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Q & A
White Fly Hatch
Question
I have read about the mayfly hatches on the Susquehanna River during July and August. I would very much like to travel to your state and do some fishing on this river, can you give me more information about the hatch and how to fish it?
Answer
The famed white fly (Ephoron lukeon) hatch typically starts on the lower end of the Susquehanna River, near Columbia (Lancaster County) and Wrightsville (York County), sometime during the last two weeks in July. The hatch progresses upriver over several days, or it can happen everywhere at once. The hatch can be spread out over a 4 week period.

Safety is a big concern when fishing this hatch. If you are wading, as many anglers do, to be safe you should wear an inflatable life jacket, have felt studded soles, carry a whistle and flashlight, and don't fish alone. When fishing by boat, the obvious safety concerns come into play, but fishing is best when water levels are low, so if you are unfamiliar with the water, extra caution must be shown.

This hatch also occurs on nearby streams, including Yellow Breeches Creek (Cumberland County).

While most often associated with fly-fishing, spin fishers can also fish the white fly hatch. Techniques and other information for both is provided below.

Fly-fishing

The best fly-fishing is concentrated in the evening and early night-time hours, from about 8 till 10 PM, sometimes it will go later.

Anglers typically use a 6 or 7 weight fly rod.

There are a multitude of fly patterns that anglers say do the trick. Typically when bugs are abundant, it really doesn't matter. Cork or foam poppers, small Dhalberg divers and hair bugs all take fish on top. As do small spinning poppers and stickbaits. Smoke and/or white colored soft plastic baits take fish when the bugs are hatching. These lures will also take large channel catfish that line up to eat spent spinners.

Usually there is a flurry of activity when the bugs swim to the surface and hatch, but the best fishing is when the spinners fall. Fishing divers and white wulffs work well when they are taking spinners, try cutting the wings/hackle down if you get refusals. Often the fishing can be fast and furious, so you may not want to waste time cutting off and tying another fly.

Spin Fishing

The white fly hatch on the Susquehanna and some tributaries is not just a great opportunity to catch smallmouth bass and monster catfish on the fly rod. Spin anglers can throw lures that also imitate this mayfly during its emergence in late July to early August.

Nymphs - The white fly nymph spends most of its life cycle burrowed in the sandy bottom stretches of the Susquehanna and some tributaries (Yellow Breeches, Swatara Creek). The nymph will leave its burrow and swim to the surface, the winged adult emerging as the bug reaches the surface. This usually occurs in the last few hours of daylight. Fish will key in this stage, holding along current breaks and pouncing on the bug as it swims and drifts toward the surface.

Spin anglers can effectively imitate this stage using several different lures. The ticket is to match the size and color of the natural. Soft plastics in smoke color and hair jigs in white and gray are all effective, as long as they no more than 3" in length. The other key to matching this stage is to fish the lure dead drift, with the current. Black and silver spinner baits will also catch fish, as long as they are in smaller sizes.

Position yourself along a current seam, quartering your cast upstream into the current. The jig should be just heavy enough to drift naturally, bouncing occasionally on the bottom. Keep a tight line and follow the lure on its drift downstream. Rods in the 6' or longer range help keep line off the water. As the lure reaches its downstream swing, along the current seam, begin a slow retrieve. Often, when things are hot and heavy, this step isn't necessary, as some fish grabbed it on the drift!

Another strategy is to cast the lure upstream of a rising fish and swim the lure past where the fish is holding.

When fish are pouncing on the adults riding the surface at nightfall, small subtle top water baits are the key. While splashy and flashy baits will catch fish, be prepared to alter your typical after dark topwater tactics.

Dead drifted stickbaits and other small (again, no larger than 3") topwater or floating baits can be very effective. Again, quarter upstream and drift down. Put some action on the lure as you retrieve. Casting just upstream of a rising fish, and dead drifting over it--with a tight line--can be a very effective tactic.

Just because the bass are focusing on a fly, doesn't mean you have to hang up your spinning or casting gear.

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