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Lateral view of a Female Hexagenia limbata (Ephemeridae) (Hex) Mayfly Dun from the Namekagon River in Wisconsin
Hex Mayflies
Hexagenia limbata

The famous nocturnal Hex hatch of the Midwest (and a few other lucky locations) stirs to the surface mythically large brown trout that only touch streamers for the rest of the year.

Dorsal view of a Amphizoa (Amphizoidae) Beetle Larva from Sears Creek in Washington
This is the first of it's family I've seen, collected from a tiny, fishless stream in the Cascades. The three species of this genus all live in the Northwest and are predators that primarily eat stonefly nymphs Merritt R.W., Cummins, K.W., and Berg, M.B. (2019).
27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
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Quill Gordons

This name primarily describes the important Eastern hatch Epeorus pleuralis. It was the first American trout stream hatch described by anglers, and it is named for the fly pattern created by 19th century fly fishing legend Theodore Gordon to imitate it.


Like most common names,"Quill Gordon" can refer to more than one taxon. They're previewed below, along with 8 specimens. For more detail click through to the scientific names.

Mayfly Species Epeorus pleuralis

These are pretty much always called Quill Gordons.
This is the first really good dry-fly opportunity of the season for most Eastern anglers. They are large mayflies and they have good points of vulnerability both underwater and on the surface.
Lateral view of a Male Epeorus pleuralis (Heptageniidae) (Quill Gordon) Mayfly Dun from Dresserville Creek in New York
I kept this specimen after photographing it and it molted into a spinner in perfect condition, which I photographed here.
Lateral view of a Male Epeorus pleuralis (Heptageniidae) (Quill Gordon) Mayfly Spinner from Mongaup Creek in New York
I spent most of the day looking for Epeorus pluralis duns or spinners without any luck on the major Catskill rivers. Finally in the evening I arrived at a small stream somebody had recommended, and when I got out of the car I was happy to find that I had parked in the middle of a cloud of male spinners.
Dorsal view of a Epeorus pleuralis (Heptageniidae) (Quill Gordon) Mayfly Nymph from Mongaup Creek in New York
This Epeorus pluralis dun is recently deceased in these photos. I decided not to photograph several lively, less mature nymphs. This one was ready to hatch, as indicated by the black wing pads. I believe it had not been dead long enough to lose its natural coloration.

Mayfly Species Rhithrogena futilis

These are very rarely called Quill Gordons.
This uncommon and slightly larger species hatches earlier than Rhithrogena hageni, but otherwise is virtually indistinguishable.

Mayfly Species Epeorus longimanus

These are very rarely called Quill Gordons.
Epeorus longimanus and Epeorus albertae are the two most common Epeorus species in the West.
Lateral view of a Male Epeorus longimanus (Heptageniidae) (Slate Brown Dun) Mayfly Dun from Mystery Creek #295 in Washington
Identification of this one was as follows. Body 9 mm, wing 11 mm.
Both Epeorus albertae and Epeorus dulciana should have a conspicuously darkened humeral crossvein in the forewing. This one doesn't.
The foretarsal claws are dissimilar (one sharp, one blunt), which also rules out the Epeorus albertae group.
The dark macula on the forefemora rules out Epeorus deceptivus, which is also supposed to be a little bit smaller.
Both Epeorus grandis and Epeorus permagnus should be much, much larger.
Of the species known to be present in Washington, this leaves only Epeorus longimanus, which is exactly the right size. The key to male spinners in Traver (1935) describes distinctive markings that are visible (although more faintly) in this dun: “Black posterior margins of tergites do not extend laterally to pleural fold, but an oblique black line form this margin cuts across poster-lateral triangle to pleural fold.”
Female Epeorus longimanus (Heptageniidae) (Slate Brown Dun) Mayfly Spinner from the Touchet River in Washington
Epeorus longimanus (Heptageniidae) (Slate Brown Dun) Mayfly Nymph from the Vermillion River in Montana

Mayfly Species Cinygmula subaequalis

These are very rarely called Quill Gordons.
This is the only Eastern species of Cinygmula. It may produce fishable hatches in places but it is not a generally important mayfly.
Dorsal view of a Cinygmula subaequalis (Heptageniidae) (Small Gordon Quill) Mayfly Nymph from Paradise Creek in Pennsylvania
This nymph is missing a few gills, but is otherwise in good shape. It was the only one of its species which turned up in my sample.

Mayfly Species Rhithrogena undulata

These are very rarely called Quill Gordons.
This is one of the two most common species of Rhithrogena.
Male Rhithrogena undulata (Heptageniidae) (Small Western Red Quill) Mayfly Spinner from the Madison River in Montana
This male was collected at the same time as this female and is likely the same species.

It keys pretty clearly to Rhithrogena undulata using the key in Traver 1935, although the size is larger than expected for that species in that source.

References

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