FISHING THE UPPER FIFTH OF THE WATER COLUMN
Down through fly fishing history the caddisflies or sedges as they were long referred to in England and even in America, with the exception of a specific hatch or two the caddis were always regarded as the second class citizens, so to speak.
However over a period of years this view began to change as several fly fishing authors began to realize the importance of the caddis hatches on various waters.
Many of the historical volumes related patterns and methods of fishing the sedge or caddis hatches, however for this missive we are only going to refer to volumes by American fly fishing authors, with one notable exception and with two exceptions the volumes all refers to books published from 1972 to 2009 and who contributed to the increase in knowledge of the art of caddisfly fishing. The books that I will be referring to are all volumes which give excellent coverage to caddis flies, it is interesting to note that very few books have been dedicated to the caddis flies.
We begin this quick stroll through history with Alfred Ronalds and The Fly Fisher's Entomology which was published in 1836. Ronalds gave ample coverage to the most popular sedges of the time and remember this was the first scientific study of the insects that the trout feed on. The next volume is American Trout Stream Insects which was published in 1916 and authored by Louis Rhead.
This book was the very first book ever published in America on the subject; however Rhead did not use any but the most basic scientific terms and therefore has been regulated to obscurity by most angling historians. However the book sold very well and was the wonder of the day for the anglers of the Catskills and the Beaverkill River particularity, besides it will give you a feeling for the early caddis fishing in America.
Now let us jump ahead to 1972 and the publication of Fishing the Dry Fly as A Living Insect which was written by Leonard M. Wright Jr. This book took on an entirely different approach as he imparted movement to many of caddis patterns he was using. I would point out that there is other information pertaining to mayflies and other insects in this excellent small volume. Today twitching or bouncing and moving the dry fly isn't all that unheard of, but in 1972 this was a most never done and dry flies were still being presented with a dead-drift presentation.
In 1975 Sylvester Nemes published The Soft Hackled Fly and with the publication of this volume, a whole generation of American anglers was reintroduced to soft hackled flies which were fairly unknown in this country. Soon angler's discovered that soft hackles were very effective during a caddis hatch, Nemes produced several excellent volumes on soft hackles and brought to the forefront names like W.C. Stewart and T.E. Pritts.
Prior to the rise of the dry fly in popularity the uses of soft hackles and North Country Spiders was fairly common but T.E. Pritts' North Country Flies was published in 1886 the same year that F.M. Halford published his first book on dry flies and Pritts' work seemed to get lost in the rising controversy of the dry fly versus the wet fly.
Now, soft hackle type flies continued to be use in the north county of Great Britain, however if you scan the magazine articles of the times and the books that followed and the coverage on the soft hackles seem to dry up, so to speak. However, today thanks to continued efforts of Sylvester Nemes the whole world now uses soft hackles and once again books and articles appeared on the scene written by other authors.
In 1977 Larry Solomon and Eric Leiser published The Caddis and the Angler, this is a revolutionary publication as it was the first American full length missive that dealt exclusively with the caddisfly. This volume did much to advance the understanding of how to fish caddis hatches and offered up some excellent imitations for deceiving the trout.
Other authors covered caddis fishing in their publications as the interests in these insects grew and many contributed to the knowledge base. Then in 1981, Gary LaFontaine published his landmark work entitled Caddisflies, this book has since become a classic and is a must read for any angler who serious about fishing the caddis hatches.
Now in the following years portions of books and magazine articles added to our knowledge of caddisflies and the methods to fish them.
In 1997 and 1998 Carl Richards, Dick Pobst Bob Brindle collaborated on two volumes dealing with caddis flies and these books helped to map out some of the major caddis hatches in the country.
Then for eleven years there were no major work on caddisflies published in American and then in 2009 Thomas Ames Jr. published Caddisflies, A Guide to Eastern Species. Even though this volume deals with the caddis species found in the eastern half of United States it is full of great information and new information on the emergence and the egg-laying flies of various species once again added to the knowledge base the caddis has been expanded and again this volume deals exclusively with caddis.
Now there are a great many angling authors and fly tiers who have made major contributions to our knowledge of the caddis and/or patterns which in some cases have become standards such as the Elk Hair Caddis which was designed by the legendary Al Troth and others like Oliver Edwards, Stuart Croft, Roman Moser, Rene' Harrop, Mike Lawson and Craig Mathews to name few have all contributed and advanced our knowledge base and pattern selections for fishing the caddis hatches. May all the good work continue for there is always more to learn and discover in the world of fly fishing.
I believe that before I begin to run through the information I wish to impart on fishing caddis in the Film Zone I will begin with a brief discussion on the life cycle of the caddis.
