I was having an email conversation recently with a friend of mine where he asked do larger fish key on Mayfly cripple fly patterns or standard dry flies. It got me thinking about the flies I use to imitate these insects during a Mayfly hatch.

Mayfly Stuck on Surface | www.johnkreft.com

Here is a part of our discussion…

“What is your impression of takes of cripples vs. more standard dry patterns regarding fish size? My assumption is that smaller fish are not as picky, but larger fish would favor a crippled or knocked over mayfly in preference to a standard appearing upright dun. And what are your thoughts about cripples with larger mayflies. My impression is that cripples are of more interest to larger fish with smaller mayflies, 14 down, and larger it is not of as much interest. Am I full of beans? You have a ton more opportunities to observe than I.”

And my response…

“Let me begin with a John Shewey story, who I’d guess you know. He gives presentations to fly clubs and his steelhead one resonated with me several years ago. When asked what fly he catches most of his steelhead on, he quickly responds that 75% of them are on Shewey’s Spawning Purple. Why? Because I fish with it 75% of the time!

That’s my response…My favorite fly is the Sparkle Dun, with my RK Soft Hackle Cripple in second place. I notice many of the mayflies floating in the water with wings caught on the surface film, or upside down like those in your images. The trailing shuck of the Sparkle Dun tells the fish the fly won’t be leaving the surface anytime soon, which makes it easier for them to eat. At least that’s what I tell myself! Come to think of it, I don’t observe many mayflies with the shuck attached. More often the wings are caught, either together or splayed.”

I’ll stick with what I wrote to my friend. My observation is larger fish (define “large” as you want) learn to key on Mayflies stuck in the nymphal shuck or wings caught on the surface film (like the image above or below). Either situation means the partially hatched insect or one laying on its side or upside down is a much easier meal for a trout than a perfect dun floating on the water ready to take flight at any moment, like this upside down Green Drake.

Green Drake Upside Down | www.riverkeeperflies.com

Having said that, I take pictures of beautiful duns floating by on the water and wonder why a dun pattern wouldn’t work. In fact, I see fish eat these all the time.

I believe these are the toughest pictures for me to take, but I marvel when it all comes together and I capture images like these!

Take a good look at the tails of these naturals. The tails are visible, but do fish really see them? And if so, why are the standard dry flies with stiff barb hackles used to imitate duns?

Honestly, I can’t relate any experience with true dun fly patterns because I just don’t use them. Oh sure, a Purple Haze from time-to-time, but over the years I seem to use fewer and fewer fly styles.

Having said that, our fish do get very picky in the latter stages of the Green Drake hatch. I’ve watched them move close to a Sparkle Dun of Soft Hackle Cripple and reject them. I experimented with a Drake version of Lee Clark’s Big May with a poly extended body with success last year. Our Drakes are just beginning to show and fish just began eating them.

So I’ll go back to Shewey’s comment…75%…I probably fish a Sparkle Dun 75% of the time!

I don’t know if I’m just lazy or it’s muscle memory when reaching for a fly!

A few years ago, I wrote a post entitled 3 Basic Dry Fly Styles for Mayflies. I encourage you to read it again to learn about traditional dry flies.

One more quick observation. If I use the Sparkle Dun style so much, why do I have so many capes and saddles???

Whiting Hackle | www.riverkeeperflies.com

Lastly, I’ve been enjoying taking close-up pictures of insects on the water’s surface with my Nikon Z 50 and Z6ii cameras.

This image is of what I believe to be mating olive stones, around size 14 or 16.

Fluttering Stones Mating | www.johnkreft.com

I’ve never seen anything like it. Their wings were fluttering and to be honest, I didn’t realize it was two bugs until I looked at the images in Lightroom as I cropped them. I was amazed!

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Enjoy…go fish!

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  1. Great information and wonderful photos!

    A side note. I just returned from Ireland and went out on a lake with a guide who introduced me to “dapping”, the Scottish/Irish technique of fishing with live Mayflies. Trying to delicately drop a fly onto the water in blowing winds, and choppy water while holding this 10Wt, long rod was very difficult. Needless to say, I didn’t get a bite.

  2. There’s a recent publication by some British folks who have a lot to say about cripples and emergers being preferred. Seems to be what you’ve been saying for some time. I tend to agree and find I catch more fish prior to and during a hatch with soft hackles… Great photos and if only there were fish in the Metolius to eat those bugs;-).

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