Fly Fishing the Hex Hatch

By V. Paul Reynolds

This is the time! Not next week or the week after, this week! It will be tonight at about the time the late afternoon sun slips beneath the spires of spruce on the mountain, or maybe tomorrow night, or the night after – if it’s going to happen at all.

The Hex hatch, or the Green Drake hatch, is long awaited by all serious trout anglers. When these big ole May flies materialize on the trout pond, it is a happening. To a trout-loving fly fishermen, a Hex hatch is an adrenaline rush- a sight to behold. In fact, like a solar eclipse or an expanse of northern lights in the winter sky, a true Hex hatch on a trout pond counts as one of those special moments in Nature. For a brook trout, these fabled May flies are a turkey dinner with all the fixin’s – a chance to get the most amount of food for the least amount of effort.

The Debate

There is an ongoing debate among Maine anglers about what to call these big bugs. Anglers who know a lot more about entomology than I do say that most of us misname the Hex, calling it a Green Drake, as in “Hey, Joe. You really missed it. As soon as the sun set, the pond was covered with Green Drakes. A wicked hatch! Never seen anything to beat it.”

So the question is, I guess, “When is a Green Drake a Green Drake, and when is a Hex a Hex?”

Leighton Wass, a Vermonter and a trout man who loves Maine, has a great new book that plows new ground. It is titled “Fishing the Hex Hatch.” Purchase information is available at ( Click on “outdoor books.”)

When a Hex?

He writes,”A gorgeous mayfly owning the scientific name, Ephemera guttulata, a second cousin to Hexagenia limbata is also called a Green Drake, as is the Hex.  As you can see, confusion reigns supreme here.”

He goes on, “Confusing the matter more, this mayfly hatches nearly at the same time as Hex mayflies, and both are often found inhabiting the same water body.  Also, these two mayflies are similar in size, with E. guttulata being a tad smaller than the Hex. The easiest way to distinguish the two, with an adult mayfly in hand, is to count the tails.  Hex adults have two and E. guttulata (herein to be called the Eastern Green Drake, EGD) have three.  Easy peasy.  Also, if this mayfly you are eyeing has any hint of light green to it at all it’s an Eastern Green Drake.”

In summary, if a giant mayfly has three tails, a greenish hue, and mottled wings, it is no doubt the Eastern Green Drake, Ephemera guttulata.  If a galdarned big mayfly has two tails, no green coloration, and a networked wing design, it’s our megastar, our big cheese, Hexagenia limbata.

Wass has in his book listed 112 Maine trout ponds, as well as a number of Vermont and New Hampshire ponds at which you can expect a Green Drake hatch, if conditions permit. Of his list these are the trout waters in Maine that I have fished and rarely been skunked: Rum Pond, Brown Pond, Secret Pond, Indian Pond, Salmon Pond, Slaughter Pond, Jackson Pond, Celia Pond, Center Pond, Foss- Knowlton Pond, Cross Pond, Rapid River, Quimby Pond, Kennebago Lake, Baxter Park ponds, ponds in Deboullie area, Mountain Brook Pond, Little Huston Pond, and a few that will remain unmentioned.

Water Temps

Of course, water temperatures affect, not only insect hatches but trout behavior. We do know that pond temperatures may be unseasonably warm thanks to a funky spring. What we don’t know is what impact this all will have on the customary early July Hex hatch, circa 2024,as well as trout-feeding patterns.

In his book Wass says that in Maine the Green Drakes will be just around the corner when you begin to see signs that say,”Pick Your Own Strawberries.” And for some reason, the Green Drakes like to populate a pond when it is a “flat ass calm.” These Green Drake hatches can be short lived. We are talking 20-30 minutes! So it pays to increase your odds by spending a lot of time fishing when the window is right, or hire some spotters, or develop some reliable intell sources.

The farther north in Maine you go the more likely that the favorable water temperatures will hold a while longer. And who knows? You might get lucky and get in on a Green Drake hatch during a cloudy, humid day. You won’t soon forget it, if it happens.

Oh yes, if you are fortunate enough to hit the Hex hatch, tie on big artificials: Wulffs, Adams, or # 12 Hornbergs.

 The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at or Contact email — [email protected]

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