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
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 desired.
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
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
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.