The Caddis are Coming - Mothers Day Caddis

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Brachycentrus Occidentalis and Brachycentrus americanus are the two species that comprise the Mother's Day Caddis in the American West that hatch in late April and early May, coinciding with the Mother's Day holiday.

Brachycentrus caddis species are considered to be super hatches only lasting a few days in duration in a single location while progressing rapidly upstream. A hatch that can create blizzards of insects filling the air. There may be no other display of the "safety in numbers" survival strategy in the natural world that can overwhelm and confuse a predator by the sheer volume of insects present than the Mother's Day Caddis.

I have seen the hatches of Brachycentrus occur so dense as to form rafts of adults on the water. On one such occasion, I was fishing a river in eastern Washington state. During the early stage of the hatch, I was able to coax a few fish to the surface with my dry fly imitation. Within a half, an hour, rafts of caddis started to blanket the river's surface. I had found a small pool of surface feeding fish. After 30 minutes of casting to the fish with no takes,  I noticed that the fish were not feeding on the surface of the water but feeding just subsurface. I could tell this because I did not see the whites of the mouths but rather only the backs of the fish as they turned downward, stopping their upward momentum just inches below the surface but carrying enough energy to break the surface of the water. A tell-tale indication that fish are feeding just subsurface of the water on emerging pupa.

I switched over to a wire caddis pupa imitation and added some weight to my tippet. -- This was when I was still fishing with affixed weight to my leader, I no longer practice the technique -- I cast up ahead of the pod of fish allowing the fly to sink to a few feet in depth and began lifting my pattern towards the surface. This lifting technique is called a Leisenring Lift, which imitates the upward swimming motion of emerging pupa. I had hit the mark with both the fly pattern and my tactical approach. A half hour of not catching anything in the midst of feeding fish during a caddis blizzard was finally over. I was now catching fish on nearly every single presentation that I had made. After landing 25 fish in the next 45 minutes, the pool was played out. 

I returned to my boat and paddled to the nearest take out. At the boat ramp, I had two different guides approach me and ask what it was that I was doing as it seemed that I was the only person on that section of the river catching fish that afternoon. I mentioned to them that in this case where there was an overwhelming number of insects present, the fish shifted their focus away from feeding on the surface to a much more natural and less confusing strategy of feeding on emergers just subsurface. I merely started fishing a subsurface soft hackle pattern. One such “guide” -- the quotations marks around the word guide are a snarky gesture because as he is not a guide, but rather, fancies himself the greatest fly fishier in all the land -- quipped to me that he would “never stoop so low as to fish a fly subsurface.” My only retort was to point out, due to his self-imposed limitations, he will be relegated to sit in his boat and watch me land fish after fish on every subsequent day after that if he kept up that shitty attitude. I have never spoken to him ever again; nobody needs that kind of negativity in the world of fly fishing.

 

Proven Mother's Day Caddis Patterns.

Little Green Caddis 3 Pack
8.95

Covers the gamut of green caddis hatches thet linger all season long. Use these for the Mothers Day Caddis Hatches and the nightly caddis of summer.

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Little Green Caddis Flymph
8.50

The species of Mother's Day caddis present two stages that are most vulnerable to predation, the prolonged emergence and the ovipositing diving adults. This flymph works at imitating both. This pattern covers all the small green summer caddis.

I fish this fly with a traditional english wet fly swing at dusk when I need to feel the take.

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What's in a Name

I often forget there is a significant divide between scientific names and common names when writing blog posts or commenting on social media posts. Common names are entirely inadequate for describing an organism’s biological status and can lead to mass confusion in the fly fishing community.

I posted a photograph of a green drake nymph I had tied on Instagram the other day when a young east coast angler lamented that my fly looked nothing like a green drake and I was full of shit. He then proceeded to tag me in a post about what he believes green a drake is. I had to point out that the common name of “green drake” is generic for a lot of various species of mayflies. What he knew as a green drake in Pennsylvania was Ephemera guttulata whereas my green drake pattern out west was in the group of western drakes such as Drunella grandis, Drunella doddsii, Drunella coloradensis and Drunella flavilinea respectively.

The differences between the western green drake and the eastern greed drake are not subtle. The nymphs of the two species are dramatically different. Eastern green drakes are a long slender minnow type burrowing mayfly nymph found in soft water, and silty bottoms and the western green drake is a short and stout clinger type of mayfly found in fast rocky streams.

