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Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre

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Cool Caddis by Geoff Hall - A guide to fishing caddis hatches on the goulburn river australia

Cold water means caddis and spring time means cold water. Perhaps the biggest caddis event was the Shannon Rise where Great Lake poured freezing cold water into Shannon Lagoon creating a hatch unlike any other. But you don't need the Shannon Rise to fish a caddis pattern, all you need is a cold river like the Goulburn and you are in business.

Caddisflies are most visible in their mature adult stage where clouds of white adults resemble a snowstorm, hence the name Snowflake Caddis. Caddises come in a multitude of colours, grey, black, white brown and brindle, some large and some minute. Perhaps our biggest being the Goulburn Grannom, a large fluttering moth-like sedge in dusty pale brown that accumulates over the faster glides of the Goulburn. The Grannom flutters upstream, crashes to the surface, leap-frogging its progress upstream as it drifts back on the water only to take off again to continue upstream.

The fish love to smash these hapless individuals. These insects with their large compound eyes, fan-like antenna and bright lime green egg sac attached to their abdomens, must seem like a substantial morsel fluttering overhead. Many a trout has surged across the glide beneath a fluttering grannom to launch itself with a tail shaking jump in order to capture an individual in the air, or track it, waiting to pounce as it hits the meniscus with a thud.A typical cloud of caddis on the Rubicon river

Caddis egg laying activity is a chance for fish to nail a caddis meal without wasting too much energy. Most caddis return to deposit their eggs below the waters surface. This can mean crawling down a stick that protrudes through the water's surface and depositing the eggs on the stick or stones on the bottom of the river. Other caddis may even crash dive into the water and then swim to the bottom where they leave their eggs before attempting to swim back to the surface. As you can imagine penetrating the meniscus is by no means an easy task. One that is made even more difficult by the caddis's 'hairy' body which traps air and adds to the level of difficulty.

One particular caddis that we often encounter but have yet to have positively identified is very dark in colour and accumulates in large swarms on the underside of logs. Clouds of this caddis can be seen if you bump the log and disturb them, often triggering a fish to slash at them as they skitter across the water. This caddis can often be seen ovipositing (egg laying) on the log below the surface, encased in a glistening air bubble as they crawl below the surface on a stick or twig.

Despite all of this adult - egg laying activity perhaps the best fishing to caddis hatches can be had by fishing below the water's surface with caddis pupa imitations. There are two distinct stages at which we fish pupa patterns. The first is the time just after the caddis has broken free of its cocoon and drifts along very close to the bottom with the current. The second is the period just before the caddis breaks through the meniscus and again fins itself free drifting with the current. For years anglers believed that caddis cut through their cocoon and shot to the surface, immediately breaking through the water's surface and taking off. Our patterns and techniques developed around this belief and our success rate was nothing like what it should have been. We were pretty much catching the odd fish compared to what was on offer. But in 1981 Gary La Fontaine changed caddis fishing forever.

LaFontaine's Book 'Caddisflies' broke new ground, challenging the myth of the super insect and in doing so also testing the work of most of all the authors who had preceded him. His work in identifying the behaviour of caddisflies at the various stages of life and emergence and then developing techniques to imitate them was truly inspiring. It has allowed us to work out our local hatches and develop similar skills to suit.

The first stage of the hatch that we concentrate on is the free drifting pupa near the bottom. The fully developed caddis pupa breaks out of its cocoon and free drifts in the flow. There are several reasons for this but perhaps one of the major ones is that the caddis takes a few moments to regain its strength after breaking out of the cocoon. This presents a unique opportunity to the fish. We all know that trout are lazy and do their best to minimise energy expended. So an abundance of free drifting pupa near the bottom where the currents are almost non-existent presents the perfect opportunity for some easy calories. The hatch does not need to be big to get fish feeding well in these circumstances. The lack of current means a fish will roam a few feet either direction to intercept a drifting a caddis pupa.

