• Ralph Scherder

Discovering the White Fly

The special regulation section of Yellow Breeches Creek behind the Allenberry Resort is legendary trout waters. It only seems appropriate that my first experience fishing there was during its most famous mayfly hatch, the White Fly.


The White Fly occurs on numerous streams throughout the state but it’s perhaps the most consistent and predictable on Yellow Breeches. You can almost set your watch by it, as every evening, an hour or so before dark, these bright little gems emerge and dance in the twilight and the trout line up to feed on them as they drop back to the water’s surface.


During the peak of the White Fly, streams famous for the hatch can receive heavy fishing pressure. Perhaps that’s to be expected considering that the White Fly is a summer oasis that occurs on many streams that haven’t seen strong mayfly hatches since June, and many others that won’t see them again until fall. In that regard, the White Fly is a transitional hatch linking two distinct seasons for fly fishermen.


I lucked out in that my visit occurred in early September, long after the crowds had moved on to other waters, so I pretty much had a hundred-yard section of stream all to myself. And in that section of slow-moving flat water, it was impossible to count the number of ringlets made by rising trout. I landed six, including a 14-inch brown, before setting down my rod to sit on the bank and just watch the spectacle.


Timing and Matching the Hatch

The White Fly hatch begins in early to mid-August and lasts about a month. As the hatch progresses, the naturals tend to get smaller. In the beginning, it’s not uncommon to find flies as big as size 12 and 14. Several weeks later, most of those flies will range from size 16 to 18, and occasionally smaller. Even later in the hatch, though, when the flies are smallest, a pattern a size or two bigger than what’s hatching can still work, and they’re a lot easier to see in low-light conditions when the flies tend to emerge.


Light Cahills or any pattern with cream hackle and dubbing in appropriate sizes will imitate the White Fly just fine. More important than perfectly matching the hatch is how you present the fly to the fish. It’s August, after all. Low water and skittish fish can make for challenging conditions. Long leaders and fine tippets are the rule rather than the exception.


The flatter the water, the longer I like my setup. A 9 1/2-foot tapered 6x leader with a two-foot section of 7x tippet is a good starting point. I use a 9-foot 6-weight rod which allows me to make longer casts and reach fish without having to walk right up on them.


Two Types of White Mayflies

There are actually two species of white-colored mayflies that hatch on Pennsylvania waters. The Little White Mayfly (Caenis species) typically occurs a few weeks earlier than the species found on Yellow Breeches Creek, and as its name implies, its tiny. As in, size 28 tiny in some places. Although not nearly as abundant throughout the state, Spruce Creek and Little Juniata River are two well-known streams where they can be found.


The White Fly (Epheron leukon), also known as the White Mayfly, is the most common species to hatch throughout the state, although it’s rare to find it in northcentral streams. On most streams, this fly will range from size 12 to 18. The Susquehanna River is the exception. The White Fly there ranges much larger, size 8, and hatches typically begin in mid-July depending on water levels and temperatures. This one is especially intriguing because it offers a great opportunity to catch smallmouth bass on traditional dry flies.

Where to Hit the White Fly Hatch

“Pennsylvania Trout Streams and Their Hatches” by Charles Meck has long been considered my fishing bible. Anyone looking to explore new destinations, or perhaps even learn a few things about your home waters, would benefit from purchasing this book. Perusing its pages, I’ve created a list based on Meck’s notes regarding Pennsylvania streams that have significant White Fly hatches.


Northwestern PA: Neshannock Creek, Oil Creek, Slippery Rock Creek


Southwestern PA: Raystown Branch of the Juniata River


Central PA: Bald Eagle Creek, Little Juniata River (Little White Mayfly as well as White Fly), Penns Creek, Spruce Creek (Little White Mayfly)


Southcentral PA: Muddy Creek, Susquehanna River, Yellow Breeches Creek


Southeastern PA: Bushkill Creek


Northeastern PA: Delaware River, Lehigh River


This is by no means a complete and definitive list, but it’s a good starting point for discovering this unique August hatch. The White Fly is nature’s summer farewell gift for fly fishermen.

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