Tiny Baetis mayflies are perhaps the most commonly encountered and imitated by anglers on all American trout streams due to their great abundance, widespread distribution, and trout-friendly emergence habits.
Ephemerella dorothea consists of two subspecies, which both produce excellent action. Ephemerella dorothea dorothea is a small species of Sulphur in the East, and Ephemerella dorothea infrequens (formerly Ephemerella infrequens) is one of the two main Pale Morning Dun hatches of the West. The remainder of this page focuses on the dorothea dorothea subspecies, and Ephemerella dorothea infrequens is discussed separately on its own page.
This is one of the most challenging mayfly hatches on Eastern waters. On many streams, it follows or overlaps hatches of the larger, lingering Ephemerella invaria.
Where & when
Time of year : May-July, often best in June.
Preferred waters: Perhaps most common in mountain streams, but especially good in some alkaline spring creeks.
This Eastern subspecies begins to emerge in late May in Pennsylvania. It progresses through the Catskills in early June and peaks in mid-June farther north, lasting as late as early July in some places.
Time of day : Flexible, but typically mid-late evening
Water temperature: 60-65°F
These insects are actually too perfect for dry fly fishing, which makes matching their hatches difficult.
The nymphs may drift for a while just below the surface before trying to break through. When they do, it takes them a long time to crawl out of their shucks. After that, they ride the water for an exceptionally long time to dry their wings, and low-floating patterns like the Comparaduns are preferred. And as if that weren't enough, they are also one of the most cripple-prone of all mayfly species, and trout may feed selectively on their cripples and stillborns. This may all take place at the same time as the spinner fall, especially in the East.
These Sulphurs emerge from smooth, slow water, which allows the trout maximum time to inspect their prey. Because a rising trout may be selective to either floating nymphs, emergers, duns, cripples, or spinners, this is one of the most puzzling hatches in all fly fishing. It is also difficult because the flies are small, hook size 16 to 18, and such small imitations are prone to microdrag. There is no better time to hone your powers of observation and presentation.
Time of day: Near dusk
Habitat: Riffles are preferred, but on spring creeks without riffles any broken water will do.
Hatched duns typically return to the stream within two days as spinners. After mating, both genders fall spent on the water.
Females usually, but not always, drop their eggs from the air above the stream. When they do end up on the water with egg sacs still attached, trout may become selective to spinners with little yellow dots near the tail. Patterns are sold to imitate this.
Current speed: Some in riffles and runs, but best in slower stream sections and pools.
Substrate: Gravel, sand, vegetation
The nymphs display the usual Ephemerellidae habits of high activity in the hours and days before they hatch, and trout claim many of them before they're anywhere near the surface.
Ephemerella dorothea dorothea Fly Fishing Tips
See the section on Hatching Behavior above regarding the many challenges this hatch poses. The best approach is extremely keen observation, and the standby is rapid-fire trial and error. Do not stick with one thing for very long if it's not working.
Caucci and Nastasi note in Hatches II that some light-bodied species of Epeorus, such as Epeorus vitreus, may emerge at the same time as dorothea in the East. It's just one more entry in the long list of complications of the dorothea Sulphurs.
Specimens of the Mayfly Species Ephemerella dorothea dorothea
I watched quite a few of these guys emerge tonight. (I think -- they seemed too small and light to be Ephemerella invaria, though I didn't bring one home to check under the microscope.) It was a cool evening but not cold, and they were emerging on the slow flats of a large midwestern spring creek. I watched several of them drift 50+ feet on the very slow-moving water, slowly rising up out of the surface film. Their emergence was sporadic and lucky for them the trout were also sporadic. Many were eaten but others went ignored for their entire lengthy drifts.
Later in the evening I was bested by a half-dozen rising trout. The sulphurs were still emerging, and a mix of spinners was starting to appear on the water, but I didn't get so much as a splashy refusal from several rising fish, even in the low light of dusk. My best guess is that they were picky feeders keying on a stage of Ephemerella dorothea mayflies.