I have lived near the Barnett Reservoir for decades, but never really caught any fish until a club member (Nathaniel) turned me onto the Mayfly hatch. I didn’t have a clue but his photos of fantastic catches of bream, catfish and bass gave me new interest and he was kind enough to take me and another buddy along with him one day last year.
We didn’t do terribly well on our first trip with Nathaniel, the index wasn’t quite right, but he was able to teach us the ropes. Beginning in May you can cruise the banks looking for birds in trees, primarily cypress trees. The birds hop from branch to branch when they are feeding on insects, mayflies or mosquitoes so their behavior is a tell that bugs are present and you can see the birds when you can’t see bugs. The birds will not just be sitting in a tree, look for them to be hopping from branch to branch very actively. When you find that behavior, go in for a closer look. If bugs are found, shake the trees to get some bugs on the water. If the water boils, Nathaniel backs up, jumps in and wades to cast into the blitz. If its sunny its best to cast back in the shadows. If it is windy Nathaniel will cast parallel to the waves in the trough. Nathaniel uses a white popping bug, always.
The best way to fish the cypress trees with a flyrod is to wade, but please wade at your own risk. The water is often above the waist and there is almost always a small gator hanging out. Having been a gator hunter helping to take a 10.5 foot gator, they have my respect. Their presence is a concern, but I would suggest keeping an eye out and not wading where any known big gators are. There have been no known gator attacks on a human at the Barnett Reservoir. To judge a gator’s size, estimate the distance between the eyes and the nose and convert that to feet. Nathaniel says ten feet is his limit on wading a hole with a nearby gator, I’m a little more nervous, my limit is four feet! Of course you can use a boat, but wading does provide a great deal of flexibility. The bottom on most of the reservoir is fairly hard, which makes it good for wading and a good habitat for mayflies which prefer a soft but firm bottom to about six inches which is how deep they make the U-shaped tunnel they live in as a nymph.
This year I decided to research the bugs, to find out exactly which flies they were, put a name to them and try to understand their cycle, better to fish for them but also because their story is incredibly interesting.
To identify the bug I lucked up and found a research paper that identified the mayflies at the Barnett Reservoir as the Hexagenia Bilineatal. All the information in that paper matched the bugs I was seeing. (inset right). Then I found this article Biology of a large mayfly, Hexagenia Bilineatal which was a wealth of information on the newly identified bug.
The following are some of my crude imitations I have tied from my newfound information:
But as it usually goes with my “match the hatch” attempts, the number one fly for myself and Albert on our most recent trip was his creation, the “Killer Bee”:
This fly was so good at catching fish during the spinner fall, I continued to use it until the hook was so bent out of shape I couldn’t straighten it enough to catch fish. It was falling apart and would still get takes but couldn’t hook the fish. Of course, we only had one fly each!
I will say that when the Killer Bee is wet it looks nothing like a bee but it did look very much like a nymph, or possibly an emerger? All I can say is, it worked fabulously on the bream and catfish and I was wishing I had a dozen of them. The KB is tied with duck flank for a tail, variegated gold and black chenille, bead chain tied on the top of the hook to turn the hook over and wood duck flank for the wings. That’s it, pretty simple.
Nathaniel ONLY uses white poppers and he is hands down the most successful Hex Hatch fisherman on the Rez. He fishes the popper with the rod pointed straight toward the fly and down at the water and pulls it in tiny little strips. If there are sizable waves present, he casts in-line with the waves and makes the strips in the trough in-between the waves. Nate prefers to fish mornings because the major hatch occurs at dusk and the following morning it will have been awhile since the fish have eaten and they seem to be hungrier. If it is a cloudy day small amounts of the bugs will come off the trees during the day. On a partly cloudy day they will come out whenever a cloud covers the sun. Sunny days they tend to stay in the trees until dusk.
Due to the different phases of the bugs, from nymphs, emergers, duns to spinners and how long the bugs have been present in the trees and even with bugs on the water, the fishing can be unpredictable. Sometimes the fish are feeding on the dead spinners other times they want only the wiggling emergers on the surface. If little or no surface action is happening then they may be caught beneath the surface, so having a good variety on hand is a good idea. For sure, a couple of the flies in the box need to be white bream sized popping bugs. My home-made foam poppers had deer hair tails and did well and seemed to hook better than a stacked deer hair popper. Irresistibles are also good. A good place to buy popping bugs is Breambugs.com. According to Don Davis of Breambugs.com, one of the most durable and affordable popping bugs on his site is Bea’s Popper , made from the root of the Tupelo tree. Durability is important. If the mayfly index is right, the fly will take a beating. Boogle Popper is a more expensive popper but is well made and has a big following. For Accardo fans, the Pultz Bluegill Special is recognizable as similar to the old Accardo Special.
Until recently, most of my attempts to create a “Hexagenia fishing index” to use in predicting the next “Hexapocolypse” have been only marginally successful. Memorial Day a trip with my fly fishing and hunting buddy, Albert, found plenty of bugs, but the fish were not plentiful; however, the following day a late evening trip turned out to be on the money.
Arriving after five PM, the sun was low in the sky and whenever the occasional cloud covered the sun, a few duns hanging in the trees would commit to their final metamorphosis As the evening approached, the shadows grew and the number of bugs committing to final metamorphosis grew. As the spinners on the water increased, the fishing got better. Eventually there were so many bugs on the water that the bite shut down, there was just no way to compete with all the live bugs. That’s when I made the following video: