Epicurean Angler-Matthew Supinski's Selectivity/Nexus Blog- Everything Trout/Steelhead/Salmon

Epicurean Angler-Matthew Supinski's Selectivity/Nexus Blog- Everything Trout/Steelhead/Salmon

Monday, June 13, 2022



( Like manna from heaven a gray drake spinner lands on us. After a brutally hot and drought filled summer of 2021, our Gray Drake/Siphlonurus hatch disappeared mysteriously-but they are back to our surprise and joy. Client and Montana Trout Bum magnifique:John Gryzbek, prepares his Bamboo rod for action to spinner rises)

It's amazing how nature and what was the old normal is now the new bizarre and unusual. Nature is an amazing force that kicks our ass and embarrasses us. Just when you think you have a good understanding of it, it marvels and baffles you. 2021 was a brutal year on our Michigan and Midwest rivers. We had one of the worst sustained droughts in a century, after one of the heaviest rain filled flooding years of 2020 that flooded entire Michigan towns like Midland, broke dams and destroyed crops and fields. Such bizarre weather extremes are the new normal with climate change. Mayfly hatches like moisture/humidity, cool air and water. Those were next to impossible things to find in the dry and hot drought conditions that stifled Midwestern rivers. But unfortunately to our immediate gratification "streaming now and in the moment " culture, we could barely remember what happened yesterday, let alone a year ago.To mayflies having extreme dry and hot weather are catastrophic concepts. The catastrophe happened.

( For 30 years having named my guide service the Gray Drake we have had blizzard hatches of Siphlonurus mayflies for 6 to 7 weeks in May and June. The earth stood still in 2022 when literally not a bug was found on our lights we monitor at night and mornings. Spinner falls on the river were non-existent. It was true amazement and despair all at once.)

Certain mayflies like Siphlonurus, Leptophlebia and even Isonychia are shoreline emergers. They thus migrate to shore and backwater sloughs and swamps on the river's shorelines as nymphs and hatch by crawling up on vegetation, woody debris and rocks in the middle of the night to emerge. Once there they climb into the trees and molt into spinners to return the following evenings and mornings to spin, couple and mate, laying their eggs above the riffle's.
                                                 ( Drakes in trees molting into spinners)

               ( Here the "Bug Doctor": guide and entomological master Johnny Miller wandered the swampline shorelines of Michigan's Muskegon River, night after night in search of a the elusive gray drake dun adult whose image and sight of was extremely rare even for entomologist's to trace except for western versions that tend to emerge often from the water. Here is one of the rare adult dun gray drake images in the world. Miller set up aquaria and spent the night listening to heavy metal and photographing the rare hidden world of this phantom hatch as noted Michigan fly fishing icon and Orvis fly shop owner Dick Pobst labeled them in one of his many articles for Fly Fisherman Magazine. He had a 100.00 reward out for anyone that would find an adult. Miller answered to his challenge and won it! Notice the nymph crawling up on the stick and hatching. Siphlonurus drake nymphs are rapid swimmers and swam around like tiny minnows along the shoreline, which confused Miller as he was scooping and seining for drake nymphs- he thought they were tiny fry and pinhead minnows!)

( Entire riverbeds drying-up in 2021. Also the lack of good care by our Hydro-company controlling the dam's tailwaters is a disaster to put it mildly. That stalking Heron amongst the many was responsible for wiping out many trout sadly and their numbers are alarming growing and protected)
( What a door looked like in the morning during heavy drake activity in normal years)
When the spinner clouds of drakes didn't appear in 2021 in massive swarms like they were in 2020 all the dry fly addicts and hatch chasers were stumped and in disbelief, Nobody had a clue other than low water conditions and dry, heat induced conditions had an "off year" effect on the mayflies. We had seen dry drought years do that. But nothing in the magnitude of 2021.Theories were flying and I was about to figure it out somehow, someway. I called entomologists and university science and entomology departments. They really didnt have an answer for me since very little information is logged in chronicles and research papers on the elusive Siphlonurus.

( One of the largest browns taken on a gray drake spinner- massive hatch of 2020 Covid year. 27 inches on a cool moist morning spinner fall )

So left to my own reasoning and mayfly acquired knowledge from good friends and authors Carl Richards, Dick Pobst and grand mayfly guru Al Caucci, I began to use my understanding and reasoning about mayfly life cycles and emergences. One thing we knew for sure was that drakes laid their eggs over broken riffle waters. The nymphs' hatched in the gravel and spent their first 9 months in gravel mainstream bottom areas feeding and migrating from different foraging sites. About two months before emergence ( March/April time period) they start their slow and steady migrations toward the shorelines from the main stream bed riffles. At precisely that  time our river levels were dropping drastically from no winter snow precipitation and melt-off, no spring rains and very dry and bitter cold nights. No rains came in the spring of 2021 and more exposed gravel bars and stream banks were showing every week at alarming rates in a time where our rivers are usually flooded and full of water.

