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SALT LAKE CITY — Most fly fishermen are aware of the aquatic insects that inhabit the waters they fish. These include the popular and glamorous mayflies, the stoneflies, scuds and sowbugs, chironomids (midges), and caddisflies.
Caddisflies were popularized by the late Gary LaFontaine in his book simply titled, Caddisflies, published in 1981 by Nick Lyons, Winchester Press.
With the publication of Gary's book fly fishermen were introduced to his caddis Sparkle Pupa (or Deep Pupa) and his Emergent Pupa in all their colors. His book also dispelled some of the earlier literature on caddisflies that had misled fly anglers for years.
As with most aquatic insect situations, there are only a few things a fly fisherman needs to be aware of to fish caddisflies successfully. These include: knowing what caddisflies are abundant in the waters they fish, knowing the difference between a cased caddis, a caddis larva that builds and lives in a small rock case, (often called a rockroller or rock worm), and a noncased caddis, (often called free-living caddis larva), and knowing what a caddisfly emergence (hatch) looks like. Observation is key.
A simplified approach to caddisfly fishing:
Searching with a nymph pattern
Check on top and on the bottom of stream and river rock for caddis larva. You may find the cased varieties or free-living varieties. Try to decide which variety is most abundant and then pick an imitation that mimics it in size, color and characteristics. Fish the pattern with standard nymphing techniques that include indicators or European nymphing techniques.
Patterns that work for searching nymphs include: deep Sparkle Pupa, Skunktail Caddis, a variety of woven Polish nymphs and even a Hare's Ear nymphs tied in caddis matching size and color.
Searching with a dry-fly pattern
Most caddisflies will start to hatch mid-May, continue throughout the summer and end in Autumn with the October Caddis hatch. During these months trout become used to seeing adult caddis fluttering about the water. Caddis adults will often hide in the streamside foliage. Before fishing, grab a few willow or river birch branches and give them a shake. If caddis adults are around, they will flutter off the leaves and branches. A fly fisherman can get a good idea of size and color as they fly for a safer spot.
Tie on a floating adult pattern and use standard upstream dry-fly techniques. Patterns that work as searching dries include Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Goddard Caddis and X-Caddis.
Be sure to cast the dry caddis patterns under overhanging foliage during the day and into the evening. Many a good trout have been lured into taking a well-presented caddis dry in tight places.
Fishing a caddisfly emergence
If you are lucky enough to be on the water when a caddisfly emergence is taking place, you can have the time of your life.
When trout are really on to a caddis emergence, you will see them being very active. They might be moving side to side, rising up in the water column and even having their backs, tails and whole bodies coming out of the water. LaFontaine created his Emergent Sparkle Pupa pattern for this exact scenario. Other patterns will work including many of the soft-hackled flies.
A couple of techniques will catch fish during an emergence. Deep drifting a nymph in the water column will still work. Using a technique known as the Leisenring Lift will also work.
The Leisenring Lift is nothing more than lifting the fly pattern up through the water imitating a rising pupa. This can be done with an upstream cast, a downstream cast or an across stream cast. Swinging soft hackled flies cast across and downstream can prove deadly during a caddis emergence. And is not a bad technique to use at any time in the summer when trout are most active.
Spent Caddis fishing
On many streams and rivers, adult caddis will return to the water in the late afternoon and evening to deposit their eggs. Often, you may see caddis bouncing or dancing upon the water surface. Some trout will grab at caddis at this time, but it seems like the smart, bigger trout will wait for the spent adult floating on the surface.
The rises to these spent caddis will be slower in a sipping rise similar to that seen with floating mayflies. Great fishing is had by dead-drifting a spent caddis pattern in the hour or two before dark. Sometimes action can be had well into the dark if you're not afraid to stay on the water. Takes after dark are often listened for instead of seen. Take a headlamp and use it to move around and to make it back to your car.
One of the best-spent caddis patterns is Mike Lawson's Spent Partridge Caddis. This pattern sits down in the water surface and provides a great silhouette. Comparadun dry flies are also great evening caddis patterns. Even though they are tied to represent upwing mayflies, the imprint in the water is perfect for spent caddis.
Don't forget the lakes
Caddisfly fun isn't limited to rivers and streams. A few species of caddis inhabit our lakes. Subsurface patterns will work as well as emergent patterns tied to hang in the surface film.
Some lake species will actually run on the water surface. This can make lake fishing really exciting. When caddis are running on the water, tie on a good floating pattern and twitch and skitter it around the water surface creating a little wake behind it. Trout looking for this motion will chase them down and hits will be quite visual and the tug is felt all the way to your shoulder.
With the warm summer days and evenings on the way, trout will get more active. Caddis hatches can provide excitement for the trout as well as the fly angler. Robert Williamson is a graduate of Weber State College and the author of "Creative Flies: Innovative Tying Techniques."