White River

How to fish the Caddis hatch

Posted by John Berry on March 31st, 2012
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I was guiding yesterday and luckily found myself in the middle of a caddis hatch in the middle of the afternoon. I say I was lucky to catch the hatch because the morning had been painfully slow. While we were eating lunch, boat after boat returned to the ramp. I took a minute to talk to all the anglers and to a man all reported dismal results and left with disappointment. I stayed because I knew that the caddis would make an appearance in the afternoon and produce some good fishing.

What is a hatch? That is when aquatic insects complete their metamorphosis and transform from their pupal stage to their adult stage. Caddis, like many insects, goes through a complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa and adult). While it lives in the water for about a year during the larval and pupal stage, it lives but a few days in the adult stage out of the water. To effectively fish a hatch you need to fish the pupal stage, the emergence stage (when the insect is emerging from the pupal shuck as an adult insect) and the adult stage.

Many times the most effective way to fish the hatch is to concentrate on the caddis pupa in the water. Before the hatch the pupa will be more active and will be drifting downstream in the water column. Trout frequently key in on this food source and feed voraciously. I like to fish midge pupa under a strike indicator. My favorite pattern is the fluttering caddis in sizes 14, 16 and 18. I like green and tan. I rig them eighteen inches below a hot pink San Juan worm with a bit of lead eighteen inches above the worm on 5X tippet (fluorocarbon). I think the worm works as an attractor. I set the indicator at the depth of the water. The idea is to tick the bottom of the water column where the trout would be located.

To fish this rig cast it upstream and allow it to move downstream in a perfect drag free drift. Mend as necessary. The key is line control. There is a fine balance between having enough slack to achieve a drag free drift and a tight enough line to set the hook at any moment during the drift. Watch the strike indicator carefully. Many times the takes will be subtle and the strike indicator will barely move. It is imperative that you set the hook quickly. When in doubt, set the hook.

The easiest way to fish the hatch is to concentrate on the emergence. This is when the caddis adults are rising toward the surface, breaking through their pupal shuck and the surface of the water. The whole time this is occurring, they are drifting downstream in the current and are vulnerable to predators (trout). You will notice trout feeding on the surface but will see no insects. To imitate this stage, I like to swing soft hackles in the current. My go to flies are my green butt soft hackles, partridge and orange soft hackles and hares ear soft hackles in size fifteen. I tie them to the tag end of a twelve foot leader/tippet combination ending in 5X tippet (fluorocarbon). I frequently fish two patterns. I attach the dropper to the first fly by tying an eighteen inch tippet to the bend of the hook with an improved clinch knot. I attach the dropper fly with another improved clinch knot.

To fish it I stand facing downstream and casting to the right or left at a forty five degree angle to downstream. As soon as the fly hits the water I give it a quick strip to sink the fly into the film (the top inch or two of the water column where the emergence will take place). I let the line swing in the current. If a belly forms in the downstream side of the line, do not mend. This will place slight pressure on the hook and will aid in setting the hook. This is a tight line technique and you will feel the strike. As it is a searching pattern, I will slowly move downstream (one step every six or seven casts). If I take a fish or feel a bump, I begin the count all over again, so that I do not pass up any trout.

The most challenging and rewarding stage is to fish the adult stage with dry flies. These are insects that have emerged onto the surface of the water and are drifting downstream helplessly. They are totally vulnerable until their wings dry and they can fly away. There is a certain thrill to watch a trout come up and take a fly from the top of the water. This is what we live for. I do not switch to a dry fly until I see trout taking adult insects on the surface. An early hint is to observe cliff swallows swooping over the water to target hatching insects. My favorite fly for this stage is the elk hair caddis. I carry them in tan and green in size 14, 16 and 18. I tie them to the tag end of a twelve foot leader/tippet combination ending in 5X (monofilament). I place a drop or two of dry fly floatant on the fly to waterproof it.

I fish this rig basically like the pupa. I cast it upstream, at least eighteen inches above a rising fish, and allow it to move downstream in a perfect drag free drift. Mend as necessary. The key is line control. There is a fine balance between having enough slack to achieve a drag free drift and a tight enough line to set the hook at any moment during the drift. Watch the fly carefully. Your tendency will be to set the hook too soon. The sight of a trout coming up to take a fly from the surface is just enough to kick in the adrenaline. Wait for the trout to close its mouth and head down before setting the hook.

That afternoon around three o’clock we got our hatch and we began catching one good trout after another. We fished the pupal stage and the adult stage. We did the best with the caddis pupa, which accounted for around thirty fish in two hours.

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