Western green drake - Drunella grandis

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Eastern green drake - Ephemera guttulata

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On common naming systems, your green drake and my green drake are two separate species of mayfly altogether. The same holds true for almost all of the standard names used in fly fishing. Over the centuries, the common names had become convoluted when fly fishing crossed the pond and landed on the east coast shores of the United States. Names such as march brown were attached to mayflies that are entirely different than the march brown mayflies of England. Further convolutions occurred when anglers migrated westward and attached the common name march brown to yet another species of spring mayfly. I dare not count the degrees of separation between a western Rhithrogena morrisoni and the eastern Maccaffertium vicarium march brown. The English march brown (Rhithrogena germanica) is more closely related to the western march brown (Rhithrogena morrisoni). No wonder that kid from Pennsylvania is confused with a single standard name used for so many different species. Confusion between Latin and common names is why we should learn some of the Latin names of the essential naturals that we choose to imitate with a fly so we too can share a common language.

Binomial nomenclature, the two name naming system that uses Latin as a standardized naming system used internationally as a method of zoological naming. This method of naming is used in science to describe organisms without leading to confusion amongst scientists around the world.

You may never need to learn the Latin two-name naming system, but at least I implore you to visit your local library and read a few books on fly fishing entomology such as Hatches A Complete Guide to Fishing the Hatches of North American Trout Streams by Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi or Selective Trout: The Last Word on Stream Entomology and Aquatic Insect Imitation by Swisher and Richards.

Note: To add further confusion, many taxonomic names have been recently changed since Hatches was published. Nevertheless, reading a real book instead of the internet might actually make you smarter.

 
 A questionable green drake pattern for use on the East Coast but perfectly suited for use out west.

A questionable green drake pattern for use on the East Coast but perfectly suited for use out west.

 

Every Fly You Need to Cover Every Important Stonefly

I organize my fly boxes based of the insect species I frequently encounter in the field. Over the years, I have been able to consolidate the number of patterns that I need to carry with me in order to match ALL the hatches I encounter. In truth, I only need to carry a dozen to a dozen and a half patterns to match all the stoneflies including caddis and mayflies everywhere I go. 

I recently updated my stonefly nymph box and made a small chart to ensure that I had the patterns I needed to match all the stoneflies. We may not think to use Czech Nymphs to imitate stoneflies or simple little micro glint jigs, but both can also be useful stonefly imitations. We need only to match the general size shape and color of the natural for success and to have a fly in your box that serves that function.
 

You Keep Turning Me Upside Down

I have enjoyed the best summer seasons of my life as a field fisheries biologist collecting data and observing fish and aquatic insects in their natural habitat. In that time, I have snorkeled numerous rivers counting and identifying fish and benthic macroinvertebrates. My most memorable time was watching insects behaving naturally underwater. On a few occasions, I was blessed to have taken a front row seat in witnessing emergence activity and how fish feed during a hatch. In all that time I was underwater, I have seen very few living nymphs drifting upside down for more than just a few seconds in the current. Living naturals of most species of aquatic insects are remarkably adept at remaining in a dorsal up position despite the heaviest of currents tossing them about. If naturals do get inverted, they are quickly self righted through the dorsal light polarization phenomenon. However, giant Salmonfly nymphs are the most prone to prolonged inverted drifts but get soon oriented. More on that later.

 A completely round fly displays the same color and profile despite its orientation in the water.

A completely round fly displays the same color and profile despite its orientation in the water.

I have heard there is a video floating around out there somewhere illustrating jig flies tumbling in the current in all orientations. However, physics will dictate a jig weighted with a slotted tungsten bead will remain in a mostly hook point up position while occasionally tumbling along in the current. This of course depends on current speed, line tension and bead weight.  

Because weighted jigs can be prone to a limited degree of tumbling -- depending on where and how you fish them -- I have gone back to the “tied in the round” philosophy adopted almost a half century ago by Major Charles E. Brooks who also observed salmonflies in the Yellowstone River occasionally become inverted and fish avoiding them. Subsequently, Brooks came up with his tied in the round patterns such as the Brooks Stone Nymph

My pet peeve is focused on perdigon jigs that are tied upside down with the wingcase painted on the side of the fly that is going to drift in a dominant downward position. Brooks observed fish will refuse upside down nymphs (I do not support nor deny these claims). However, It makes little sense and entirely unnatural to me to present an upside down fly to the fish based on my field observations and that of my elders.

To ameliorate my pet peeve of upside down jigs, I have omitted the wingcases altogether and have done away with the issue of fly orientation altogether. Problem solved!
Note: I still use wingcases on non-jig perdigon.

Now, let's talk about all those videos documenting unusual hominids meandering around leaving giant footprints in the woods…

You can read a short info on Charles Brooks in the round philosophy here.

Perdigon nymphs are designed to fish the fast turbulent sections of rivers where naturals are most prone to tumbling. So in all fairness, it doesn't really matter how the fly is oriented as the fish only have an instant to take the fly in water where good hook sets are more likely to occur. I would avoid using perdigons in slower sections of rivers where fish can have a better look and spit out the fly faster than the some of the best angler can detect the take. Tungsten beads are not a regular item on the trouts diet and are quickly ejected. For less turbulent water, choose a fly with some softer materials for the body or collar.

