Serious smallmouth anglers in the Southern Tier should be excited. Head out to any of the local warmwater rivers around 7:00 pm and later, and expect "snow" of a summer kind. The white fly hatch is near or at peak. The sheer magnitude of bugs coming off area rivers is simply amazing.
In mid to late July of each year, the great white fly hatch begins, and a few weeks after, can reach epic proportions. Think blizzard when the hatch is really in full swing - a hatch so prolific that driving conditions can be downright slippery and hazardous on bridges that cross major rivers. Given the right conditions, the white fly hatch can last well into August. This mayfly is often referred to as the white fly, white miller, or white mayfly.
The white fly hatch is one of the finest hatches for smallmouth anglers (and trout anglers looking for a break from the summer doldrums) to fish a dry fly to rising bass. The hatch starts before sunset and lasts well into darkness. The duns start coming off about an hour before dark. Molting, mating, egg-laying, and spinner fall all occur the same evening. Oddly enough, the white fly hatch can be very localized even on the same river or stream, but also can occur in every water type - riffles, runs, and pools.
Harry Murray, noted smallmouth angler and fly shop owner, fishes this hatch over a 6 week period in his home waters of the Shenandoah. A standard rule is that the hatch can be coming up to 2 weeks, peak for 2 weeks, and take 2 weeks to go. Harry advises anglers to not "shoot into the covey" when targeting groups of rising bass. It is far better to target specific riseforms, drop the fly two feet above, and throw a twitch into the presentation rather than always fishing dead drift. Murray likes to fish an irresistable or humpy dry fly in size 12. But no matter what fly is used, it must be durable, high-floating, and offer good visibility. Murray also advises to be careful when the rivers are low, as bass in particular can be very spooky under clear water conditions.
I actually prefer the early and late stages of this hatch. When the hatch is in full swing, there can be so many bugs that it's very hard to compete. Some pointers in fishing the white fly hatch follow:
- It often pays to fish a nymph before the hatch starts. Best nymphs imitate a large march brown nymph. Once the duns start coming off, it can pay to fish a nymph on a dropper off a dry.
- Experiment with presentation and fly type. Small poppers can offer something different and can be very effective when there are just too many flies on the water.
Lastly, be prepared to catch more than smallmouth bass during the white fly hatch. Fallfish, rock bass, carp, and even channel cats will come to the surface when the pickings are good. Local PA guide Joe Ackourey recommends a white deer hair moth pattern for the cats and there's no doubt that this pattern might also appeal to carp as well as big bass.