Bloody Baetis

Bloody Baetis

As fly fishers we are always dialed into the weather. Seasonal changes are picked up almost as second nature and  as a hatch junkie , I get a strange excitement stirring inside , when almost subconsciously  I become aware that the sky starts to lose its summer haze. There’s dew in the morning  , a crispness to the air and the light takes on a certain clarity. These things will become more pronounced and intense , evolving into a state of discomfort later in winter.But for now it heralds the start of autumn.

Summer has an energy and overwhelming vibrancy  that spills over into your fishing resulting in a large variety of opportunities that encourages a plethora of fishing methods. So after the fast paced fishing of summer , autumn feels like the time to take a deep breath and slowly exhaling. And while your’e about to slow things down and fall into Autumn’s pace  , FOCUS….. ’cause you’re about to bump into one of the oldest hatches in the history of fly fishing.


Autumn time is BWO time.

As a complex  Baetidae family  , BWO’s , Blue Winged-Olives , Baetis , Olives , Pale Watery’s , Pond Olives , Cloeon’s , Iron Blue Quills, Rusty Spinners , swimming mays & Psuedo’s are all common names across the world for a bug that is probably the unofficial poster child of the mayfly family species in the world of fly fishing.

Volumes has been written on BWO’s , the most used common name for Baetidae , and some  very famous fly patterns  ,like the PTN , Iron Blue , No- Hackle Dun & Sparkle Dun to name a few , are linked to this bug. The induced take that Sawyer first introduced  was probably related to the hatching of this mayfly on his chalk streams. The first major breakthrough that triggered the insight and gradual understanding of emergence in one of the most influential fly fishers of our time , Rene Harrop , started with a particular Brown during , you guessed it….. a heavy BWO hatch. Hell , the debate between Halford & Skues probably started as a result of this bug.

That’s an impressive amount of fame for such a small little may. These bugs are prolific the world over and at home in lakes , streams & rivers. So understandably there are huge numbers present in my waters. This fact is pretty obvious during a hatch , but turning rocks over looking for the nymphs produce slim pickings. This is because these nymphs are swimmer mays , and boy  can they swim. The best way to get a seine full of Baetidae nymphs is to shuffle downstream with the seine net downstream of you. As the nymphs swims out of harms way up into the water column , they’ll end up in the mesh.


From a hungry fish’s point of view  , this bug is manna , as it’s readily available due to its mobility and subsequent behavior. There’s no secret life spent permanently hunkered down under rocks. In his book Presentation , Borger , stated what we all came to realise – that together with black fly larvae , Baetis are the most prolific nymphs found in the drift. Stomach pumps of trout in our streams pretty much always has Baetis nymphs and at times plenty.I remember some Lesotho ‘bows that produce so many nymphs it looked like toothpaste. This sounds like a lot of theory , but the importance of these bugs are always clearly and unquestionably evident during a hatch on my waters.

To me the hatch is straight out of the handbook of hatches , with the mechanics taking place as they should , sticking within chronological order & time frames . Also the hatch takes place approximately the same time every day with just a variance in intensity. A spinner falls sometimes toss a clanger in the works.

When people talk of setting your watch to the hatch , they probably including BWO’s . Well for me anyway , its the only hatch that comes of like clockwork. I remember the first time I discovered BWO hatches. It was a long weekend in April before the kids , and after fishing the hatch the first day , I went back for two days afterwards to take advantage. As I only fished a dry  , I would move into position , sit down on a rock and wait until the appointed hour . At which almost exact time the bugs and the fish would make their appearance. They never missed our appointments and were always right on time.


Hatches are as old as fly fishing itself. It intrigued and introduced fly fishers to the classic, aristocratic & fleeting   dun . To the delicate, fragile & vulnerable spinner . And , more recently, the squiggly , messy & transitional emerger.

Hatch time is the one period of the hatch where simplicity , efficiency and strategising  are your biggest assets, because , after all , you’re fishing against the clock.  I unfortunately , often fall short  due to “viskoors” or bad eyesight or operator error or old age or all of the above.  Regardless , I like to spend my time on A fish and dual it out , but if you find that sort of self castration unappealing , just move onto the next target.

Books have been written on fishing hatches detailing all aspects , from tackle to hatch charts. For a big shift in your perception of BWO hatches , I recommend Rene Harrop’s work.


After you have fished through enough BWO hatches , making you want to carry a badge for all the frustrations you’ve endured , you will start considering all the advise you ever heard or read about , regarding the advantages of ridiculously long leaders , 7x ,  accuracy & pink posts. You will start to believe there is such a thing as micro drag and do everything in your power to overcome it. You will start blaming rod & line flash , gadget flash and the line’s surface impact , even though you never really thought it mattered much. You will realize the advantage of being inconspicuous and start coming around to to the idea that looking silly in camou isn’t all bad.


You will wish you took yoga lessons your whole life.

You will know , they’re not kidding , when you read that you should approach fish on all fours. You will become convinced there is such a thing as the exact imitation , and that at that moment , you don’t have it.

Looking through my fishing diaries , I see that I have reminded myself of all these things many times over the years. These reminders normally followed some tough days – these are guaranteed when you chase BWO hatches. Not that there aren’t days when it all comes together and you think you can do no wrong.  Days that you think of almost in terms of a reward for all the hours you’ve put in.


But when I follow the post of my fly , dancing perfectly detached down a tricky current tongue in the distance , and a big nose slowly rise and sinks over my imitation – that moment , that fleeting slow-mo moment ….is the drug of a hatch junkie.

In the end ,  I always give myself the same advise. Slow down , don’t force your hand or fish against the run of play.


And when you take your time, you fall in line with the rhythm of the season. You pick up it’s pulse , sense the subtle nuances. You take a deep breath of cool autumn air and slowly exhale.

Yes, its that time of the year.


Next : BWO’S – getting technical



7 thoughts on “Bloody Baetis”

  1. This is frikkin awesome!

    Herman, this your best writing yet.

    I’m calling it now, South Africa has its own John Gierach.

  2. Nice one Hermon, you’re drawing me back to bugs, and rinsing salt addiction with this piece. Great work.

  3. Thanks for the heads up guys . Gary , your’e pilling on the pressure , but thanks. Although I think “THE RIVER” is my best piece.


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