Caddisflies: The Other Trout Food
Article, flies and photo by “Catskill John” Bonasera
“I never paid much attention to caddisflies in my fledgling years of fishing and tying flies. All my efforts were focused on mayflies, Art Flick’s Streamside Guide, and tying with wood duck flank feathers.
I was aware of caddises, even saw them often enough while fishing, but never considered them a viable source of trout food.
All this changed one afternoon when I was heading back to Pennsylvania after a morning in the Catskills opening up our summer house. I always take the scenic “stream route” when heading both up to and back from the summer place, and as I was leaving Jeffersonville and turning onto 17B, I glanced down at the large man-made pool below the Stone Arch Bridge on Route 52. The normally placid pool was pocked with tiny bulges, and a pod of trout was cruising in the slow water, picking off insects at an alarming rate. I nearly crashed the car skidding off the roadway to get a better look, and when I made it to the water’s edge, I could see the flashing of trout just under the surface and an occasional splashy rise. I didn’t see one single mayfly dun on the surface, but I soon realized that the trout were keyed in on caddisflies.
I ran back to the car, fumbled to assemble my cane rod, and strung it up while simultaneously running back down the stream. A quick search through my flies made me realize I didn’t have a single caddis imitation. I hastily chose a smallish Neversink Skater and flogged wildly for about ten minutes, sight fishing to the numerous moving targets I had before me—no takers, not even a long look. It was apparent they were taking the emerging caddises on their way up through the water column and wanted nothing to do with my dry-fly imitation. Soon the air was filling up with adult caddisflies, and by the time I finally tied on a tiny Coachman wet, the trout seemed to disappear, either from me beating the water to a froth or from them being filled up on what they really wanted. In my haste, I had chosen the wrong pattern at the wrong time, but I did learn a good lesson on the selective feeding of trout and have since been a little wiser in what I tie and carry.
The wonderful thing about caddis emergers is the speed at which they move, because they are very vulnerable, as most insects are at this stage in their life cycle. Trout get a little careless when their food is not moving at stream-current speeds, and they hastily try to “catch it while they can.” Because of this, an exact imitation is not as important as presentation, and even if you’re off on color or size by a small margin, you can still have excellent action. As I mention all the time, I like to carry a minimum number of flies, and to imitate an emerging caddis, I like a simple pattern tied to enhance what I consider to be the trigger components of a caddis that is making its quick trip to the water’s surface: a simple dubbed body in olive, brown, or black, a dark thorax, and some longish fibers to imitate legs and antennae. Sometimes I even add a bead to get it down quickly so the emerger can move from the very bottom of the stream upward.
Here is a decent generic pattern that can be altered in size or color to match the naturals as closely as you feel necessary.
Hook: Curved pupa hook, any size
Thread: To match natural
Body: Dubbed fur, ribbed with thread of complementing color
Thorax: Roughly dubbed fur, darker than the body
Legs: Soft-fibered feather, either wood duck or partridge
For the adults, I like an old pattern invented and tied by Leonard Wright, called Len Wright’s Skittering Caddis.
This fly is easy to tie, durable, and as light as air, making it a perfect impressionistic pattern for skittering, skating, and dancing on the surface. This fly is so dainty in composition, even a slight breeze will move it on the water, making appear like a real caddisfly.
Here’s the dressing for Len Wright’s Skittering Caddis.
Hook: Light-wire dry-fly hook, sized to match the natural
Body: A stripped peacock quill or hackle stem to match the natural
Wing: Three small bunches of hackle fibers, one on each side of the hook and one on top, to extend just beyond hook bend. Again, color to match the natural
Hackle: Wound at head, color to match the natural
It’s great fun to fish a skittering dry fly to trout taking caddisflies on top, and though I get many misses and light hookups fishing flies with movement, it is as much fun watching all the commotion as it is actually hooking the fish.
Caddis season is not very far away. Try these patterns the next time you encounter a caddis hatch in the making.”