Caddis hatches can be somewhat frustrating to the angler. There are lots of different species and the ten thousand dollar question is, “At what stage of the hatch cycle are fish eating?” Yesterday we found a bunch of nice trout and salmon feeding along an eddy line, maybe 6 or 8. Instead of tossing just anything at them we sat and observed for a bit to try and figure out just what they were after. We spotted fish feeding on the adult caddis floating on the surface. Others were taking caddis as they emerged just below the surface and others were grabbing the pupa as it drifted toward the surface. Any one fish could have been feeding on one or all stages of the hatch. In the end we had fish grab a dry, an emerger and soft hackle. But no one fly worked on every fish. And it didn’t take a lot of harassment before they stopped feeding all together. The great thing about caddis season is all you have to do is rest the pool until the fish get comfortable and begin feeding again or move on to the next feeding lane.
When you spot a fish feeding, especially a larger, older, spooky fish don’t be in a rush to drift your fly over it. We watch feeding fish everyday and if you put a feeding fish on the clock it may be 2 or three minutes or longer between rises. Once a fish goes to the surface and grabs a bug it has to go back to the bottom and return to the sweet spot where after a bit it starts looking up for something else to eat. It you watch for a while you’ll begin to tune in to the feeding cycle of a fish. If you start harassing it you don’t stand much of a chance fooling it. If you miss one or it refuses your fly only drift over it one or two more times. If it really wants your bug it will happen then. If not show the fish something else, maybe an emerger or a parachute style fly. You won’t get every one but a feeding fish is looking for something to eat and it won’t eat just anything.
There are so many different ways to fish a caddis hatch, dries, emergers, or soft hackle wets. Every method has its tricks. After a good drag free drift with a dry let it swing and go under water for a bit. Many times fish will grab it just after it goes under. It may not look natural but it works, sometimes.
At the end of a good drag free drift lift your rod and skip your dry back upstream about 5 feet then drop your rod tip and let the fly drift back over the area you just skipped it through. It imitates a caddis trying to take to wing but ends up back on the water. There are many days when the skip and drift catches lots of fish. Once a hatch is about over and fish stop showing switch to soft hackle wets. Fish are more likely then to eat something just under the surface than something flirting around on top. Fish don’t have to work as hard to get something just under the surface. Soft hackles are a game changer when the dry fly game stops working.
This time of season it pays to have a look around before you tie on your favorite caddis imitation. Before going through your fly box rattle a few alders along the river. There should be lots of bugs flutter out.
With an exception regarding size caddis can look very similar. Their wings will probably appear mottled in color. One might be a bit darker than another. Any natural elk wing caddis will imitate most naturals. The difference between them will be body color. Grab a few, flip’em over and have a look at the body. You’ll likely find a few different colors. As the season progresses different species beginning with bright green, olive, tan, and orange and brown bodied caddis. If there is one predominate color start with it but don’t forget about the others. Many days we may see two or three different caddis in the air at once.
Now the plot thickens. Before you begin fishing have a look at the water for feeding fish. Fish dining on adult caddis floating along on the surface film will probably show their nose or back as they take the bug from the surface. A boil or swirl of water indicates fish are taking bugs just under the surface. And a splashy rise indicates fish feeding on emerging caddis. Feeding fish can tell you if your fly should be flirting around on the surface or just subsurface imitating a crippled or emerging caddis.
Doing a little homework before you get to the business of deciding what to use will improve your odds of fooling fish. It’s nothing but a con-act, trying to convince your bugs came from nature and is acting like the real thing.
Like flirting your caddis about on the surface. Hold your rod tip high and give it a flick. It doesn’t take much to make your bug look like the real deal.