The semi-pros on the Keystone Bass Buddies Circuit catch a lot of fish. During last year's Monongahela River tournament, competitors from the group weighed in 45 six-bass limits.
This year's launch on the Mon, however, yielded just three limits. Dave Landefeld of Etna, who shared the tournament win with his partner Jim Settnek of Trafford, speculates that mayflies may have been responsible for the low catch rate.
Landefeld and Settnek advanced to among the KBBC's top rankings following their July 14 win at the Mon river tournament. Days before the event, while pre-fishing on Ten Mile Pool, Landefeld noticed an unusually heavy mayfly hatch.
"They were everywhere and everything was feeding on them," he said. "Bass, ducks and other birds were gorging themselves with mayflies. The next day it rained, and then during the tournament there were no mayflies and nobody was catching fish. The theory is the bass gorged on mayflies until the rain knocked the hatch down, and they weren't feeding the day of the tournament."
Landefeld and Settnek caught their tournament-winning 8 1/2 pounds of bass in shallow water at the bank, in a creek mouth and at the edges of grass beds.
"The thing that impressed me was that these guys in Keystone Bass Buddies, they can fish. We look up to those guys," said Landefeld. "If most of them weren't catching fish, something was going on. We think it had to do with the mayflies."
If he's right, an urban river such as the Monongahela could have far greater problems. Sensitive to pollution, mayflies are considered an indicator species whose presence speaks to the relative cleanliness of a waterway. Denny Tubbs, an education specialist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, said the sealing of coal mines upstream and the closing of most of the Mon Valley mills over the last 30 years has greatly improved the river's water quality.
"It's cleaning up," he said. "Mayflies are definitely a good water-quality indicator -- not the best, but one that we use."
Tubbs said pre-tournament rains and a rapid drop in temperature could have contributed to putting down the bass. But a smorgasbord of mayflies could have sated the fish's appetites.
"Mayflies run in cycles. Sometimes there are a lot of them, sometimes not," he said. "But we're getting a lot of reports from anglers about the large mayfly hatch this year on the Mon. It means more food for the fish. As an angler you want the fish to be hungry. If they're not hungry, you have a little tougher time."