Their numbers once darkened the sky during the late afternoons around the old Danville railroad bridge. Around Bass Bay and north of the levee up toward Lick Creek were steep banks and river islands where the winged critters fell to the lake surface from leaning willows that provided a canopy of shade.
Kentucky Lake was nothing short of heaven on earth to me as catching fish after fish on my topwater popping bug and slow sinking nymph at the same time was, shall we say, Utopia.
My dad called it a “willow fly” as did all the local fishermen. Biologically speaking it was a “mayfly” but it seemed we always found them hatching in late June and throughout July.
Whether or not the hatches were underway was always a mystery as we traveled from my home in McKenzie through Big Sandy past McCain’s dock and down to Big Sandy Boat Dock number two. Other times we ventured to what was then called Sandy’s Camp or Whitey’s Resort. Often the mystique was uncovered a mile or so prior to arriving at the lake when flies darted in midair.
Along these summer shorelines is where my fondest fishing memories occurred during the dog days where flyrods temporarily replaced cane poles. Live bait such as catalpa worms, nightcrawlers, and roaches took a backseat to artificial imitations of nature’s buffet.
It was the days before depth finders and trolling motors. With a light Indian Head wooden paddle he used to scull the Reynolds aluminum boat parallel to the shoreline, silently sailing in range of feisty bluegill and bass that gorged themselves on the abundant forage.
How he paddled the boat and still managed to whip the long fly line and bugs into striking distance beneath the bushes is still somewhat fascinating. Looking back on it all I must have managed to snag every other cast, greatly diminishing our catch rate. Add patience and understanding to his fishing attributes.
In the hands of a talented angler the flyrod is a musical instrument commanding coordination and rhythm. I’ll bet it was a destructive device back when I used it to whip the air and water to a froth, snagging hats off heads, pruning treetops.
Yet the flurry of activity from feisty fish cracking the surface righted all the wrongs, even for inexperienced anglers like me. You didn’t have to be good to enjoy it. The key was to get back in the game as quick as possible cause rewards awaited in the form of rod bending strikes.
Green flyline sliced the water as fish made deep water escape attempts. Sometimes a big bream. Other times a hefty bass that gave away his size in a flying attempt to throw the hook. But always a thrill.
Mother Nature still feeds her fish and birds each summer in the same manner she did over 40 years ago when I was a young fisherman hoping to shake hands with an old fish.
In fact, earlier this week Kentucky Lake was under the spell of a mayfly hatch in certain areas and it seems there’s always one around the Fourth of July. Find the flies and the real fireworks are in the water where practically every species of fish feeds courtesy of this natural phenomenon.
After decades of sunrises and sunsets on the lake I’m still in awe of a mayfly hatch. These silent sailors sometimes arrive under the cover of darkness. Other times they appear right after a thunderstorm, their hatch triggered by a sudden surge of low barometric pressure or something only the big fishermen in the sky knows for sure.
Exactly what stimulates the hatch has long been a mystery. The fish know. So do the birds as their erratic behavior around the shoreline habitat, jumping from limb to limb in a frantic search for food, is yet another sign something is about to happen.
While the massive hatches of yesteryear are uncommon there are still great opportunities for anglers. Little fish still deliver big thrills to kids of all ages as the fast action never seems to go out of style.
Before summer fades to fall introduce yourself and some young angler to a mayfly hatch. Chances are you too will fall under the spell of this seasonal occurrence that has a tendency to roll back the clock where for a few short hours we’re all young fishermen in the same boat.
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(Mayfly hatches normally start around mid-June here on Kentucky Lake and occur throughout the summer but diminish in early September.
Mayflies belong to the order Ephemeroptera. Adults live only a day or two and do not eat. They hatch from larvae, often called nymphs or naiads that emerge from the lake bottom where they feed on plants or organic debris. The larvae are sensitive to pollution.
There are some 600 species in North America divided into twenty-one families. The adult stage lives just long enough to mate and for the females to lay eggs. Source: Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.)
Steve McCadams is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area. He has also contributed many outdoor oriented articles to various national publications.
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