The opening weekend of trout season on the Michigan Au Sable River
was the first time I was aware that caddis flies were a viable trout food.
It had been an early spring and when the traditional opening day arrived
on the last weekend of April the Hendrickson hatch was nearly finished.
A hatch of Little Black Caddis [Chimarra aterrima] blanketed the water
and I experienced a baptism by fire as I scrambled to concoct a suitable
pattern for a hatch I had previously ignored. This incident occurred over
40 years ago and it gave me an introduction to a class of insects that has
provided me with many hours of great angling opportunities.
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
It is likely that caddis flies were the insects that allowed fly fishing in
America to originally be viewed as an acceptable method of catching
trout. Most of the early wet fly patterns imitated emerging or drown
caddis flies. They were mostly drab colored flies, and had wings tied
over the back or along the sides, which is a pretty good imitation of a
caddis fly. While mayflies get most of the glory it was likely the
moth-like caddis fly that served as the original catalyst for fly-fishing
in North America.
Caddis flies belong to the order Trichoptera, meaning hair winged.
Closely related to moths and butterflies they have two pair of
membranous wings that are covered with tiny hairs. Unlike mayflies,
caddis flies have a complete metamorphosis. In the larval stage many
of them construct elaborate cases made from a variety of materials.
Some just like to run around naked. Like their close relatives they
have an extended larval stage, and then they spin a cocoon and
transform into an adult insect. Once this transformation or
metamorphosis is complete the adult insect swims or crawls to the
surface where they complete their life cycle by finding a mate and
laying the eggs that will bring about the next generation.
Unlike mayflies, a hatch of caddis flies is a pretty straight forward
operation. The adult insect either rises passively to the surface in a
bubble of oxygen or swims rapidly to the surface. In either case once
the surface film is penetrated the insect abruptly flies away. Some of
the large species, especially several lake dwelling species, will run
across the surface of the water after emergence, but most species
pop to the surface and fly away. Some species will ride the surface
for a short distance before they fly away, but normally the time spent
on the water after emergence is minimal. This hatching activity gives
rise to splash and often violent rise forms as the trout attempt to
capture the adult before it flies away.
Safely away from the water they rest in the streamside vegetation until
they are ready to mate. Mating flights normally form over areas adjacent
to where they hatched. Caddis flies generally do not mate in the air like
mayflies, but leave the swarm and mate on the ground or on vegetation.
Depending on the species females lay their eggs by dropping an egg sack,
skimming over the surface depositing their eggs by dapping their abdomen
on the water, or crawling under water and laying their eggs on the rocks.
For the angler, caddis hatches present a great opportunity to experience
some exciting angling. Caddis offer something for everyone; the larval
and the emerging pupa stages will challenge the nymph fisher, and the
adult caddis will challenge the dry fly angler, and, in the case of the
diving egg-layers, a challenge for the wet fly angler. Fortunate is the
angler who is well versed in all types of fly-fishing.
If you desire to fish the larval imitation it is helpful to have some idea
what type of caddis exist in the water you are fishing. This can be easily
accomplished by picking up some rocks from the streambed and examining
the aquatic vegetation. While it is possible to imitate the case builders the
free ranging caddis larvae are more readily taken by the trout. These imitations
must be fished right on the bottom since the larvae are unable to swim, and
when dislodged simply roll along the bottom until they can grab onto something.
The most exciting fishing occurs during an emergence when the newly
hatched adult is swimming or rising to the surface. Success during this
phase will only be assured if you imitate the appearance and actions
of the emerging insect. A small aquarium net or a small portable seine
will allow you to capture some of the emerging insects. By watching
the rise types you can generally determine if the hatching insects are
active swimming quickly to the surface or passive floating to
the surface in a bubble of air. Swimming emergers encourage the trout
to rise vigorously while trying to intercept the emerging insects before
they reach the surface. The more passive emergers allow the trout to
be somewhat leisurely.
There are many fancy patterns you can use to imitate emerging caddis
but I have found I have the best success with basic soft hackle patterns.
They are easy to tie, which I like because I am basically lazy, and I can
alter my presentation and retrieve to imitate either the energetic emergers
or the more passive type. During a caddis hatch I like to use a dry adult
imitation with a soft hackle attached to a dropper tied to the bend of the
hook of the dry fly. It's a real kick to catch a trout on both flies at once.
For adult caddis imitations I find the basic elk hair style is hard to beat.
By altering the size and color you can imitate nearly any adult caddis
you might encounter. You can skate them, dead drift them, and even
bounce them on the surface. They are easy to tie, again a plus, and
they are very durable, another plus.
I love caddis. They are plentiful, trout adore them, and caddis are
basically simple to imitate. The patterns I have used over the years
are easy to tie and are consistent producers. If you haven't made
their acquaintance I would suggest you do so the first thing this season.
~ The Chronicler
From A Journal Archives