Every serious fly fisherman has at one time or another tied on some sort of caddis-fly pattern. Caddis flies (Order Trichoptera) are insects that can be found in almost any good water-quality stream or river around the world. These benthic macro-invertebrates are great indicator organisms for determining water quality due to the fact that caddis flies absolutely cannot survive when their home waters become polluted. In general caddis-fly larvae can be found by looking on the river bottom clinging to sticks and stones or whatever structure can provide them protection. Caddis fly larvae build small cases made of tiny pieces of sticks, rocks, sand, plant materials or other such debris bound together by an adhesive secreted by the caddis-fly larvae. This case affords the caddis-fly much needed extra protection by allowing the larvae to simply retract inside when threatened.
Except for a few specific dry patterns when the need arises, thin bodied, lightly hackled darker-colored patterns like the x-caddis, or elk hair caddis are used most of the time
The importance of caddis flies to fly fisherman cannot be understated. These small aquatic insects represent an extremely large portion of resident trout's diets. The weak spot trout have for these little critters make them a smart choice for any angler looking to catch more and bigger fish. The pupae and adult stages of the caddis-fly lifecycle are the most important stages for the fly fisherman to take advantage of. In America, there is known to be over 1,200 different species of caddis flies, but most anglers quickly find out that a few simple attractor patterns in varying sizes and colors will give you a good chance at catching just about every trout you come across. When out fishing a new stream or river in your area for the first time, it is a good idea to spend a few minutes finding out what is living just under the surface. By knowing the type of caddis that is thriving in that specific area you can increase your chances of catching fish tenfold.
Midwestern fly fishers who are smart enough to take the time to fish caddis patterns regularly find that fish in their favorite trout streams and rivers will start keying in on caddis during the early spring months of April or May and continue feeding mainly subsurface for the rest of the year. Fly anglers who use a combination of dry and nymph caddis patterns year long will be able to consistently entice fish into biting no matter how tight-lipped the fish seem to be.
In most cases with caddis-fishing one rod and line will serve fly anglers no matter what type of fly fishing -- nymph or dry -- that they intend on doing. The fly rod that an angler should choose depends on the size of the flies you expect to be fishing and the size of water they will be fished in. Big wind-resistant flies or heavily-weighted nymphs will require a stiff backboned rod to be able to handle these flies in the air. The rod you choose should be between eight- and nine-feet long and range anywhere from a 3- to 5-weight. If you are going to be fishing larger bodies of water that have the potential for gusty conditions heavier, longer, stiffer rods should be used such as a 7 weight. Likewise on small rivers with overgrown banks and low clear waters, lighter, shorter rods are ideal.
Fly anglers should also be conscious of what type of fishing they intend on doing most when choosing a fly rod. Serious nymph fisherman want to purchase a rod that is as long of a rod as their respective waters allow. This extra rod length comes in handy to control the line on the water surface, keeping flies drifting as natural as possible. As far as fly reels are concerned with caddis fishing, simply matching the reel to the rod weight is all that an angler needs to worry about.
Floating fly lines are the ideal choice for both dry and nymph fly fishing. Having the line lay on the waters surface allows the angler better understanding of the surface current so that he or she can better control the drift of their fly whether it be on the surface or deep below. These floating lines should be coupled to leaders that are long, sleek and do not scare fish. Having the correct leader system for the type of fish you will be doing will allow you to either deliver the fly quickly to subsurface trout or quietly drop the fly to the waters surface in the fish's respected field of view. Standard nine foot leaders tapered down to either 4X or 5X tippets are ideal for nymphing on most rivers while a 9- to 12-foot 5X leaders are good for fishing dries.
