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The Caddisflies

By Bill Luscombe, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


The caddisflies are to the lake fly-fisher what the mayflies are to the river angler. The caddisfly hatch offers more exciting dry fly fishing on lakes than any other. That´s not to say that many rivers and streams don´t have great hatches too, but the caddisfly hatch is number one on most lakes. In this, the third article in the series on trout foods and the patterns that imitate them, we will delve into the lifecycle of the caddisfly, or sedge, as we Canadians often call them.

Caddisflies undergo complete metamorphosis just like the midges do; there is a larva, pupa and an adult stage. To start things off, we will begin in very early spring when the eggs are still lying on the river or lake bottom.

There are three kinds of mayfly nymphs, depending upon which species we are talking about. There are clinger, crawler, and swimmer nymphs. The clingers cling tightly to the rocks on the bottom and are almost never available to the trout until the hatch. The crawlers crawl along the rocks and often get washed off and swept downstream. The swimmers are always moving about and they too are swept around by the current. Both the crawlers and swimmers are available to the trout all winter and spring.

Patterns to imitate the mayfly nymphs are plentiful, but their general shape remains fairly constant. One of the best, and best known, mayfly nymph imitations is the Gold Ribbed Hare´s Ear. This pattern has been a standard for decades and continues to produce. Below are the instructions on how to tie the pattern:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Tie on the thread; tie in the black monocord for the rib.
  2. Form a dubbing loop or tie in the wool, and wrap the material forward over 2/3rds of the hook shank.
  3. Tie off and trim the excess.
  4. Form a dubbing loop or tie in the brown wool or seal.
  5. Wrap forward to the head.
  6. Tie off and trim excess.
  7. Tie in a short length of white calf tail perpendicular to the hook shank.
  8. X it in.
  9. Tie it off and trim the excess.
  10. Whip finish head and cement.

The case-building caddis hatches from the egg and crawls along the bottom collecting tiny sticks, branches, and gravel and glues this material around its abdomen and thorax to make a case. It looks much like a tiny hermit crab. Once the case is built the insect carries on crawling and feeding. When the time comes for this larva to pupate it draws itself into the case and seals the top. It then undergoes metamorphosis and emerges as the pupa. Trout feed on these cased caddis just as readily as they do the web-spinning larvae. If you catch an early spring trout, especially in a river or stream, you can usually feel and hear the gravel in its stomach from the cases when you pick it up if you cradle it in your hand. A great imitation of the cased caddis is described below:

Cased Caddis Pattern:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Tie on the thread and wrap to the butt of the hook.
  2. Tie in the lead if you plan to weight the fly.
  3. Tie in the silver chenille.
  4. Dub onto the chenille strands of mohair.
  5. Wrap the chenille forward 2/3rds of the way up the shank.
  6. Tie off and trim excess.
  7. Tie in the green wool.
  8. Wrap to the head.
  9. Tie off and trim excess.
  10. Tie in, at the tip, one black hen hackle.
  11. Wrap 2 or 3 turns.
  12. Tie off and trim the excess.
  13. Whip finish the head and cement.

The key to effectively fishing either of the caddis larvae is to ensure you get the fly on the bottom. Fishing a caddis larva seems to be more effective in moving water than in lakes and a dead drift presentation right along the bottom works best.

Whether it is a web-spinning or case-building species of caddisfly, when they emerge from their transformation the pupae look basically the same. They have long abdomens with their wings, legs, and antennae flowing down and back towards their rear. They also have very long swimmeret legs with hairy ends that the pupae use like oars to quickly swim to the surface after they emerge from their cocoons on the bottom. Old Bill Nation designed an excellent fly pattern to imitate the pupae. It is known as Nation´s Green Sedge and works as well today as in yesteryear. Below is how you tie it.