The problem is that we cannot see this happening. It is near the bottom and often well out of sight on our local rivers. This means we must know the waters we are fishing very intimately to know where this is most likely to happen. Or we can work on the fact that the odd caddis is hatching and that the fish are not rising yet and so the early part of the hatch is worth targeting. On the other hand a lot of hatching caddis and no rising fish is a sure sign that the pupa should be tried as it generally means that there are a lot more pupa drifting near the bottom than the top. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing in this instant as the angler armed with this understanding of the hatch and the appropriate flies can really catch some fish.

Remembering that the pupa tires easily and having just cut through its cocoon is likely to be free drifting, we must seek to imitate this with our techniques. A dead drift close to the bottom is Caddis have a distinctive shape when their wings are folded back - they are often refered to as tent wingsdesired. This requires you to fish upstream or upstream and across to likely fish holding lies. Some movement can be made by keeping a relatively tight line and lifting slightly and dropping again to simulate the struggling insect. Forget across and down presentations. For those who have difficulty seeing you can fish a sighting dry fly, an elk hair caddis for instance to mark the location of the drifting pupa.

The second stage of the hatch that we fish, and perhaps the most enjoyable, is the emerging pupa at the surface. This is visually exciting fly fishing and once you have your patterns right it can be as simple as one drift, one fish. It is again a stage that highlights the trout's lazy tendencies. By the time the caddis reaches the underside of the meniscus, it is worn out. The act of breaking out of its cocoon and swimming to the surface uses up a lot of its energy. Again it has to wait while it re-gains its strength in order to break through the surface tension. They drift in a tuck position for some time before managing to get through and fly off to the relative safety of the surrounding shrubs, trees and grasses. It is at this time that they are most vulnerable.

Actually penetrating the meniscus is not easy for small insects like most caddis. In LaFontaine's book he quotes aquatic biologist, Ken Thompson, who equates the emerging process from pupa to adult in a way that we can all understand. "An example, in human terms, would be the amount of energy required for a full-grown person to escape if he were covered with three feet of dirt". After swimming all the way to the surface you can see why the caddis must rest before attempting to break through the meniscus.

The trout gorge themselves at this stage. Fish can be seen porpoising, taking the suspended caddis just beneath the surface and breaking the water with their backs as they do so. This is probably the most obvious sign that fish are taking emerging caddis pupa. This part of the hatch is often intense as the pupa are at this level for more time than the early stage near the bottom and so massive numbers accumulate as the hatch intensifies. The fish switch to the stage that has the greatest number of individuals. This is typical of trout, as we have already mentioned, that always feed on the most abundant insect, maximising energy gained to that spent in gaining it. So when the number of pupa drifting near the top are greater than those below the fish respond quickly and move to the surface. Consequently the best water to look for these risers is in the main bubble lines and water the water is not too fast. A slow bubble line in a pool or slower glide is the ideal place to fish this stage of the hatch.

Techniques for fishing this part of the hatch are very similar to fishing any other dry fly. Getting behind the feeding fish and presenting a fly to it without being seen. Fine tippets and accurate casts are required as the fish are loath to move too far out their line of drift when feeding high in the water column. Patterns for this part of the hatch are many and varied but the ever-reliable La Fontaine Sparkle Pupas are the best we have found. Holding the hook point you can suck on the body of the fly to sink it and then gink the wing to help suspend it near the surface. This fly can be fished on its own (preferred option) or with a small elk hair to sight the often hard to see emerger. The elk hair often picks up a few fish for good measure as well.

A double rig using a caddis pupa on the point of the tippet about 400 mm in length with an elk hair caddis slid up the leader before tying the tippet on, is the best arrangement. Dress the pupa by pinching the sparkle pupa between your thumb and forefinger and applying a small smudge of floatant (eg Gink) on the deer hair so that it rides in the skin with the hook and the body of the pupa supported by the deer hair wing. This simulates the pupa drifting in the tuck position just under the skin of the water. Fish this rig upstream in the bubble lines during the caddis hatch.

Fishing the caddis below the surface or in the skin is a great way to extend your range of fishing strategies for that wonderful time in spring when the water temperature hits fourteen and fifteen degrees and the fish move their attention to the feast of hatching caddis that gets them so excited. I'm excited just thinking about it.



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