A Bit About Baetids
by Mick Hall
The male Duns can vary in colour from rusty brown to dusty blue and on to light olive. The spinners can vary from light orange through to orange/brown; some are even two-toned.
The females have smaller eyes and the duns tend to be very similar in body colour over the range of species that I have been able to photograph. The female spinner generally is a dusty orange in colour but in saying that, I have seen some that are a bright light olive but they are not common around my part of the woods.
The duns tend to sit on the water surface and drift with the current for a while after hatching. As you can imagine they are very vulnerable during this period. At times you can see large numbers coming off the water early in the season or early in the morning during summer. The general rule is that they come down in small numbers and at times can keep coming off the water for most of the day.
In Australia some 17 species have been officially desc
ribed and in all possibility this number could increase. A number of international works state that some species of the female spinner of the Baetid family actually crawl back down into the water to lay eggs on rocks, logs, or plant life. Our scientists believe ours lay their eggs on the surface, as do the other species of the Mayfly family here in Australia.
I have often thought on how the term spinner came into being and I have traced the term way back to 1784, Anglers Museum by Thomas Shirley, in which the word spinner, as far as I can ascertain, was first used. If anyone can trace it back earlier than that, please let me know. One thought on how the term came into being is that whilst the spent insect is drifting in the current, the current itself can cause the insect to spin around as it drifts away.
Living almost on the water as I do, I have the opportunity to witness a lot more mayfly activity than most. Over the last few years I have had an opportunity to study these critters a little closer. To sit and just watch the river flow past is a favourite pastime of mine and one of my favourite waters to do this is on the Rubicon River in central Eastern Victoria. Because of its nature, being boulder strewn with pools and runs for a lot of its length, it is highly suited to the Baetid family and just about any day during the cooler months you will see the little duns popping off.
Last season I noticed that the little Baetid duns drifting down on the river were all holding their wings slightly open instead of mostly upright like their cousins belonging to the Leptophlebiidae family. Truly, I had not noticed this before and in many ways it brought a new meaning to the way I tied flies to represent these pretty little insects. Let’s be honest, it is easy to say “I knew that” but I must have seen it a hundred times and the truth is I really wasn’t seeing what I was looking at.
To put it in fly tying terms, the wings of these Baetids looked like they should be tied in the Wulff style of winging rather than as like the Peck’s Dun, where a piece of wing quill is tied to look like a single wing slightly lying back over the body.
Tradition has played a major role in how we tie our flies; for example how many of you use black tying thread? Why simply because that is what you have always used or that was what you were told to use whilst learning to tie flies. The same thing applies to how we tie our wings. Let’s drift back a little.
In 1886 when Halford wrote his classic, Floating Flies and How to Dress Them, he gave a number of dressings for dry flies with quill wings, when tied fanned out just like the little Baetids on the Rubicon. If we look at the amount of Mayfly in England we find they have only 46 species, 14 of which are Baetidae and on the famous chalk streams of merry old England, we find that the Baetid family is the most dominant. The question must be asked, were these imitations of Halford’s tied with the wings semi-fanned on purpose so that they actually imitated the Baetid duns?
Read his works as you may, I found no reference to why the wings of the original insect sit partially open rather than fully closed and yet he incorporated this aspect in his fly designs. We do know that Halford was extremely methodical when it came to fly design, for he believed that exact imitation as well as presentation was a crucial aspect in the design of any fly pattern.
Another reference that adds a little more to my theory is the famous No Hackle Duns where the wings are tied on sidewinder fashion, which is onto the sides of the bodies rather than on top, as in more traditional patterns. Again, these flies are generally tied small.
So what is the point? Well there are aspects of fly tying where a focal point is tied into a fly; a common term for this is a ‘trigger” point, something on that fly that causes a trout to take it for a natural.
Trigger points come in many ways, for example my uncle, Len Pawsey up at Jindabyne, often states that when fishing above 3000 feet, always add a touch of orange to your flies. In recent times many American fly tyers have been adding a couple of fibres of Krystal Hair in amongst the wing fibres on dry flies just to give the fly a bit of glint or, as we also say, add life. Trigger points are the key to successful fly patterns; they may be white, bushy wings such as on Royal Wulffs, or the tag on a Red Tag.
I am a firm believer that why a well-posted parachute hackled pattern works so well is that the style of hackling actually holds the wing upright. The wings become a trigger point, especially in fast or slightly broken water. In such conditions the trout have little time to make up their minds on whether or not they want the fly.
From the simple observation of the “V” wings of the Baetids, it also occurred to me that the wing formation could also be a trigger point. I could simply tie the quill versions of Halford but what I really wanted was something that was a little more durable, modern and tied with a parachute hackle.
The answer was to tie the little Baetid dun in the fashion that Jack Dennis developed with the Wulff series of flies in Volume Six of The Flyfishers Annual. The result was better than I had hoped for; the fly rides well in riffle water and the wings look just like those of the Baetids on the Rubicon.
One of the most common of the Baetids that I came across on the Rubicon has a dark olive body and dusty blue-coloured wings. I simply call it the Little Ruby Olive. As a target species for this style of fly tying, I developed the following pattern, which is as follows.
