If you’ve spent much time on or around the water during the summertime, it is likely that you have had some encounters with Ephemeroptera, more commonly known as the mayfly. These harmless little guys will infiltrate every compartment on your boat, fly up your nose and wreak havoc on boat docks. Sounds pleasant, right?
Before you curse the mayfly’s obnoxious tendencies, it is important to understand that these creatures are bona-fide bream magnets not to mention a hearty meal en masse for larger predators. And, as many know, where there are bream, there are bassâbig bass.
Bassmaster Elite Series and PAA pro Fred Roumbanis is a mayfly master. While his home state of California doesn’t offer many mayflies, Roumbanis’ current home in Bixby and his numerous trips to Oklahoma’s Grand Lake have allowed him to sharpen specific skills to capitalize on big mayfly hatches. He recently shared some of his secrets to locating and catching big bass that relate to mayflies.
Mayfly life cycle
To fully understand the concept behind fishing mayfly hatches, it is necessary to understand the mayfly’s life cycle. According to the Entomology Department of Texas A&M, Mayflies have two main functions in lifeâto mate and to die. During their two-night adult lifespan, mayflies mate in big, airborne swarms near any available light sources in highly oxygenated, flowing water. In an attempt to lay their eggs, they will swoop down to the water’s surface and submerge their abdomens into the water. Upon distributing their eggs, the adult females die and float along the surface, creating an easy meal for bream.
When the mayfly eggs hatch at the water’s surface, the adolescents form wings within seconds that will carry them to nearby plants and bushes, where they will undergo their final molting stage into an adult, completing the life cycle — a fairly simple, but very important process, as it relates to bass fishing.
Conditions and location
Finding mayflies relies heavily on water conditions and location. When the water temperature is between 78 and 85 degrees, Roumbanis knows to be on the lookout.
“Late May, June and July often present the optimum water conditions for heavy mayfly activity,” Roumbanis said. “While I use my graphs to help me gauge water temperature, the bass and bream are instinctive to it. They know when the mayflies are going to hatch and they take full advantage of it.”
When mayflies hatch, they do so in huge numbers. These hatches are easily identifiable by huge black masses on overhanging trees and bushes. It is hard to miss a big swarm of freshly hatched mayflies.
“I like to ride the lake at a pretty quick pace when I’m locating mayfly hatches,” Roumbanis said. “I stick close to the bank and just look for the black trees. It sounds pretty simple, but that’s because it is! You’ll know it when you find them. Trust me.”
While most hatches will hold an abundance of fish, it is not always simple to pattern big fish. Similar to fishing shallow structure, mayfly hatches near deep water are prime areas for big bass. Bluff walls littered with overhanging trees and bushes can create the perfect storm.
“I love hatches near deep water, because I feel like I can bust a 5-pounder at any time,” Roumbanis said. “The flatter the bottom, the harder it is to catch quality fish. There’s always going to be a few shallow hatches that hold big fish, but deep banks will consistently attract your big, tournament-worthy fish.”
Locating black trees sounds easy enough, right? While it may seem simple, the angler must always know what areas of the fishery to begin targeting in order to increase efficiency. You can run around the lake all day and maybe find a few hatches, but if you zero in on specific, prime mayfly habitat, you can greatly increase your chances of success.
“No lake is the same, but mayflies usually aren’t too crazy about getting into the backs of creeks,” Roumbanis said. “I find the majority of my hatches on main river stretches because of the high oxygen levels in the water. If I feel the need to find some less-pressured areas, I might target both docks and natural banks in the first-third of major creeks. Dock hatches usually don’t last as long, but some will really surprise you.”
If the mayflies aren’t actively swarming around and being stalked by bream, Roumbanis won’t waste much time with it.
“I don’t want to mess around with inactive flies,” Roumbanis said. “I want to see them flying around, falling into the water and getting gulped down by bream. If I don’t see any such evidence, I won’t waste much time before I move on to the next one.”
When practicing for an event, Roumbanis is adamant about leaving the hatches alone. Although the fish can replenish within minutes, it is not necessary to fish every hatch you come across.
“Don’t touch a mayfly hatch until the day of your tournament,” Roumbanis said. “I’ve learned the hard way. There’s going to be fish around, so there’s no need whatsoever to mess with them. Instead of fishing these hatches in practice, I spend my time looking for backup plans. Mayfly hatches are very ‘hit-or-miss.’ I’ve never seen a guy win a multi-day event on mayflies alone. It’s too risky to count solely on mayflies.”
