Some of the most fun you can have without stepping outside the realm of wholesome behavior is fishing in the middle of a mayfly hatch.
These steamy summer days are just about right for that kind of thing. Hereabouts, the big waters of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are hotbeds of hatching activity through the sizzling season.
I still want to call them willow flies, but the proper label for these wispy insects is mayflies. There are numerous species found in varied habitats across the world, but most common here is brown and gray-black bug that is about an inch long with a slender, tubular body. Each has two pairs of gauzy, translucent wings that are held together, straight up over the insect’s back, when at rest.
More length is created by two or three delicate, hair-like tails that protrude from the tip of the bug’s abdomen and fine antennae.
The flying adults are really the end stage of mayfly life. An adult exists for a day or two or, at maximum, a few. That’s after one to two years below the surface of some water body, scuffling around in the muck of the bottom as a wingless form called a naiad.
When the naiad matures, it rises from the bottom to the surface and molts into a form called a subimago. The insect that emerges from the naiad shell has wings and looks like an adult, but it can’t reproduce.
It seems silly, but nature apparently knows best. The whole purpose of the end-of-life emergence of mayflies is to reproduce, so the subimago molts again in a matter of hours at most. What emerges from this second molt is a winged adult with full reproductive capabilities.
The adults emerge in typically mass hatches, sometimes in unfathomable numbers, typically overnight. The insects take flight from the water surface and form whispery, buzzy swarms that breed in the air.
Clouds of willow flies tickling the night sky with their soft wings sometimes freak out people who are sensitive about such things, but a mayfly has never bitten anyone. These insects have no mouthparts, no stingers — nothing that could be used for either defense or offense.
After mating, those that don’t crash back into the water often coat shoreline vegetation, trees, docks and any nearby objects with a fuzzy coating of resting mayflies. They really don’t have any more function once mated females have dropped fertilized eggs onto the water to renew the chain of life.
Post-mating mayflies don’t feed. They merely hang around waiting to die or for something to eat them.
Birds and animals of different sorts turn out to enjoy the bounty of mayfly hatches. Far more fish cash in on the occasion. When thousands upon thousands of insects are rising through the water column, floating on the surface or crashing back on top, it rings the dinner bell for all sorts of game fish.
Any fish that eats insects moves under mayfly hatches, focusing more on the surface where the action intensifies. As smaller predators concentrate, bigger predators often are drawn to snatch them.
Human anglers can join the fray and generally expect to find increased action in the middle of a mayfly hatch however they choose to fish. Most sport fish take an interest in the fish-eat-fish-eat-bug chain of events that forms.
Casting summer lures or jigs can produce bites from almost any game fish or panfish species on the lakes. Find action where fish are actively slurping mayflies off the surface and bigger fish are occasionally thrashing around. Ease closer and get lures or baits in the middle of the carnage — and hang on.
Something you don’t see too much nowadays is the fly rod angler who wafts a small floating bug that could pass for a mayfly itself. With the sister lakes’ improved population of bluegill and red-eared sunfish, more anglers could make hay with fly rod bugging in the middle of mayfly madness.
• The Land Between the Lakes is big on wild resources, but one of those resources is more of a thorn in the public area’s ecology. Feral hogs have become entrenched in the LBL, and U.S. Forest Service managers want them reduced, or better yet, gone altogether.
Feral hogs are thought to have been introduced into the LBL by illegal releases. And both Kentucky and Tennessee laws prohibit the possession, transport or release of feral hogs. The release of hogs into the LBL, too, is a federal violation.
Most of the destructive porkers are concentrated in portions of the southern, Tennessee ends of the LBL, but minimal experiences with hogs have been reported throughout most of the public recreation area.
Why is this a bad thing? Feral hogs are highly destructive of the environment and compete with and destroy many native species of fauna and flora that are supposed to be there. Hogs are capable of high-volume reproduction that can overrun the habitat.
LBL managers have been conducting seasonal eradication and trapping efforts to reduce hog numbers.
It is illegal to hunt feral hogs in the LBL because hunting efforts prove to scatter concentrations of the hogs, seeding greater areas with them and working against more efficient removal efforts.
Too, a largely unspoken stroke against hunting is that it is likely individuals initially released hogs into the LBL with the motive of being able to later hunt them there. Allowing sport hunting of feral hogs, indeed, would seem to reinforce the illegal activity that brought the problem in the first place.
LBL managers, meanwhile, are trying to monitor the elusive feral hogs as well as possible. To that end, managers ask LBL visitors that should encounter hogs in the public area to report their experiences. Managers seek all available information on hog movements and what locations of the area that are occupied by the exotic critters.
Any sightings of feral hogs in the LBL should be reported online at the website www.landbetweenthelakes.com. On the site, click on “Resource management,” then “Feral hog info.” There is a form under the section through which to report hog encounters.
Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 270-575-8650.