The Little Ruby Olive Dun - As designed by Mick Hall
HOOK: Partridge Dry Fly or Mustad C49s
THREAD: 8/0 flat Multi, not corded as with Uni-Thread, colour brown so that the head of the fly matches the eye caps of the male dun
TAIL: A small bunch of fine Whiting Farms Coq de Leon cock saddle hackle fibres
BODY: Blue winged olive base dubbing blend
WINGS: Dark Dun Float Vis, tied in a “V” formation or the blue grey Enrico Puglisi Silky Fibres
HACKLE: Whiting Farms Golden Badger Saddle, tied parachute fashion, four turns only.
The “TT” Dun
The Brown “TT Dun” emerges around November along the Goulburn Valley then fades over the heat of summer to re-appear in March. From our initial observations, the later emergence period is the most dominant. At times literally thousands can be seen along the river edge clinging to the leaves of trees, bushes and grasses. The favoured time of emergence is early morning.
Baetid Nymph Pattern - As designed by Mick Hall
Hook: Partridge Ideal Nymph or Mustad R72
Thread: Rusty Brown 10/0 Guderod
Tail: Hackle fibres from a hen Coq de Leon hackle feather
Body: Baetid Base Nymph Blend
Ribbing: Fine copper wire, 4 turns only
Wing Case: Mottled brown turkey quill fibres treated with vinyl cement.
Male Baetid TT Dun - As designed by Mick Hall
Thread: Cream or white 10/0
Hook: Partridge Dry Fly
Tail: Blue Dun Coq de Leon
Tip: Cream Dubbing
Body: Base Baetid blend
Wings: Blue Dun Float Vis
Hackle: Pale Blue Dun Saddle tied parachute.
The female is a little larger than the male; however the body colouration is very similar, minus the cream eye caps and butt section. To be honest, the pattern above would suffice both male and female.
The female spinner is the important one to imitate, as it is she that returns to the water to lay her eggs. The two-tone colouration is not dominant in comparison with the male and my standard Baetid Spent Spinner pattern, as shown below tied on a size 14, will do the trick for both.
Standard Spent Spinner – As designed by Mick Hall
Hook: Partridge Dry Fly or Mustad C49s
Thread: 10/0 Rusty brown Guderod
Tail: Whiting Farms Coq de Leon hackle fibres
Body: Spinner blend being Spirit River Golden Stone dubbing and light hare’s ear dubbing to give a smoky hue
Wings: White Enrico Puglisi Silky Fibres tied spent.
Dubbing Blend Formulae
For all Baetids
All Dubbing Blends are based on Spirit River products
1. Base Baetid Nymph Blend
Spirit River Dark Hare’s Ear 1/3, a pinch of Golden Stone dubbing, balance Choc Nymph Blend
2. Base Baetid Dun Blend
Spirit River Med Hare’s Ear 1/3, a pinch of Golden Stone dubbing and the balance Brown Nymph Blend
3. Honey Baetid Dun Blend
Medium Hare’s Ear 1/3, Golden Stone dubbing ½, balance Brown Nymph Blend
4. Blue Winged Olive Base Dun Blend
Olive Rabbit Fur 1/3, balance ½ Choc Nymph Blend and Medium Hare’s Ear
5. Honey Baetid Spinner Blend
Medium Hare’s Ear ¼, balance Pale Cream Devonshire Dun blend ½, mixed with ¼ Golden Stone Nymph Blend
Note: The Pale Cream Devonshire Dun and Sandstone Dun Blend is Spirit River Cream Dry Fly Dubbing (Kapok) 2/3rds blended with matching coloured Antron to give the Kapok a lift
6. Base Spinner mix for balance of Baetids, Golden Stone Nymph Blend mixed with a little light Hare’s ear dubbing to give a smoky tone to the dubbing.
Material, Hackle & Hook Preference
Hackles for Baetids: My personal preference is Whiting Farms Golden Stone capes or saddles as they tend to match most Baetids found on our waterways. Other choices being: Light or Medium Champagne, Medium Brown Dun or Light Blue Dun.
Leptophlebiidae: Whiting Farms, Barred Medium Ginger, Light Ginger and Light Ginger Dun capes or saddles.
For all dry flies: Coq De Leon capes or tailing packs.
For Devonshire, Sandstone, Honey Duns and their spinners: Medium Pardo.
For all Baetid Dry Fly patterns: Dark Pardo or Medium Dun.
For all Nymphs: Coq de Leon Brown Speckled Hen cape.
Baetids: Partridge Dry Fly or Mustad C49s for all Baetids in sizes 18-14.
Baetid Nymphs: Partridge Ideal Nymph or Mustad R72 in sizes 16-14.
Leptophlebiidae, Duns & Spinners: Partridge Dry Fly in sizes 14-12 and Klinkhamer Extreme in sizes 18-20.
Leptophlebiid Nymph: Partridge Ideal Nymph or Mustad R72 in sizes 14-12.
Guderod: size 10/0 in the following colours, white, tan, olive and dark brown.
Option: size 8/0 in the same colours as featured above.
Post material for parachute hackles
For size 16 and smaller: Enrico Puglisi Silky Fibres White or if you wish, choose a blend of white and cream for spinners and a blend of greys for duns. Another option is Polypropylene yarn in white for spinners and light grey dun and blue dun for dun patterns.
For size 14-12:
Float Vis in same colours as Polypropylene or as an option, Enrico Puglisi EP-Silky Fibres or EP Silky Fibres 3-D in white, cream, grey or olive.
Note: With these colour ranges it is possible to blend your colours to obtain the effect you are looking for.