The Blue Wing Olive (BWO) is a member of the Baetis family. A common insect found in our beloved Missouri River during the spring and autumn months . This small insect plays a big role in the food chain, serving as an important calorie source for Brown and Rainbow trout. Let’s explore the entomology, life cycle and patterns for fishing the Blue Wing Olive hatch.
Characteristics of the Blue Winged Olive Mayfly
The Blue Wing Olive fly is a small mayfly, in fly fishing terms sizes #16-20. It has a slender body that’s a dark olive color, and its wings have a distinctive bluish gray tint. These characteristics make it easy to identify them as they emerge from trout streams with their sailboat looking wing. The smallest of the BWO is the Pseudocloeon or Pseudo. The Pseudo is really tiny and often found in sizes #22-24. We see swarms of these little guys on the Missouri River in early fall before the larger BWO’s emerge.
The Life Cycle of the Blue Wing Olive (Baetis)
The Blue Wing Olive fly has a unique life cycle that consists of four distinct stages: egg, nymph, dun, and spinner.
Egg Stage: The BWO begins its life as an egg, which is laid by adult mayflies in the water. The eggs are typically laid in clusters, and they hatch.
Blue Wing Olive Nymph : After hatching, the fly enters its nymph stage, which can last for up to two years. During this time, the nymph lives underwater, feeding on algae and other aquatic plants. As it grows, it sheds its skin several times in a process called molting.
Dun / Adult: When the Blue Wing Olive fly is ready to emerge from the water, it enters its dun stage. This is when the nymph swims to the surface, and its skin splits open to reveal a winged adult mayfly. At this stage, the fly is not yet fully developed, and its wings are still damp and crumpled. This is the stage where the BWO is most vulnerable and trout love to eat them in this phase.
Spinner Stage: Once the Blue Wing Olive fly has fully developed its wings, it enters its spinner stage. This is when the fly takes to the air to mate, and the females lay their eggs in the water to start the cycle all over again. The spinner stage is short-lived. The fly then dies and lays dead on the water with its wings laid out.
Significance of the Blue Wing Olive
Prized by anglers for its ability to attract large trout to feed. This fly is particularly effective during the nymph and dun stages. Cripples resembling the bug stuck in the shuck while emerging are a very effective pattern on the MIssouri River.
In addition to being an effective fishing hatch, the Blue Wing Olive is an indicator of the health of the river system. Mayflies, like PMD’s and the Blue Wing Olives, are sensitive to changes in water quality and habitat conditions.
The Best Blue Winged Olive Fly Patterns
When it comes to stocking your fly box with BWO patterns there are plenty to choose from.
Blue Wing Olive Nymph Patterns:
- Split Case BWO: This pattern imitates the BWO nymph well with its slender profile and realistic segmentation. Fish it in sizes #16-20.
- Tailwater Tiny Baetis Nymph: Specifically designed for tailwater fisheries like the Missouri, this pattern is a small and realistic representation of a BWO nymph and makes an excellent dropper of a bigger dry fly.
- Pheasant Tail nymph: The PT is a staple on any trout river. A classic that imitates a wide variety of mayfly species in their nymphal stage
- JUJU baetis: Perfectly shaped slender body the Juju baetis is a must have pattern. This fly fishes well all year long but it really shines when fishing the Blue wing olive hatch.
Emerger Fly Patterns:
- WD-40: A simple and effective pattern that imitates an emerging BWO moving through the water column.Best fished in sizes #18-22.
- RS2 : The RS2 is a great BWO emerger pattern that can be fished just below the surface film. It comes in various colors, but gray or olive body are good choices for BWOs.
- Film Critic: Mayfly emergers are often stuck in the film making them easy prey for hungry trout.
Dry Fly Patterns:
- Midge Patterns: BWOs are relatively small, so having midge patterns in sizes #18-22 can be effective when fish are focused on smaller insects. Patterns like the Griffith’s Gnat or Parachute Adams in smaller sizes can work well.
- CDC BWO Comparadun: This pattern combines the effectiveness of CDC with the profile of a Comparadun, making it a great choice for imitating BWO duns on the surface.
- 401k Baetis: Tied by friend Matt Pederson this fly is great for selective fish. A high vis wing along with CDC and hackle to keep the fly riding low in the water but still propped up on the surface. If you find rising trout on BWO’s definitely try this pattern.
Blue Wing Olives and the Ecosystem
The BWO Mayfly plays a vital role in our rivers, serving as a primary food source for many fish species. Trout, in particular, rely heavily on these mayflies for their survival. In addition to their role as fish food, the Blue Winged Olive plays an important role in nutrient cycling. As the nymphs feed on algae and other aquatic plants, they help to recycle nutrients within the ecosystem.
The Blue Wing Olive fly is a small insect with a big impact on the ecosystem. Its unique life cycle is certainly astonishing. If you have never had the opportunity to fish during a BWO hatch. I highly recommend fishing the Blue Wing Olive hatch along Missouri River in Craig Montana