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Vancouver Island's Spring Hatches

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


May on Vancouver Island brings with it every hatch that occurs on the island. March and April saw the midges (chironomids) start and they are still going gangbusters on the lakes and ponds. April brought with it the mayfly hatches, and the caddisflies will begin hatching later in May to join them in both the rivers and the lakes. Mixed in with the early hatches is the odd stonefly hatch on several of our rivers. Thus May and early June produce a plethora of dry fly and nymphing opportunities throughout each day.

The chironomid hatch on the island lakes can be profuse and trout rise readily to feed on these tiny midge pupa. To start the hatch though, the midges first start out as a bloodworm on the muddy bottom. My Larva Lace bloodworm pattern works well when fishing the very early season.

Larva Lace Bloodworm:


Hook: #12 or 14 Mustad 9672

Thread: Black monocord

Overbody: Red larva lace (clear red plastic lacing)

Head: Black monocord

1. Attach the thread to the hook shank and tie in, at the butt, a very short tail of black marabou. Don't make it too thick, as you want it to flow freely and impart motion to the fly.
2. Then tie in a length of red larva lace and then a length of bright white floss.
3. Wrap the floss to the head of the fly ensuring you cover the entire shank of the hook and tie off.
4. Wrap the larva lace to the head of the fly ensuring you do not overlap the wraps. Tie off.
5. Create a black head by wrapping the thread around the shank behind the eye until you achieve a small smooth head.
6. Whip finish and cement.

As the water warms the bloodworms pupate and they rise to the surface as chironomids. The most common (and accurate) colour patterns to imitate them are copper and brown, or gold and green chironomids. Silver and black holds its own as well, but I have found the best producer by far to be the copper and brown.
To tie it, follows these steps:

Basic Chironomid:


Thread: Brown waxed

Tail: None or short marabou to match body colour

Rib: Fine copper wire

Underbody: White floss

Abdomen: Brown floss or Spanflex

Shellback: Pheasant tail fibres

Gills: White ostrich herl

Head: None, or brass or black glass bead

1. Tie in the thread and tie in a sparse, short tail of brown marabou.
2. Tie in the wire and then the floss or Spanflex at the butt of the hook.
3. Wrap the floss to a point midway between the hook point and the eye and secure. Do not cut it off.
4. Wrap the wire in the opposite direction to the direction you wrapped the floss, to form a rib to the same point along the shank. Tie it off and cut.
5. Tie in the pheasant tail fibres on top of the hook shank.
6. Wrap the remaining length of thorax with the floss, building up a small bulge to form the thorax. Tie off and cut at the head.
7. Tie in one strand of white ostrich herl at the head and wrap once to form the gills. Tie off and cut.
8. Pull the pheasant tail fibres over the back and over the herl. Tie off to form the wing case or shellback. Trim off the excess
9. Whip finish and cement

To tie the other colour patterns simply change the body and wire colours.

As April progresses and the waters get warmer the mayflies start hatching. The most common mayfly hatch on the island is the Western March Brown. For the nymph I like to use a Pheasant Tail nymph pattern and for the adult an all-hackle March Brown pattern as shown below:

Pheasant Tail Nymph:


Hook: Tiemco 2302 #12-20

Thread: Brown 8/0

Tail: Pheasant tail fibres

Rib: Copper wire

Abdomen: Pheasant tail fibres

Thorax: Peacock herl

Wingcase: Pheasant tail fibres

Legs: Pheasant tail fibres

1. Wrap on tying thread at the eye of the hook. Wind down to the butt.
2. Secure the tail in place, then attach the copper wire and the pheasant fibres for the abdomen.
3. Wrap the thread back half way up the hook shank.
4. Wrap the pheasant fibres forward to form the abdomen. Stop half way up the shank. Tie off and trim excess.
5. Wrap the copper wire forward to form a rib. Wrap in the opposite direction to the way you wrapped the pheasant fibres. Stop half way up the shank. Tie off and trim excess.
6. Tie in the pheasant fibres to be used for the wingcase, and then tie in the peacock herl.
7. Wrap the herl forward to the head of the fly, forming the thorax. Tie off and trim excess.
8. Pull the pheasant fibres over the back to form the wingcase. Tie down and trim the excess.
9. Tie in a wing of pheasant tail about shank length. Tie off and trim excess.
10. Tie in 2 — 4 strands of pheasant fibres on each side of the thorax to form the legs. They should reach to about the hook point. Trim the excess. Form the head with the thread.
11. Whip finish the head and cement.