Catching fish in a mayfly hatch
When it’s time to put fish in the boat on game day, Roumbanis turns to three very specific baitsâa topwater frog, the Picasso Shad Walker and the El Grande Lures Hatch Match Stickâeach having a very specific order and purpose.
“When I pull up on a mayfly hatch, I immediately fire a frog right into the tree that the mayflies are in,” Roumbanis said. “When the frog is in the tree, I shake the tree like crazy, stirring up the flies and causing some to fall into the water. It spurs the natural cycle. When the mayflies fall into the water, the bream start feeding, causing the bass to move in for the kill.”
Only after a few casts into the tree will Roumbanis make his first few “real” casts with a topwater frog. With the frog walking side-to-side and spitting water, big bass are often fooled by its perfect emulation of a feeding bream. If no strikes occur with his first few casts, Roumbanis turns to one of his favorite baitsâthe Picasso Shad Walker.
“The Shad Walker has some crazy movement to it,” Roumbanis said. “It walks like no other topwater bait while offering the fish a totally different profile than a conventional frog. Around mayflies, I’ll exclusively throw Picasso’s bluegill color. You better hold on, though, because the bass will go nuts on this thing! Several pros can attest to that.”
Roumbanis throws his frogs and Shad Walkers on identical setupsâa 7-foot, 5-inch heavy-action iROD Air Series paired with an Ardent Edge Elite 7.2:1 reel spooled with 50-pound P-Line Spectrex IV braided line.
“These iROD Air Series rods have a wicked-soft tip that lets me walk baits very easily and cast with incredible accuracy,” Roumbanis said. “The tip loads up really well and absorbs the strike while not ripping the bait away from the fish. I don’t use very heavy braid, either. The 50-pound P-Line Spectrex IV is strong, casts very accurately and makes it a lot easier to walk topwaters. I have yet to break it.”
After casting his topwater baits around a hatch, Roumbanis won’t leave until he throws a Texas rigged 5.25-inch El Grande Lures Hatch Match Stick. While many anglers prefer pegged, stationary bullet weights, he opts for a very different approach.
“I never peg my bullet weight when I’m fishing a mayfly hatch,” Roumbanis said. “I want the bait to fall slower than the weight. When the Hatch Match Stick hits the water, it will stop for just a second while the weight slides down my line, allowing the bait to catch up to it. Bass get very keyed in on small subtleties. They are used to seeing the mayflies land on the water and sink erratically.”
In order to ensure a proper presentation for such an intricate technique, Roumbanis has a very specific setup for this applicationâa 7-foot, 5-inch iROD Genesis II Fred’s Magic Stick partnered with an Ardent Edge Elite 7.2:1 reel spooled with 20-pound P-Line fluorocarbon. For the business end, he prefers a 3/16-ounce Picasso tungsten weight with a 4/0 Gamakatsu Heavy Cover Flippin’ Hook.
In between hatches while covering water on the trolling motor, Roumbanis loves to throw an Ima Bill Lowen Square Bill Crankbait.
“You might as well be making casts when you’re moving between hatches, and the Ima Square Bill is one of the most trusted baits in my boat,” Roumbanis said.
The evening before a big event or practice, most professionals flock to the gas station to fill up their rigs for the day ahead in order to avoid polluting the water with fresh gasoline. While he’s filling up before bedtime, Roumbanis’ head is already on a swivel.
“I always look up at the gas station lights,” Roumbanis said. “Sometimes you will see huge herds of mayflies congregated on the lights. If you see that, let it be a clear sign that you need to go look for flies in the morning.”
Bream and bass aren’t the only wildlife affected by a solid mayfly hatch. Throughout your fishing day, it is imperative to take notice of the surrounding animals. Mayfly hatches routinely attract crows and turtles, and sometimes a flock of big black crows or a big wad of turtles is a lot easier to spot than a small, isolated mayfly hatch.
“You have to be looking at all times,” Roumbanis said. “The environment is always trying to give you tips to catch a big limit of fish. It’s up to the angler to listen and react.”
Many anglers dread fishing during a mayfly hatch, when in fact, Mayflies can be an angler’s best friend in the dog days of summer. With some basic knowledge of the mayfly life cycle, where to find them, what baits to use and attention to small environmental cues, targeting mayfly hatches can lead to some of the most exciting fishing of the summer.