By Lance Nelson, Gates Au Sable Lodge

Big beautiful mayflies, unspoiled trout, comfortable air temperatures and late nights (where commonly an angler downstream or upstream of you can be heard cursing at their wind knots and broken tippet after dark) all make up the zeitgeist of June dry fly fishing in Michigan. Yes, it is true, us Michigan trout anglers are a bit intense and deranged. As if presenting a drag free drift across multiple currents isn’t difficult enough – here we are testing our skills (and patience) with the lights off.

The brown drake is the opening act. It is a finicky bug that, at times, will abandon its audience and walk right off stage without an encore performance. Ninety-nine percent of the time we are fishing the spinner fall first, which will happen an hour to two before the hatch. The caveat here is that if you get a cool, cloudy, drizzly day in early June it is not uncommon to see day time drakes hatching in the soft, sandy, mucky substrate these burrowing adolescents enjoy. If you’re ever so lucky to experience a daytime emergence, it could very well account for some of the best daytime dry fly fishing of your life.

On a great night of drakin’, the hatched adults will leave their respective foliage prior to dark and begin to fly upstream to mate. As the evening light thins these bugs will gradually drop closer to eye level before laying eggs, falling spent and completing their life’s cycle. However, with this finicky mayfly it is common for its attitude to change at the drop of the pin, sending them back to the trees to await the perfect time to mate. This generally has to do with temperatures dropping sharply below the bugs comfort range or a ratio leaning too heavily towards a particular sex.

If you show up on the extreme front end of the hatch progression this could present that issue, as male mayflies are generally the first to hatch amongst many mayfly species. If that is the case, you may notice the drakes have left the trees but are hanging really close to the foliage and not taking flight over top of the river. I hope that you brought some size 18 sulphurs and some 6x along with you.

On nights like that we are forced to make the decision to either head home and get some rest, or stay into the midnight hour and hope to find hatching drakes. In the midnight hour (depending on which phase the moon is in) you could very well be fishing to the sound of rising fish in the ink black darkness. Quite honestly, I don’t mind it like that. It allows me to quietly sneak a boat or my two feet closer to fish without them spooking as easily.

When fishing to a rising fish on anchor, I prefer to get as close as possible and have a positioning slightly upstream of the rising fish. This allows myself and my guests a much better angle to present a fly more naturally. A reach cast should be used 100% of the time while fishing in low light conditions and pure darkness. The beauty of this cast for the angler, is a slack line presentation that requires less mending and a fly that will drift more naturally in the cross currents. If done properly once the fly lands you should be able to feed line from your rod tip downstream into the zone of the rising fish. When wading at night, I much prefer to get underneath rising trout and cast upstream assuming the currents and depth are applicable to this technique.

Leading up to the spinner fall it is critical for anglers to stash their rods on the bank, take a seat, blend in and wait for the chaos to unfold. These are large bugs with the potential to bring up trophy sized trout. Marching up and downstream, blind fishing every nook and cranny moments before the spinner fall can create hesitation and potential stage fright from the wise leviathans that lurk near that logjam or large glide beneath the riffle. Find a log, enjoy a cold beer and a conversation with your fishing buddy while you wait for bugs to arrive.

My favorite gear for fishing a June hatch like the brown drake are simply five or six weight rods. I am not necessarily married to either line size. But note that if you are fishing log infested waters where these bugs are present, perhaps the additional backbone from the 6 weight should strongly be considered. The 9’ 5 weight Pure and 9’ 6 weight Air 2 are my two most utilized sticks during the drake. Currently I have them paired with Bauer RX reels as their durability, smooth drags and aesthetics are hard to beat!

Winston Pure 9′ 5wt

Winston AIR 2 9′ 5wt

Bauer Fly Reels RX 2

When using these rods, they are set up very differently from each other. My Pure is set up as a daytime rod, generally with an SA Trout or Rio Gold. The Air 2 becomes a nighttime rod and is paired with SA Infinity Glow.

This gives me and my guests a huge advantage by allowing us to gain insight into how the currents are affecting the drift while also allowing us to judge our distance from the bank and various river structures better. Leader systems are quite simple. Majority of the time I am running a 9ft 2x leader with either 3x or 4x fluorocarbon tippet attached.

Thanks for reading. I hope everyone has a safe, fun and productive 2024 dry fly season. I am chomping at the bit to get out after writing this blog post. Cheers!


Lance has been a fly shop employee, commercial fly tyer, guide, instructor and a warm and curious personality at Gates Au Sable Lodge since 2018. He is one to preach versatility and employs many unique styles of fly fishing on his home waters of the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers. Above all, dry fly fishing will always be  his favorite, but it is hard to beat breaking down a pool or run with European tight-line nymphing techniques any time of the year.