Western March Brown:


Hook: Mustad 94840 #12 — 14

Tail: Two light horse mane hairs

Ribbing: None

Body: Dubbed light brown antron


Wing: 1 long (variant length) ginger and 1 short (standard length) furnace hackle

This pattern is an "all hackle" pattern; it contains no "wing" as such. The steps to tying it are as follows:

1. Tie in the thread and then the horse mane hairs. Cut the tail fibre off at about twice the hook shank length (mayfly tails are very long).
2. Dub a loop of light brown or tan antron and wrap to a point mid-way between the hook point and the eye of the hook. Tie it off and cut.
3. Tie in the hackles tip first, first the short furnace and then the long ginger.
4. Wrap the long hackle quite thick and heavy. Tie off and cut the excess.
5. Trim off the bottom side of the ginger hackles you just wrapped so that only the top 1/3rd of the hackles remains.
6. Wrap the furnace hackle forward to standard density to form the legs and thorax. Tie off and trim the excess.
7. Whip finish and cement.

Some of you may not know what a "variant" is. The standard dry fly hackle length is determined by the gap between the hook shank and the hook point. In a standard dry fly the feather barbules (hackle fibres) are just barely longer than that distance. In a variant the barbules are about 1/2 again as long. So the ginger hackle in this pattern sits about 1/2 again as high as the furnace hackle, thus forming the illusion of a wing.

The most numerous caddisflies on the island seem to be of two different species and colour patterns. There is an all brown adult similar to but darker than the Cinnamon Sedge and there is also an olive-bodied adult. Both are about the same size although the all brown seems to be a bit smaller. The nymphs are both case-builders and can be imitated well with the following pattern:

Mohair Caddis Larva:


Hook: Mustad 9671 #6 - 14 (Can be weighted)

Thread: Black or green monocord

Tail: None

Abdomen: Mohair dubbed onto silver sparkle chenille

Thorax: Green or black wool

Hackle: Sparse black hen hackle

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

To match the caddis pupa I like to use the following pattern:

Nation´s Green Sedge:


Hook: Mustad 9671 #6 - 14

Thread: Green or black monocord

Tail: None or red quill

Ribbing: None or oval silver tinsel

Body: Dubbed olive wool, seal, or antron yarn

Wing: Mallard flank

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. Wrap forward to the head forming a fairly fat body. Tie off and trim excess.
4. Wrap tinsel forward to form the ribbing. Tie off and trim excess.
5. Tie in the mallard flank overwing about 11/2 times as long as the hook shank. Tie off and trim excess.
6. Tie in one long fibre badger hackle. Wrap 2-3 times and tie off. Trim excess.
7. Whip finish the head and cement.

For the adult caddisflies I tie up an Elk Hair Caddis:

Elk Hair Caddis:


Hook: Mustad 94840 #6 — 16

Thread: To match natural body colour

Tail: None

Body: Dubbed wool or spun deer hair dyed to colour

Rib: None or palmered furnace or ginger hackle

Hackle: Ginger or furnace

Wing: Deer or elk hair (11/2 times the body length)

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

Other patterns that work well as adult caddisfly imitations are the Mikaluk Sedge (although it tends to fall on its side) and the Goddard Caddis.

Spring on Vancouver Island offers many opportunities and you need to stock your fly box with an array of spring patterns so that you can take advantage of all that you might encounter. The preceding patterns are standards that I carry in my fly boxes all the time and use on a regular basis. You should tie up at least half a dozen of each and never venture out to fish in the spring without them.

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."

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