Anglers mark their calendars for this time of the year. The month of May means that fly fishers will be heading to the river to take advantage of the “Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch.” Of course, the window for caddis is longer than this single month, but May does mean that the caddis is our Bug of the Month.
The 4-1-1 on the Caddis Hatch
Caddis have a four-part lifecycle, transitioning from egg, larva, pupa, and into the adult version which is so visible to trout – and the anglers who pursue them.
Caddis larva live on or under structures. Because of their vulnerability, they will construct their own homes, small casings, from sand, small stones, grass, aquatic vegetation, twigs. In fact, often times when you are removing a small “stick” from your hook after a drift, you’re actually taking a caddis home. Squeeze one, and bright green caddis larva will squirm out of the casing.
Some larva do not create a case and are more of a free-living larvae that feasted on by hungry fish coming out of their winter doldrums.
After the larva pupates, a period that lasts a week or more, the pupa begins to opens its case and swim to the surface. Of course, the pupa may be drifting for miles down the river until water conditions are ideal for it to surface and emerge.
With their long legs and gas bubbles under the skin, their ascent to the surface can be very fast. Trout enter a feeding frenzy on this stage. As mentioned in A Flyfisher’s Guide to Colorado, “the pupae shuck their casings as they soar to the surface in a dash to freedom.”
But the true draw of the Mother’s Day caddis hatch is when they become adults. Trout that are chasing the emergers will often surface hard, maybe even coming fully out of the water.
After the pupa sheds its skin, the light, grey- or tan-colored adult often fly off as soon as they hit the air. They don’t spend much time letting their wings dry as some aquatic insects.
When the female adult, carrying her eggs, makes her way back to the river, she often dips, skitters, skates along the surface as she deposits her eggs. The adult caddis may be one of the most visible insects in the air because of their color and their size. And the take can be quite explosive.
Fishing the Caddis Hatch
While most anglers are excited to fish the adult patterns, which we’ll get to below, do not neglect fishing patterns that imitate all stages of the lifecycle. While we set our calendar by the “Mother’s Day” declaration, caddis activity really begins in mid- or late-April. Some anglers even refer to the “Tax Day” caddis hatch. But why associate it with such a downer? In fact, larval patterns are effective year-round.
In late April, it is often productive to nymph with larva and emerger stages of the caddis. Some of the productive larva patterns are the Buckskin, Caddis Candy, and the Splatte Roller.
The pupa imitations include Juan Ramirez’s Kryptonite Caddis, the Z-wing caddis, LaFontaine’s Sparkle Pupa. Fishing the pupa can be a simple dead drift, with enough weight to get the fly to the bottom. It’s important to adjust your weight if you feel like a run should be more productive than it is. Some pupa and emerger patterns can be dropped behind an adult caddis so it drifts just a few inches below the surface of the water. Experiment with depth!
During the hatch, it can also be productive to try a Copper John or a Hare’s Ear pattern. While technically not caddis imitations, both patterns can get takes or serve as attractors for your caddis pupa imitation.
Fishing the Adult Caddis
Of course, the explosive take of the adult fly on the surface is the big appeal. Caddis hatches in the late afternoon and early evening on our local waters can be an exciting time.
While with most dry flies we want a nice, drag-free presentation, fishing the adult can actually be a little out of the norm. If a natural drift along a seam is not being productive, try skating that adult caddis along the surface. Even the lift at the end of a drift can entice a hit. Adult naturals continue fluttering and swimming on the surface, so that small motion of the fly can get a fish to rise. Adult caddis can be skitterish, flickering across the surface, so don’t be afraid to give a little life to your imitation.
Some of the more effective adult caddis patterns are the Elk Hair Caddis, the Puterbaugh Foam Caddis, Kingrey’s Better Foam Caddis, and (as a writer) I like the Hemingway Caddis. For stillwater use, I like to have a few Goddard Caddis in my fly box, as well.
Tying the Caddis
This section is almost impossible to write. With so many patterns for each stage of the lifecycle, so many variations, and so many top-tier tyers, it’s difficult to narrow to a few. Check out these YouTube vids for some tying tips.
The Buckskin from In the Riffle
Juan Ramirez’s Kryptonite Caddis
Charlie Craven’s Sparkle Caddis Pupa
Orvis’s Tom Rosenbaur ties LaFontaine’s Deep Pupa
In the Riffle’s Elk Hair Caddis
Kelly Galloup’s Elk Hair Caddis
Charlie Craven’s Elk Hair Caddis
Check out our online store, or come into the shop, for your caddis-tying materials.
As Mother’s Day approaches, and as May unfolds, be sure to create a fly box for your all stages of the prolific caddis lifecycle. And keep that handy – because as my mother said, “Mother’s Day should be throughout the year!”