Fly Fishing for Trout Home
User Password
or register.
Scientific name search:

> > Mayfly larvae -wigglers preservation as bait

This topic is about the Mayfly Species Hexagenia limbata

It starts like a rise of small trout. There are dimples on the surface--fingerling trout eating midges, perhaps. But these are no fish. The water breaks and out pop the yellow sails of a giant Hexagenia dun. Then another. And another. A vortex appears in a flash below the mayfly and it vanishes with a slurp so loud it echoes off the distant bank. A square tail like a shark fin breaks the surface behind the swirl as a brown trout twice the size of your net retreats back to his deeper lair. The Hex hatch is on.

This Midwestern legend plays out every year on calm, dark, humid nights in early July. Anglers who only fly fish once a year drive hundreds of miles to play their part in the drama, while the mayflies themselves make the television news by showing up on doppler radar or calling snowplows out of dormancy to remove layers of Hexagenia (or "Hex") duns from the bridges. In the cold trout rivers of Wisconsin and Michigan, huge nocturnal brown trout whose usual menu consists of smaller brown trout become, for a week or so, prime dry fly quarry.

According to the literature, these are the second largest mayflies in the United States, behind the related Litobrancha recurvata flies. However, there are credible reports of limbata exceeding 40mm in some locales that challenge this assumption. Read more...

There are 25 more specimens...

The Discussion

TeacherpreaJune 2nd, 2007, 2:16 pm
Hobart, Indiana

Posts: 8
I am a fly fisherman but not a "purist". A friend of mine has a place on the UP of Michigan. He just called me and said a guy told him there is a way to preserve "wigglers." They use them alot up north, those that are not fly fishermen or ladies. They are fishing perch, bluegill and crappie. He heard there is a way to "blanch" them.Drop them in hot water for a few minutes and they turn rubbery. They then will keep indefinitely. Has anyone heard of this? If so, how close to correct is the procedure I mentioned??
Thanks for anyone's help.
Dick Gross
Hobart, IN
TroutnutJune 2nd, 2007, 2:32 pm
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2737
I don't really know how to do that, but if you do, be sure it's still legal there. It's illegal to do that in Wisconsin, New York, and many other states.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Shawnny3June 2nd, 2007, 5:36 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Teacherprea -

Could you clarify for me what a wiggler is? I've never heard of it.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
TeacherpreaJune 2nd, 2007, 6:10 pm
Hobart, Indiana

Posts: 8
Wiggler's are the larvae of the may fly.
Dick Gross
Hobart, IN
TeacherpreaJune 2nd, 2007, 6:11 pm
Hobart, Indiana

Posts: 8
Troutnut, thanks for the heads up on the legality point. I'll tell my buddie.
Dick Gross
Hobart, IN
KonchuJune 2nd, 2007, 7:28 pm
Site Editor

Posts: 505
I've only heard of mosquito larvae being called wigglers. Are these mayflies the big, burrowing kind of larva?
TroutnutJune 2nd, 2007, 7:51 pm
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2737
The "Michigan wiggler" is a common name, specifically, for the huge burrowing mayfly larvae of Hexagenia limbata. I've got quite a few good pictures of one.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
TaxonJune 2nd, 2007, 7:55 pm
Site Editor
Royse City, TX

Posts: 1350

Right, Hexagenia larvae have a regional name of Michigan Wigglers.
Best regards,
Roger Rohrbeck
TeacherpreaJune 3rd, 2007, 5:50 am
Hobart, Indiana

Posts: 8
Troutnut, and what might be the ruling about preserving "wigglers" that would make it illegal?
Dick Gross
Hobart, IN
TroutnutJune 3rd, 2007, 7:04 am
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2737
The law isn't really against "preserving" them. At least in Wisconsin, it's illegal to remove them from the stream for use as bait. You can go to the stream and catch some and use them for bait then and there, but you have to release the unused ones before you leave. Catching a bunch to preserve and use later would be illegal under this law, too.

The main reason behind the law, I think, is to prevent bait shops and avid ice fishermen from decimating a trout stream's insect population by dredging too much of the bottom for bait. It may also be motivated by the desire to keep people from introducing insect species where they aren't native, or moving any diseases they may carry from one watershed to another.

Again, I don't have any idea if Michigan has a statute about this or not. But you should check the regulations carefully before doing it.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
HendricksonJune 3rd, 2007, 7:04 am
Posts: 2You have to have permit to harvest hexes in Michigan and to blanch them. If you sell them, you need a commerical harvesting permit.People do it, but it's not legal to do so..... Wisconsin is much the same....there's a limit of up to $500.00 before you need a dealer's license and that has more to do with sales tax issues and spreading things like VHS....
NightfisherJune 14th, 2007, 11:46 am
Posts: 7I dont know about using them for bait. but I preserved one in a specimen bottle several years ago and I am still carying it around in my fly tying kit. The secret juice that preserved it: Absolute vodka which, for some reason, I happened to have on hand at the time.
Steelhead30April 7th, 2009, 9:42 am

Posts: 1
I have been perserving wigglers for along time and they work like magic,they dont lose any color,and they stay on the hook better than if they were alive.
LittleJApril 7th, 2009, 10:13 am
Hollidaysburg Pa

Posts: 251
for god sakes, wigglers...hairy honey bugs..... shawn's curly worm. I think I'm going to have to take a break from this site:)
MarioMay 1st, 2009, 3:47 pm
eaton rapids

