerger, adult, and spinner. Within each of these stages, vary the size and color to match the type of mayfly that you have in your local waters. When you’re out fishing, pay close attention to what is happening on the river and be ready to switch patterns when things start to change.