As can be seen by the river images above entire sections of river and gravel bars were drying-up. Areas that should be waist or chest deep were now ankle deep or dry. Th avian predation from herons, osprey and eagles was become vicious and brutal for the trout populations. Every trout caught had claw or poke marks from birds.

Thus as the water levels kept dropping as the gray drakes nymphs were migrating to shore. Often once in a shoreline area, the next night or day found them in dry bedrock and frozen to death by very cold spring nights of high Arctic pressure system parked over us and not keeping any moisture in the air and climate. It was a "slaughter" akin to Pickett's charge for the Siphlonurus nymphs as they attempted to climb the banks and shorelines to emerge.

Most people dont notice mayflies like dry fly, trout bum junkies do. So when..."where are all the drakes?...have you seen the gray drakes?...what the hell happened- I was out at prime time and there were no drakes?" started to be the normal chatter, the mayfly world stood still. How could we go to the most insane blizzard hatches Michigan rivers had ever witnessed in perhaps a hundred years just a season before to almost nothing!!-impossible.The hatch matching dry fly chaser's world like mine started to collapse.Despair and pandemonium shook us.
 ( What gray drakes looked like when you shined your flashlight- like stars in all the galaxy numbers- never in my lifetime or in any place on earth have a I witnessed mayflies like tgis))
So I decided on the inevitable verdict,that 2021 year-class gray drakes all died and pershid as they migrated to the shorelines in a bizarre unnatural drought event that made no sense with the normal evolutionary climate of wet cold springs that the temperate climates have been accustomed to for millenia.. Yes we had droughts before, but nothing as severe and long sustained as Michigan  climatologists were complaining about. VERDICT OF CORONER: DEAD-GONE! could only explain it. It's not like they have multiple spawning life cycles like fish that forgoes or can a year class of spawning. It's a 365 day life style and what you sow you reap next year, not what was previously reaped.

Months later when I started my Hallowed Waters Podcasts https://open.spotify.com/show/5jeEdcGqhGMZFn0xMcLZOj
I had my first guest: The Brown Trout Night Stalker-Tommy Lynch" I reveled my findings to Tommy in the broadcast and it made perfect sense to both of us. We estimated it would take ddecades or never if it came back. 

But Wait!-They're Back!

Trout fisherman and bug experts are plagued by too much knowledge and also the lack of it. This is what happens to us the more we think we know and how dare we lose faith the beauty of nature to protect, preserve, buffer and have a back-up plan and heal in the finest natural way. We often see that about streams we say" are fished out- no fish left!" to only later discover by a fish electro-shocking crew to have a bumper crop of wild trout living under the radar. In a spring poised for despair and no gray drakes, we started to despairingly chatter until a guide friend Michael D. asked the bitter question:" See any?"..."nope", my reply. Then it came. His cell phone video came one eveninglike the start of Bethlehem, or as the doors of Noah's Ark opened. That same night he saw spinner mating flight clouds of drakes in the lower river heading up river fast. I was startled , teared-up, elated and perplexed all at the same tiime.I failed to take into account the mayfly hatching migration cycles from lower to upper river, and different water habitat and river structure that all have the ability to buffer and protect- forgive me mayfly gods!


Though the hatch this year was very weak to a scattering of a few spinners in the sky compared to previous years, the joy resides in the fact that we didn't lose them. Each mayfly generation must leave eggs to have another brood and generation. One generation lost in a 365 day life cycle is a population totally eradicated.The upper 14 miles of tailwater of the Muskegon is considered the prime trout and drake mayfly water by its gravel/pool structure.The lower river can be flatter, deeper, swampy and total void of specific trout stream-like structure. It is here that the drought would have the least impact since the river structure is not as gradient filled and thus would not dry up as severely in this flood plane setting. It is here that the haven and harbor to keep the Siphlonurus drakes would occur and so it did. With depth and vegetation and wooded debris closer to the banks, along with wet land swamps as part of the banks, the severity in drought was not as visible and impactful. And it was from here that the first flights of drakes probably took flight and origin. The mayfly spinner flight progressions usually start in the lower river waters where temperatures warm up sufficiently and the quickest, and thus migrate up stream nightly to the rivers source.

Thus it is here that "Noah's Drake Ark" had refuge and safe haven. And through here our dry fly joy owes much too. Long live Noah's Drakes!

Matthew Supinski
Gray Drake