I love to fish for bass at night this month, but when I do fish during the daytime, there’s one thing I really look for and pay attention to, and that’s mayflies. They’re aquatic insects that live most of their lives underwater, but it’s the few hours or maybe a day that they mature and live on or just above the surface of the water that makes them important to fishermen.
July is the month when mayflies hatch on the lakes, rivers and ponds in South Carolina; I know it’s the peak on Lake Murray, my home lake. I keep my eyes open any time I’m on the water, because fishing around the mayflies while they’re hatching is a great way to catch both bass and bluegills.
When mayflies become adults, they swim to the surface of the water from the bottom where they’ve been living, dry their wings, then flutter off, either swarming above the surface or lighting in bushes or trees on the nearby banks. That’s when the fun begins. The bluegills find them, and then the bass find the bluegills.
When July arrives, I keep my eyes open for mayflies. They may hatch in one area one week, then somewhere else on the lake the next. I think your best chances of finding them will be on banks with a lot of willow trees or bushes, but you might find them along peoples’ yards, even if they have a seawall. Maybe the best way to find them is to watch for birds — not fish birds, but red-winged blackbirds. You see them flying around a bank, dipping and diving, and that’s a dead giveaway.
Now, when you find mayflies hatching, you have two options: bluegills or bass. Fishing around mayflies is a great time to use a fly rod, maybe with a popping bug or a dry fly that imitates a mayfly. You can catch them on a fly rod or you can use a cane or fiberglass pole and use crickets. If I catch so many that I run out of crickets, I’ll try to catch some of the mayflies that are flying around; you can improvise if you need to. This can be some of the best fishing of the year for bluegills — maybe not as good as when they’re bedding, but this will be the next-best time.
As far as bass are concerned, I really love to fish topwater when I’m fun-fishing, and this can be a great time to fish a topwater bait — a propeller bait or a little popping bait. I like to fish an X-Rap Pop or an X-Rap Prop. When I’m fishing around mayflies, my favorite color is gold/olive.
The bluegills will be up eating a lot of mayflies, and the bass are eating mayflies, too, but they’re there for the bluegills. If you see mayflies and bluegills around them, you’ll be just about guaranteed that there are bass close by. And I think those splashes where the bluegills are feeding on the mayflies, that turns on the predatory instincts of those bass. When you throw a topwater plug in there and pop it, I believe they think it’s another bass eating a bluegill.
When you’re bass-fishing in a mayfly hatch, casting accuracy is very important. If you’re casting 10 feet away from where they action is, it will be harder to get the fish to react. But if you can put that plug right in there, you’ll get action. I’ll go to a shorter rod, a 6-foot or 6-foot-6, medium-action All-Star baitcasting rod and a Pfleuger Patriarch reel spooled with 12- to 14-pound test Trilene XT monofilament. Sometimes, you have to get your little bait back up under overhanging branches to those fish, and you need to do it the way you’re most comfortable. If you can pitch it underhand or cast underhand or roll cast — whatever you do, be accurate.
So when you get on the lake this month, take at least a few minutes to run around and look for mayflies or birds swirling over the surface. You don’t want to run $20 worth of gas through your outboard searching, but you need to spend a little bit of time on it, because the reward will be so great.