Posts: 1
I would love to be able to catch a few wigglers and preseve them does anyone know the technique of catching and then how do you preserve them?? Won't need many but would be nice to have for herring fishing. thanks mario
Bubba50February 25th, 2011, 6:12 pm
Conesus, New York 14435

Posts: 1
How do i go about buying some Michigan wigglers, I love using them for pan fish and I cant find any around where I live now
FisheadApril 25th, 2014, 8:05 pm
Posts: 1Preserving wigglers is easy. Bring 2 cups water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, add 1/4 cup borax, dissolve add wigglers simmer for two minutes. Place on paper towel, pat dry and let cool. Done! Harvesting to take home is illegal without a license in Michigan, but you can buy them in any bait shop, at least in northern Michigan, I'm not sure about down in the city. I don't go there.
WbranchApril 26th, 2014, 11:05 am
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2733
Oh oh, so your a scent dipper! Do you also tip your nymphs with the "real thing" when the going gets tough? I for one am shocked and appalled.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
WbranchApril 26th, 2014, 8:52 pm
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2733

I wrote;
I for one am shocked and appalled.

I hope you know I was just kidding you. My sense of humor can be too droll. My wife always tells me not to tease people who I don't know all that well. Beleive it or not I don't use a fly rod 100% of the time. From early September to late October I'm often found in my bass boat anchored in some soft water adjacent to a riff with one spin rod out with a 4" live shiner and the other rod I'm throwing a 4" - 5" Gulp minnow. I like to fish live shiners it reminds me of when I was a kid out with my Dad. I still get a thrill when I feel the tap, tap, as the bass starts to take the minnow.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
OldredbarnApril 28th, 2014, 12:05 am
Novi, MI

Posts: 2608
Me thinks we should of left this post to die way back in 2007. :)

We here in Michigan have a special relationship with Hexagenia as does our fish.

The Hex 'nymphs" are used often as bait when ice fishing. Especially when perch are involved. If you have ever held one out of the water in your hand you would understand the "wiggler" handle. They wiggle so hard it feels like they have serious muscles. Once they are dropped back in the water they drop to the bottom and disappear within seconds back into the silt.

Mack...There are flies designed to replicate the Hex nymph, though most of them appear more like dragonfly nymphs to me than the Hex. The live ones with their undulating gills, the ones used as bait, look rather delicate and that undulation, though many attempts have been made to copy it, Mother Nature beats us hands down.

Way back to Swisher-Richard's books in the 70's they had a "wiggle-nymph" that was hinged...An early articulated pattern to try to copy the wiggling of the bug.

Yes you need to have a permit of sorts to harvest them. I have found what I took to be both age classes in the same silt...The mature one is one size and the end of the first year one is half its size. For many years, on my favorite small-mouth stream, there is a group of anglers that harvest hellgrammites that they then use as bait.

When the big lake Hex hatch the fishing can come to a screeching halt. The fish, perch, walleye, etc gorge on them until they look like footballs or stuffed sausage...and they spit them up when you pull them up out of the water.

As bait they are not always easy to find, but most communities with a connection to ice fishing on the lakes both great and inland, have a long standing tradition with using them as bait.

It really blows my mind every time I see the Hex hatch. It is beyond belief sometimes the amount of protein a good clean stream can produce. There are car accidents on the upper east side along lake St Clair where the hatched duns are preparing for their final molt and are tracked to street lights etc. When the spinners are in the air you can hear them flying around, and they have even been picked up on doppler radar.

Normally sulking Browns lose all their senses and feed like pigs. The whole river percolating ...You can almost walk up to them and tap them on their heads with the tip of your rod.

My favorite was at a place that is known as Daisy Bend on the S Branch of the Au Sable...I was fishing during the day near Father's Day and there was nothing what-so-ever going on...All of a sudden a nice fish charged the surface and jumped crazily around a couple times...I then saw this fish banging its nose into the silt banks trying to dislodge Hex nymphs...A large silt stream was floating downstream below it...

It had lost its mind.

"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood

Quick Reply

You have to be logged in to post on the forum. It's this easy:
Username:          Email:

Password:    Confirm Password:

I am at least 13 years old and agree to the rules.

Related Discussions

TitleRepliesLast Reply
Re: What do you think?
In General Discussion by Falsifly
3Mar 6, 2013
by Crepuscular
Re: Western Pa
In Beginner Help by Flyfishen24
12Jan 11, 2017
by Oldredbarn
Re: no luck for three months but i finnaly figured out why
In General Discussion by Flytyer
1Aug 24, 2006
by Troutnut
Re: Rhyacophila betteni group
In Rhyacophila Caddisfly Larva by Creno
2Aug 10, 2019
by Creno
Re: Legal Issues
In General Discussion by Dr_BlueDun
16Feb 13, 2009
by Konchu
Re: dobson flies
In the Identify This! Board by Mrhackyman
5Jul 14, 2011
by PaulRoberts
Re: IL Forest Preserve Trout
In General Discussion by Mdturek
2Apr 21, 2009
by Mdturek
Re: Bug collection
In the Identify This! Board by Xavier_Carp
5Feb 23, 2008
by Shawnny3
Re: Hex Hatch 2012
In the Mayfly Genus Hexagenia by Hdhungryman
5Aug 13, 2012
by Taxon
Re: The HEX is on all over the Midwest now
In General Discussion by Jmd123
3Jul 11, 2016
by Gilsau
Most Recent Posts
Re: Are mayflies declining?
In General Discussion by Wiflyfisher (Adirman replied)