Fishing, or even identifying a mayfly spinner fall can be one of the most challenging situations a fly fisherman can experience! Its all about breaking codes and learning to read the signs. With the larger mayflies its somewhat easier to recognize the spinner fall, danica and vulgata are so large that they can be seen at a greater distance floating in a crucifix posture and lifeless in the surface, sometimes with such a high mortality rate they cover the whole surface of the river. But smaller darker and sometimes almost transparent species can be difficult to see even at close quarters.
Mayflies are known for their short lived life, with some species having less than an hour to find a mate and deposit eggs before they die. The first sign to look for, after the initial hatch, is high above you, the swarming dancing, mating mayflies high above the tree tops. After mating and this swarming becomes sparser the males are drained of energy and are fighting to keep themselves airborne but gradually floating down closer to the water, where they die and lie with wings and tails spread out on the surface. The females, who hatch later than the males have a little more energy left to fly upstream to lay their eggs so the current will carry them back down to be deposited in the same stretch of river bed where she lived her nymphal stage of life. After which she dies and becomes spent.
If after examining the waters surface and no spent spinners are visible, look for fish that are steady risers. This is a normal rise form for fish selectively feeding on spent spinners. That being said, smaller fish can become wild in the beginning of a spinner fall making small splashy rises and even leaping clear of the water to take them as they fall. As day turns into night and the spent spinners begin to drown and are trapped in the surface film slightly sinking, the larger fish begin to feed on them, rising every few seconds, not big splashy rises but sipping or slow head and tailing as the spent spinners float over them, as with all predators maximizing energy intake and minimizing energy consumption. Larger ‘Experienced’ fish seam to know that there is no escape for these dead and drowning flies.
This is a mayfly pattern shown here represents NO specific species, but with just a tiny alteration in size and colour can be a good representation for most hatches of smaller to medium sized mayflies. The most time consuming part of this pattern is stripping the peacock herl of its fibers. There are a few ways that you can do this. One is with a regular pencil erasure, just lie the herl down on a flat surface and rub the herl away from you. The other is to pull the herl through your finger and thumb nail as shown here. It takes a little time to master this technique but once you have done it a few times its plain sailing!