Caddis are an extremely important food source in trout streams. In most locales they are the dominant insect. Anglers who want to consistently catch fish need to become familiar with this bug.
While most of us prefer fishing dry flies, adult caddis are most vulnerable to trout when they transition from pupa to adult. This change starts near the bottom of a stream and finalizes at the surface, making nymphs and emerges more effective than dry flies.
Spring and Summer Fun
Caddis hatch for most of the summer, but some of my favorite times to match them are the heavy spring and early summer hatches in the Rocky Mountains. The Mother’s Day hatch of brachycentrus caddis on the Yellowstone River near Livingston, Montana is the most famous springtime emergence. But this early season caddis also can be found on other regional waters, such as the lower Henry’s Fork, Madison, Snake, Green, Clark Fork, Big Hole and Gallatin rivers among others. It’s also fairly widespread in Colorado. The Mother’s Day moniker is true on some waters, but the bulk of that activity takes place in late April. This timing coincides with the start of runoff and it is a mad race for the weather to get warm enough for the bugs to emerge, but not too warm to start spring runoff, which could make the rivers unfishable. The best way to hit these hatches is to live there, near the banks of those rivers, and be voluntarily unemployed. Most of us can’t do that and even if we could some years we’d hit the hatch for a couple weeks of prime fishing and other years we’d only get a few days. You hope for the best and take your shots when the conditions are right.
Another peak of caddis activity occurs around the tail end of runoff, usually around the end of June or the Fourth of July, depending on water conditions. At this time, a variety of caddis and small stoneflies can be found in abundance. The stoneflies shine during the day with caddis activity taking over as evening arrives. These early summer caddis are mostly hydroschye. They resemble a turkey quill in coloration. One of the best hydroschye hatches occurs on Montana’s Missouri River in July, a predictable evening emergence, usually right at dusk, that brings every fish in the river to the surface. On the Missouri, that means plenty of heavy 16-to 22-inch browns and rainbows.
On the Missouri, and the aforementioned streams, take advantage of situations when trout can feed heavily without expending much energy. The caddis hatch provides that—trout can rest on a seamline and watch a steady stream of caddis float over their heads. Because these mergers are struggling at the surface trout merely raise up, suck in a snack, drop down a few inches and repeat.
The Everfloat Caddis Emerger came about in preparation for a trip to Livingston, Montana for the April caddis hatch on my old home water, the Yellowstone River. I’ve used a variety of caddis patterns over the years, from imitative to attractor, but in the last few years, caddis emergers have worked best. My Everything Emerger and Matthew’s X Caddis are at the top of the list. However, early in the day, prior to evening surface activity, a Glass House Caddis, Ultra Zug or a beadhead soft hackle work best. These flies do a good job of imitating drifting larvae and deep emerging pupae. A standard procedure, especially when fishing from a boat, is to hang a sunken pattern below a buoyant dry fly. Obviously, Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulators and Convertibles work as indicators, and fool a number of fish on top. However, when the fish are keyed in on emerging pupa, they are better indicators than fish-catchers. This is especially true as the hatch progresses and fish are looking for the easiest meal.
I wanted to come up with an effective surface emerger that would still hold up a sunken pupa or larva, so I dug into my materials and selected what I needed. Foam was one of the necessary components and the introduction of 1mm thick foam made it a viable option. Elk or deer are the standard caddis emerger wings, but I was looking for something that could be revived quickly after catching a trout. This is very important when float fishing in fast spring flows. You don’t have the luxury to stop and tie on a new fly when the current is taking you quickly past one great spot after another. The super buoyant snowshoe rabbit foot was a good choice for the wing. Antron and caddis seem to go hand in hand. I chose those for the body, shuck and halo. I applied the collar like I would on an Ultra Zug. This gives the fly a buggier look.
“Take Me to The River, Drop Me In The Water.” (Al Green and the Talking Heads)
I tied up a few prototypes, and made an evening drive from Jackson, Wyoming to Livingston.
I hit the water with friends the following morning. The water was tinted and a little high from the start of runoff, but at a manageable level. I tied on the new caddis with a Glass House a foot below it. It didn’t take long to see rising fish. The trout were there, but they certainly wouldn’t move to a fly. They were well fed. When I concentrated on rise forms and put the fly in their mouth, the fish generally ate. Half of the fish were feeding on top and the other half were eating below the surface—the double rig was the way to go. The new emerger functioned very well. Fish ate it, and it held up the double bead Glass House Caddis. A few times it went underneath, then popped back to the surface, floating like a cork, nymph in tow. The natural cream snowshoe rabbit foot was easy to pick out, which was very important with the number of naturals on the water—rafts of bugs, millions of them, are seen on the water when the hatch really comes off.
One of the more interesting catches of the day was a brown trout and whitefish double. Whitey on top and the brown below. There goes the neighborhood. Oh well. The new emerger worked well into the evening hours as adult caddis came back to the water to lay eggs. All in all, it was a good inaugural float for the new caddis on the block. And it was a good thing that I fished that day, because the next afternoon runoff started in earnest, with the Yellowstone changing to mocha latte color. That was the end of quality fishing for a couple months.
Other Uses For This Multitasker
In the past few years, the Everfloat Caddis Emerger has fooled fish on many western waters. It works during caddis hatches, but it is also a good attractor pattern. Whether you are wade or float fishing it is easy to follow and is perfectly adapted to the choppy water and pockets where the naturals are found. Besides Antron dubbing, Mylar dubbing, such as Hareline’s Polar Dub, makes a great looking and effective caddis body, shuck and halo.
I like my Glass House Caddis as a dropper when fishing the Everfloat, but my Ultra Zug in peacock, olive and tan can be used to imitate many caddis. The Beady Eye Caddis also works as a subsurface emerger. I like to use a two-to three-inch long tag from a blood knot to tie on my Everfloat Caddis Emerger. I believe this dropper style makes it easier to hook fish, and with the short tag it rarely tangles. It may take a little experimenting to get the proper depth for the sunken caddis. As a general rule, early in the day or during the early part of the hatch, you need to fish deeper. As the hatch progresses, pupae climb up the water column and require a shallow presentation. A buoyant emerger can be your ace in a variety conditions, for trout feeding up top or just below.
Everfloat Caddis Emerger
Hook: Dai-Riki 320 standard dry fly, sizes 10 through 18
Thread: Black 8/0
Shuck: Olive brown Polar Dub
Rib: Pearl Krystal Flash
Abdomen: Olive brown Polar Dub
Back: 1mm olive foam
Collar: Olive brown Polar Dub
Wing: Natural cream snowshoe rabbit foot hair
Head: Black Polar Dub