Caddis: Properly Match the Hatch
In this blog I’ll talk about dry fly fishing imitating caddis from May through to October, and share what insight I have on fishing them to rising trout. Why focus on caddis? Because if there's one aquatic insect order that a trout is liable to be looking for on any given month through spring, summer and fall, we'd guess that insect would be a caddis. Not all caddis patterns are created equal, and having a selection of patterns is key when casting to picky fish. I’ve heard numerous experienced anglers say that if they were to choose one dry fly pattern for trout, on any day throughout the summer, that fly would imitate a caddis adult. As noted earlier, caddis are a year round part of the trout diet and adults in particular are seen from early spring into fall. Whether you’re on the Bow River in Calgary, one of our mountain stream, or a beautiful spring creek, you can count on the (healthy one at least) water bodies you're fishing to have caddis. I’ve experienced many times where not a single caddis has been seen all day, but fish will still eat an elk hair caddis that is blind fished through nice water. I've experienced it on stillwaters, to mountain streams, right into the most fickle of spring creeks. I can even remember situations during intense mayfly hatches where only the most precise pattern seems to work, but an elk hair caddis somehow still gets eaten. On the Bow River, trout see a lot of caddis and most anglers who fish it can probably tell you that they have caught fish on elk hair caddis during every month of the summer, which is one of the many reasons Bow River trout are so dang strong and fat.
Now, this may make one believe that caddis patterns are the be all end all of dry fly patterns and that any old caddis-like bug will work. Unfortunately this is not the case and many of us have had fish refuse various caddis patterns, even when fish seem to be very contently taking naturals. This is where a bit of observation, as well as understanding of caddis and trout (can we ever really understand trout?) becomes key.
I don’t claim to be an expert on caddis, and I am certainly not, but I have noticed a few points that seem to help succeed in catching picky trout during a caddis hatch. So here are my three tips for catching caddis eating fish (with dries) and my three favorite patterns to match:
Be observant: Wow, I bet you’ve never heard that before when it comes to fly fishing tips. But seriously, sit down on the bank and watch those damn trout before you make a cast. I’ve seen many people storm into the river during a hatch, just to spook fish and get refusals from the fish they don’t spook, all because they didn’t watch to see what the fish are actually eating. Yes, there’s a caddis hatch going on right now, but what are the caddis doing on the water, and most importantly, what are the trout doing to particular caddis who move over their feeding lane.
Be ready to change patterns: For one, I mean that just because the fish were eating skittering caddis an hour earlier doesn’t mean they are still doing it now. If you’re starting to get refusals don’t be stubborn, change your freaking fly! What fish are keyed in on can most definitely change over the course of an evening, and being continuously observant certainly helps in success. Hatches change throughout an evening and I’ve certainly seen fish transition from consistently eating high riding, skittering caddis, to low riding spent caddis. This could even mean a transition away from caddis to mayflies or stoneflies i.e.
Experiment: What I mean is experiment with different patterns at different times. Just because you are catching on an elk hair caddis right now doesn’t mean they wont eat something else, and a lot of the time I’ve found that you can skip the elk hair caddis and go straight to the x caddis, because fish are already looking at the spent caddis. This goes with both of the earlier tips, but is still important. I have found that even though a fish is visibly eating skittering caddis on some rises, it can certainly also be eating spent caddis just below the surface. Furthermore, if a fish wont eat your elk hair or peackcock caddis, try trimming the underbody fibers so that the bottom of the fly sits flush with the surface film. The palmered hackle that is on the EHC and the peackock caddis frequently makes the patterns sit on their side, or simply float too high. By trimming those fibers on the bottom, you’ll get a low-riding bug thats just too tempting to pass up. This seems to happen quite often and I’ve found that some patterns just work better than others, no matter the situation.
Three patterns you should definitely have in your box:
Elk Hair Caddis: You never would have guessed that this would be on the top of our list. This undoubtedly classic pattern rides high through rough water and is an awesome match for when fish are eating skittering caddis and/or when fishing faster more turbulent water.
X-Caddis: Floats all night thanks to the elk hair, yet sits low in the water so the pickier fish are still happy. Sometimes a low riding fly can be all the difference. This has quickly become my go to caddis pattern in most situations. Just fish it and see
F Fly/CDC Caddis: For the pickiest fish, who will only eat a very subtle, low riding fly. Patterns with no hackle and light wings are amazing for picky fish on soft water; their only downfall is that they can have a tough time staying afloat in choppy water.
This brown was caught on an X-Caddis. The elk hair caddis just didn't cut it.
But... Caddis hatches aren't always the same. Aaron went into this situation knowing that we were successful fishing x-caddis a couple nights earlier, but in reality an elk hair caddis was needed to fool the brown. A perfect example that observation and a willingness to try something new (or in this case old), is key!