Nation's Green Sedge:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Tie in the thread and wrap to the butt.
  2. Tie in the tinsel (if you want a rib).
  3. Form a dubbing loop and dub on the olive body material.
  4. Wrap forward to the head forming a fairly fat body.
  5. Tie off and trim excess.
  6. Wrap tinsel forward to form the ribbing.
  7. Tie off and trim excess.
  8. Tie in the mallard flank overwing about 11/2 times as long as the hook shank.
  9. Tie off and trim excess.
  10. Tie in one long fibre badger hackle.
  11. Wrap 2-3 times and tie off.
  12. Trim excess.
  13. Whip finish the head and cement.

Once the pupa cuts its way out of the cocoon it immediately heads for the surface using its swimmerets to propel itself. The swimmerets pump like little oars and give the insect a very distinctive fast, pumping motion. To fish your imitation effectively in lakes you must get the fly down deep using a fast-sink or extra fast-sink line and retrieve the fly using quick, short strips. In rivers you can use short down and across casts, allow the fly to sink a bit and then use the drag of the current to draw the fly to the surface like the natural. In either case hang onto your rod because the trout usually hit the rising pupa hard.

Once at the surface the pupa immediately cuts its way out of the pupal shuck and emerges as the adult sedge. They look like moths at first, but you can distinguish them from moths and other insects by the way they hold their wings folded tent-like back over their abdomens. The adults flutter, run, and bounce around on the surface of the water until their wings are dry enough to keep them airborne and then they fly off into the bushes to mate. Once that business is done the females return to the water´s surface to lay their eggs. The running and fluttering activity on the surface attracts just about every trout in the water, especially at dusk, and the rise to the running caddisflies is violent and unnerving. Often a fish will appear to strike at the fly when actually the trout will slash or jump out of the water and land on top of the insect to slow it down by drowning it. Then the fish will immediately return and eat the morsel. Keep this in mind when fishing the dry caddis hatch. You should learn to hesitate before setting the hook to see if your fly has actually been mouthed, or if the fish simply slapped it and left it. If the latter is the case stay prepared because the trout will be back in a split second to take the fly.

Below is the Elk Hair Caddis (or deer hair caddis) which is still one of the best imitations of the adult caddisfly. I often tie this pattern with a clipped body of spun deer hair instead of the antron or wool standard. Clipped bodies float a lot better than dubbed ones, and spun deer hair is much more durable than a tied down deer hair body such as that of the Tom Thumb (another pattern that is used extensively to imitate the dry caddis).

Elk Hair (Deer Hair) Caddis:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Tie in thread.
  2. Wrap to butt.
  3. Tie in hackle.
  4. Form a dubbing loop.
  5. Dub on the body material and wrap forward to head forming fairly fat body.
  6. Tie off and trim excess Palmer the hackle forward over the body.
  7. Tie off and trim excess.
  8. Tie in the deer hair wing.
  9. Avoid flaring it too much.
  10. Wing should lie tent-like over the back of the fly.
  11. Tie off and trim excess.
  12. Whip finish and cement the head.

Other patterns that work very well are the Mikaluk Sedge and the Goddard Caddis.

Fishing caddisflies is easy, especially the adult stage. In a good hatch when the rise is strong almost any fly on the surface will be eaten, yet I have seen situations during a light hatch when the exact size, shape, colour, and motion were necessary to convince a fish to strike. Matching the hatch as best you can often pays big dividends when fishing the caddis hatch, both when fishing the pupa and the dry adult. Do yourself a big favour and pay close attention to details when tying up flies to match the natural insects in all their life stages, but pay particular attention to the pupa. I have seen innumerable refusals to pupa imitations that just weren´t quite right, yet I have changed flies and cast out again to the same cruising fish only to have it slam into the fly with no hesitation when the only difference between the refused pattern and the one taken was a slight colour variation in the thorax.

Keep a small assortment of caddis pupae and dries in your boxes at all times. The naturals are around from early spring through into the fall. The major hatches occur late May through early July, depending upon where you fish, but a few pop up all summer long and the trout will often recognise them and eat them opportunistically. When all else fails, tying on a caddis pupa and trolling it around can often result in a fish or two. Give it a try.

Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.

Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.

He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada. Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.

"Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."- Bill Luscombe



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