Caddis go through a complete life cycle unlike mayflies which go through an incomplete life cycle with mayflies going from egg to nymph to adult with no pupal stage. The caddis goes from egg to larvae (nymph) and then they go through a pupal stage and once maturity is reach the caddis leaves the pupal cocoon and swim to the surface to emerge as adults, later they return to the water to lay their eggs and begin the cycle once again. The parts of the cycle which impact the angler fishing the Film Zone the emerging pupa and the adults and believe me this will be more than enough as the challenge are many.
Now we will move on to the main subject of this missive and that is fishing caddis in the Film Zone and we will start at the bottom of the zone which is approximately six inches beneath the surface.
Fishing the Bottom of the Film Zone
The emerging caddis pupa is the first caddis the angler will encounter at the bottom of the film zone, the caddis pupa are working their way towards the surface with a series of swimming motions and drifting with the current and this procedure takes a while to complete.
Anglers once believed that the emerging caddis pupa came off the bottom like a miniature Polaris missile that then explodes onto the surface and into the air, however nothing could be further from the truth. As a side note caddis like any other insect that hatches on the surface can be subject to the effects of wind and air temperature which can definitely interfere with the normal process of the adults during the hatch.
As they leave their pupal cocoon to head for the surface, this is accomplished with a series of dead-drifts with the currents and upward swimming motions. Now, some caddis hatches are heavy, sustained and very noticeable to both the trout and the angler. During these hatches the angler may first notice trout slashing at a few early emerged adults or aggressively feeding on the emerging pupa just beneath the surface of the water.
As with any hatch there will be early caddis hatching before the main event and this is something you will find in any hatch of natural insects. However throughout the season there are also hatches that of are a minor status and are often overlooked by the angler, but never by the trout.
Of course the angler needs knowledge of the water being fished and what caddis flies inhabit the waters being fished. Besides published hatch chart I always look to see if Colleges, EPA or USGS have conducted on the water in question. Collecting this information will allow you to be prepared and thoroughly understand the food forms available in the river in which you have interest.
The other times that you can find trout feeding on caddis at the bottom of the film zone is as the hatch begins to fade and then the opportunistic feeders begin to clean-up on drowned adults and drowned cripples. Also the trout will feed on the caddis that swim beneath the surface of the water to lay their eggs.
Most mayflies live twenty four to thirty six hours in their adult form with some living a little longer due weather conditions; however most caddis species live two to three week as adults, so each day's daily emergence builds the number of adult caddis available to the trout.
Now, I will offer my advice on how to fish during these situations and I will speak of patterns in general terms as I will be covering the exact patterns that I use in the next selection which is entitled "Caddis Flies, Patterns to use in the Film Zone", Part Three A.
Again the most critical skill that the angler needs develop is that of observation, closely followed by a calm and patience demeanor. This attitude allows for a clear thought process which will allow you to turn your observations into successful fishing solutions.
At this time I will point out that a certain amount of knowledge is required for the angler to make good decisions. A reasonable knowledge of the water types you are fishing and a understanding of the depth of the water and the current speeds. This will allow you to properly place your imitation in the water column at the proper position to entice the trout.
Spring Creeks, the Big Horn River and the Henry's Fork of the Snake and rivers of this type often allow the angler to approach close enough during certain light conditions to see exactly what the trout are doing during a caddis hatch.
However in the real world of fly fishing we often do not have favorable light conditions or perhaps the river has a dark bottom which makes spotting trout more difficult or you are fishing a fast river like portions of the upper Madison River or portions of the Gallatin River.
Therefore if you can't see the trout especially early during the emergence cycle, a base knowledge of the caddis species that is hatching and local knowledge, either personal or information from friends, fly shops or fishing blogs. This knowledge will allow you to anticipate the hatch. All of this will allow you to make good decisions.
Anyways, now I will return to the fishing methods to fish the bottom of the Film Zone, you could use your favorite caddis dry fly followed by a caddis pupa on a dropper, the length of the dropper will depend on the water type and the speed of the current.
Now remember the caddis adults and the caddis pupa would be moving, therefore twitching and bouncing the imitations will produce amazing results.
Another method that has proven itself, throughout fly fishing history and that is a single or pair of wet flies designed to imitate the natural caddis pupa and you can fish these flies across and downstream using a swing lift much like James Leisenring describe when fishing his wet patterns.
Cast across stream and then mend allowing the fly or flies to sink, as the imitations begin to swing, then again mend the line to slow down the speed of the swing. As for the take, trust me, you will feel it. Then simply lift the rod and the trout will basically hook itself, be careful not to strike to hard as it will cost you both the fish and the flies you were using.