Choosing the flies
Above all else when trying to decide what caddis pattern to tie on the best bet is to investigate the natural aquatic community of the stream or river you plan on fishing. A quick turning of the rocks and vegetation will help to determine the dominant type of caddis fly that inhabits that particular stretch of river. Most caddis nymph anglers use a variety of nymph flies, but generally all of these flies are based on three general types of cases caddis build to protect themselves, stick, sand and stone. There are many time-tested caddis nymph patterns that anglers believe in such as the Peeking Caddis, Green Rockworm, Deep Sparkle Pupa, and Olive Soft Hackle, Hares Ear and the Pheasant Tail. Contemporary tiers are adding bead to many of these traditions caddis flies just behind the eye of the hooks to sink flies smoothly and quickly. These new "bead head" flies are very effective, for imitating caddis nymphs and are easy for the beginning nymph fisher to use.
As far as caddis dries are concerned, general attractor patterns are used the majority of the time with a few specific dry patterns when the need arises. Thin bodied, lightly hackled darker colored patterns like the x-caddis, or elk hair caddis are used most of the time while the Hemingway Caddis or tent-wing patterns such as the King River Caddis are almost exact imitations of the real thing. With whatever dry you choose try and pick a pattern that incorporates materials such as foam or deer hair to keep these flies floating higher and longer than other traditional materials.
Caddis Fly Fishing techniques
Nymphing techniques -- When caddis nymph fly fishing there are two general approaches that anglers use to get the best drift from their flies. The across-stream drift allows the nymphing angler to deliver their nymph to feeding fishes strike zones anywhere in the river.
To perform this technique cast across the stream and several feet upstream of your suspected target making sure that the fly lands upstream of the indictor. A quick upstream mend to the fly line is a good idea at this point because it will allow the line to drift downstream naturally without excessive drag -- making the fly appear unnatural to fish. As the fly floats downstream follow the indicator with the tip of the fly line gathering any slack line that is developing with your free hand. Once the fly has passed the respective target or fishy looking location, raise the rod slowly dragging the fly off of the bottom and back to the surface. As the fly has reaches the surface, take one step forward and repeat this process until you are satisfied that you have covered all of the fishable water.
The second nymphing technique for caddis flies is the down-and-across downstream drift. With this technique fly anglers cast the fly across the stream from their position and allow the current to carry it downstream. As the current pulls the fly line downstream the line and leader will become taunt and the fly will swing accordingly from the far side of the river to a position directly below the angler. At this point again, raise the rod slowly dragging the fly off of the bottom and back to the surface, then repeat. With this technique the idea is that the fly will be intercepted mid-drift by actively feeding trout or as the fly swings in the current.
Caddis fishing is not done alone with nymph patterns, dry flies definitely have there place and time during the summer months. If you do happen to come across a hatch of caddis flies, then like nymph fishing two techniques are used to present flies to fish. The first is the basic upstream and across technique that presents flies dead-drifted to fish. Similar to the across stream technique used with nymph fishing cast dries across the stream several feet ahead of their target. Place an immediate mend in the line upstream to the current allowing the dry fly to float dead and drag free down the river. Once the fly has passed the target pick up the slack line and reposition the fly for a new drift. The second technique for presenting dry flies to hungry trout is called the caddis hop or bounce. If you have ever witness a real caddis hatch come off of the water, the flies bounce tantalizingly on the waters surface until they can take flight. Cast dry flies the same as you would with in the first technique, across and upstream of your target, but this time instead of allowing the fly to dead drift downstream you will impart a bouncing action to the fly. To accomplish this bouncing or hopping action simply lift the rod slowly until the slack is taken out of the line use a quick upward jerk of the rod tip to lift the fly ever so slightly off of the waters surface. Repeat this hopping motion a few times throughout the downward drift until the fly is clearly out of the potential fishes view then repeat.
Learning the basics of nymph or dry fly fishing with caddis patterns is an essential technique to becoming a confident and successful fly angler, but no amount of reading is able to adequately teach an angler how to fish these flies. On-the-water practice is a necessity to fully understanding the intricacies behind how the water acts on these flies and your line. Once fishing both dry and nymph patterns becomes second nature you will be able to cast and prospect potential fishy looking lies proficiently and catch trout time and time again