Written by: Bill Edrington, Anglers of the Royal Gorge
For many anglers, words are caddis fly hatch Conjure visions of epic days when all you need to do is grab a few dry flies from Elk-Hair Caddis. Those who expect these hatchlings to occur all winter spend an inordinate amount of time designing and tying imitations of adult caddisflies that fool trout even in overhead hatches. But while my experience with spring hatches, particularly the Mother’s Day quiver quivers (brachycentrus), I’ve learned that casting imitation adult caddisflies can definitely be a lot of fun, as trout often gorge on pupae long before they actually hatch. The reason is simple. Caddis fly pupae can float in the water column for hours and miles, from the riverbed all the way up to the buffer zone, until they find the perfect water temperature and flow conditions to explode to the surface and grow up.
If we ignore this behavioral anomaly, we are literally depriving ourselves of spectacular fishing opportunities for hours. Also, adult caddisflies, after turning into adults, don’t linger on the surface like mayflies do. Instead, they flutter up from the water’s surface almost immediately. That’s why trout turn such lively climbs into dry flies. The trout has to make a quick decision and will often jump out of the water to catch the adult fish before it flies away.
When I teach fishing courses about the life cycle of the caddis fly, I’ve often been asked when to stop fishing a pupa and add an adult fish. The answer is when you hear a splash that sounds like someone just tossed their dog in the river. Many fish seem to reach for insects just an inch below the surface. These fish generally feed on pupae that have trouble becoming adults. As I will explain later in this article, I continue to fish a caddis fly pupa even when tying on a dry fly. I simply draw a doll pattern behind the dry fly without a beaded head.
Caddis fly chrysalis patterns can be presented deep along the stream bed, in the middle of the water column, or just above the surface film. Over time, great caddis fly pattern designers such as Gary LaFontaine, Gary Borger, and Mike Lawson have designed caddis fly pupae to imitate low and shallow floating pupae, mimicking dozens of different species of this little bug. Traditional wet fly patterns designed by the likes of James Leisenring and Sylvester Nemes are absolute favorites. The purpose of this article is not to elaborate on the merits of one pattern over another, rather we need to have a clear understanding of when certain “styles” of caddis fly pupae should be used over others. If you like to keep life simple, just wear olive and tan versions of it La Fontaine Sparkle Doll in sizes 14 to 18. Tie half of them with a bead head and half without. You can then track the insect’s drift from bottom to top by adding or subtracting a partial shot or two. With very few fly fishermen adhering to simplicity as a philosophy, there are hundreds of weighted and unweighted dolls to choose from. We all have our favourites.
When and where
Not all dolls float carelessly. Some crawl out on rocks, others – like the giant October sedge (Dicosmoecus) –Swim to shore and crawl out to grow up. In order to properly present a pupa imitation, you must have a basic knowledge of the fry you are fishing. Most species float and swim to the surface, often struggling to get there. So we want to focus our efforts on this journey. You don’t have to fish five days a week to learn how to fish caddis fly pupae, although that doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Unfortunately, most of us have to hold the fort every once in a while, so this is for you.
like case builders brachycentrus and network builders like hydropsyche float in the water column as pupae, not larvae. Many fly fishermen fish for larval patterns during these hatches, but generally their success is due to the fact that there are other species of caddis flies in the water at the same time – such as the Rhyacophila Larvae crawling freely around rocks, making them a great target for larvae specimen fishing, especially on spring mornings before the shell builders start munching out of their shells and emerging as pupae in the drift. By mid-morning you should be able to catch fish from deep-running pupae. This is when you can really benefit from using a water thermometer. Many anglers carry one in their vest or backpack, but many people don’t really know when and why to use it. I’ve found that spring is the best time to get your hands on a thermometer. On an April day, blue-winged olives begin to hatch at around 40 degrees on cloudy days. On the same day, caddis fly pupae begin to float in more or less degrees warm water and hatch at about 55 degrees. Using a thermometer allows you to make pattern and technique changes that will give you a head start. Emergence of these caddis flies generally occurs in highly oxygenated ripple water. So don’t get caught fishing BWOs in shallow water when the temperature is suitable for fishing caddis fly pupae. The number of caddis flies usually exceeds the number of mayflies, which is why most of the fish head to the guns to feed. Also, I’ve found that mayflies prefer cloudy weather and caddis flies prefer sunny, slightly windy days, so generally you don’t face the dilemma of where to fish.
There are different ways to represent doll patterns and most of them are very simple. For those of you who like to dead drift with a strike indicator, simply tie on a low-running beadhead dummy and bounce it along the ground. Make your cast directly upstream and pull the line back to keep up with the current, or cast up and across with multiple touch-ups for a long drift. This method generally works best when the doll is close to the ground. However, don’t pick up the line too soon for another cast. Many fish will grab the pupa on the downstream swing as it pushes to the surface in the current. This often leads to heavy attacks, so be prepared. I encourage people to keep their rod tip slightly above the fly as it swings downstream. If you feel the weight of the fish or the strong “tap” on the fly, set the hook with a low-profile upstream sweep set. When you set the hook by lifting it up, you often remove the fly from the fish’s mouth, leaving you gaping and swearing. Remember that everything works against you when fishing downstream – the current, the weight of the fish and human nature in raising the rod tip – so be patient and let the fish eat the fly before you react.
Because many fish that feed on pupae snatch them just below the surface as they hatch, the downstream techniques make a lot of sense. This is just a traditional “wet fly” swing presentation. I like to stand in the middle of the water, facing the shoreline of the cut-off shore, and have my presentation cast up and sideways with a reach or curve cast. Once the line is on the water and the leader is running properly, a touch up or two will get the doll into a nice dead current as it zips by in front of you. This should place the fly at its lowest point in the water column. All of these steps are necessary to place the fly in the “strike zone” as it begins its downstream journey. When the fly line passes your downstream shoulder, make another correction upstream and then let the current take over the fly. This allows the current to swing the fly from just below the surface to the foil, mimicking the natural insect. This movement triggers the strike. You can also incorporate a few small “lifts” or “wiggles” into the drift that will add vibrancy to your presentation. Gary LaFontaine explained his presentation as a “stutter” achieved by holding the slack line in the rod hand and releasing it in short chunks.
As I said before, I like to hang my doll behind a dry fly. I use a larger dry attractor, e.g. B. a size 14 stimulator when I run a bead head doll on the dead drift. I use hooklength sections up to 36 inches in length with a #8 split weft over the pupa to place it deeper in the column. As the fish begin to slice up in the film, I switch to a foam-bodied moose-hair caddis trailing a light-hearted pupa, the two flies separated by a 2-foot-long fluorocarbon tip. With this method I can attract both fish that want a pupa and fish that want a beetle with wings. My favorite doll for this rig is a LaFontaine Sparkle doll dropped from a Better Foam Caddis by Larry Kingrey. Sometimes, to change things up a bit, I’ll don a single soft hackle wet product, say a size 12 Brown Hackle Peacock, and swing away. When fish are on a mission to eat every caddis fly pupa in sight, you can literally throw anything in the box and succeed to a degree. Just think about the behavior of the species you are fishing and stick to those techniques.
Bill Edrington was a professor of sociology and criminology for 25 years and owned and directed the institute Anglers of the Royal Gorge in Canon City, Colorado from 1990 to 2010, when his son Taylor took over. He is the author of Fly Fishing in Arkansas: An Angler’s Guide and Journal.