Over the years I have listened to and have read comments about this method I have just described as something for beginners to do or that such simple method was beneath them. Yet over the years whenever I have challenged many of my own clients to try this method and they all realized that this simple method was not so simple and they needed a while to get the feel of the technique. They also found out that this method was very effective and they were impressed with the success they enjoyed. Of course I wasn't surprised as this method has been successful for hundreds of years.
However if you feel that the above mentioned method is beneath you, and would like a greater challenge then I can offer you another method which may challenge your abilities. The method is to cast a single or pair of wet flies or caddis pupa upstream, and then controlling the slack line and twitch the imitations and lift the rod tip on the slightest hesitation of the leader. You can grease the leader to assist in keeping your flies up in the water column. Oh you could use a small strike indicator, but that might make it too easy.
Now these same techniques can be used for fishing during the egg laying flight, just use the appropriate patterns.
Fishing Just Beneath the Surface Film
Once a number of caddis pupas begin to arrive just beneath the surface film then you can normally see the trout greedily taking these emergers in a very aggressive manner. I have the pleasure of fishing emergences of this type on many of the western rivers in the area that I fish and guide in.
During this time period my favorite personal method is to move in as close as practical to the feeding trout and cast to individual feeding trout using a single spider (soft hackle) designed to hatch the general colors of the hatching insects.
Now I prefer to fish riffles that are deep enough to provide plenty of cover for the trout and riffles that empty into pools which cause large numbers of trout to gather at the base of the riffle to feed. The fishing is hot and heavy and the stomach samples will show an abundance of caddis pupa.
When fishing a prime location of this type you may cast upstream, up and slightly across stream, across stream and I have even cast downstream, where I will parachute cast. All the casts are short and very controlled, where you can control the slack line and react smoothly to the takes. Now this method can be used with a dry fly and a soft hackle on a short dropper, regardless, you still twitch and bounce the imitations to represent the natural movements of the naturals and this makes them appear more life-like to the trout.
These same tactics can also be used on smooth flat water, however the casts tend to be a bit longer and the angler must move from one target to another very slowly and carefully as careless wading will spook trout.
This same method can be used during the egg laying flights. As the hatch begins to fade the angler may find trout feeding on drowned adult caddis or drowned emergers just under the surface film.
Fishing In and On the Surface Film
As I have stated before I see little difference between fishing in the film and on the surface film. I believe that a scientific description would only confuse the issue even more. However most insects found on the surface have parts of their bodies in the film and parts sitting above the surface film. Thus my fishing methods are based on this belief.
The caddis pupa has arrived at the surface and quickly crawls onto the surface film while struggling out of the pupal shuck and then will take to the air in flight if not knocked down by a wave, flattened by the wind or eaten by the trout or picked off by one of the birds who also feed on this bounty.
Now the angler may use their favorite dry fly, however I still recommend twitching and bouncing the adult imitation. My personal favorite method is to use a CDC Caddis Adult trailed by a soft hackle on a short dropper about twelve inches behind the adult. Now I also look for current edges that sweep into back-eddies where crippled adults or adults that are partly stuck in the shuck seem to gather.
Back-eddies are often avoided by many anglers and often these areas will attract some larger trout and using single flies I go after these trout, just remember the currents in the back-eddy are reverse of those in the main river.
As the hatch begins to fade I will use single cripples, flattened caddis adult or normal adult imitations to pick off the opportunistic feeders.
Over the years I have seen many anglers become frustrated during the egg laying flights as the air seems to be full of adult caddis, yet only a few fish are seen slashing at these insects.
Here is where a bit of knowledge will help, do you know how the caddis of the hatch you are fishing actually deposit their eggs on or in the water? Do they land on the water and drop their eggs, do they land on the water and swim beneath the surface to release their eggs, do the hover and dip their abdomen into the water to release their eggs or do they land on streamside vegetation and crawl down the banks into the water to release their eggs?
Knowing how they deposit their eggs will allow you to choose the proper imitation and methods to deceive the trout.
Final Fishing Tips
When you are fishing in the film zone you need to keep your leader greased and floating high. This allows for easier twitching and movement of the imitations. Also remember to check the tip of your floating fly line, yea I know it is suppose to float, but often they begin to sink after a while.
On leaders and fly line tips I use a paste floatant like Loon Payette Paste or the Orvis Paste floatant, I find that the paste work better and last longer on the line tips and leaders.
A greased leader is easier to track on the surface, obviously there are times and situation where you don't grease the last ten or so inches of the leader. In closing it is knowledge, observation and a willingness to keep an open-minded and challenge ourselves which keeps us seeking solutions to our angling problems.
Enjoy & Good Fishin'