 A tied in the round style micro jig #18.

A tied in the round style micro jig #18.

 

My Top Ten Flies for Autumn

 Photo: David Lambroughton

Photo: David Lambroughton

Autumn is the most spectacular season in Colorado. The dogs days of summer are over. Angry August gives way to the mellow days spectacular September. Monsoons are slowly fading out while the daytime temperatures become reasonable again. It is worth bringing along a pack jacket or venture out in a comfy flannel plaid shirt. Ambient mid day temperatures may require you shed a layer to stay cool. 

Aside from the weather being agreeable to us bipedal terrestrial pescadores, the cooler water temperatures bring fish back within the optimal range for thriving instead of just surviving. As the water temperatures drop, many find that wet wading is still very pleasant.

You can count on new cast of characters as well as some lingering summer hatches to comprise the bulk of your fishing options.

On overcast days or early in the morning, streamer fishing is a very popular tactic. Bring along two rods, one with a sink tip for chucking streamers and your 10' nymph rod.

Below is a short list of likely insects that make the A list throughout most of the west.

  • Slate Wing Mahogany Dun
  • Black Drake
  • Red Quills 
  • September Stone AKA Short Winged StoneClaassenia sabulosa
  • Little Black Sedges
  • Micro Caddis
  • Black Midges
  • Hoppers and Beetles
  • Streamers
  • Eggs
 

Orange Ribbed Sexy Walt's

Hook: Hanak 400BL, 450BL (pictured)
Bead: Round slotted tungsten bead, black nickel
Body: Hares mask dubbing
Rib: Uni-Mylar peacock/orange
Note: covers so many bases I don't know where to begin. I've used em during the red quill and PMD hatches but almost any time is a good time.


Zika Jig

Hook: Hanak H400BL Jig Classic 16-18
Bead: Round slotted tungsten silver.
Abdomen: Black and silver uni-wire
Thorax: Black Hare'e Ice dubbing


Flashback Black Pheasant tail

Hook: Firehole Sticks 633
Bead: Round black nickel tungsten
Tail: Dyed black pheasant tail fibers
Abdomen: Dyed black pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Small stainless steel wire
Thorax: Black hare'e Ice dubbing
Wingcase: Peacock uni-mylar and UV epoxy


Possie Bugger

Hook: Firehole Sticks 839
Bead: Black Nickel Tungsten
Tail: Australian opossum
Abdomen: Australian opossum
Rib: Small oval gold tinsel
Thorax: Tan Brahma hen followed by black hares mask fur.
Note: Makes an excellent imitation for the September stones.


Sexy Betty

Hook: Hanak H400BL
Bead: Painted fluorescent pink tungsten
Tail: Australian opossum
Abdomen: Australian opossum
Rib: Small UV blue mylar (flashabou)
Thorax: Adams gray hares mask fur
Collar: Black hares mask fur
Note: Brown trout, brook  and cutthroat trout spawn in the fall. Think eggs?


Black Foam Caddis

Hook: Hanak H130BL
Body: Black foam wrapped
Hackle: Black micro saddle, slightly undersized
Wing: Natural elk


Thread Quill UV RS2

Hook: Firehole Sticks 315
Tail: Medium pardo Coq de Leaon
Abdomen: Olive, tan & black 8/0 uni thread treated with UV resin
Wing: Dun CDC, clipped short
Thorax: Olive gray superfine dubbing.


Gray PT Frenchie

Hook: Hanak H400BL
Bead: Round slotted tungsten, black nickel
Tail: Medium pardo Coq de Leon
Abdomen: Dyed gray pheasant tail
Rib: Small stainless steel wire
Thorax: Adams gray hares mask dubbing
Collar: Optional, pink Veevus stomach body thread
Note: Red Quill, Slate winged mahogany and a host of many other aquatic edibles.


Traditional Olive Czech Nymph

Hook: Hanak H300BL
Abdomen: Light Olive, dark olive hares mask dubbing
Rib: Fine oval gold tinsel
Thorax: Dark olive hares mask dubbing
Counter Rib: Small stainless steel wire
Shellback: Olive scud back
Dorsal Markings: Dark gray Copic marker
Note: The net spinners get bigger in Autumn. I carry sizes 8-12 with me


Beadhead Miracle Nymph

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 (not pictured)
Bead: Round tungsten silver
Body: White thread
Rib: X-sm copper wire
Collar: Black marking pen on thread.
Note: Sometimes a small white shiny thing gets the job done.

The EPT Factor

 

Beneath the rippled current of a trout stream, a complex food web plays out far greater than many anglers realize. The basic biology of a trout stream is often hidden well out of our view unless we are willing to explore the depths, which often requires getting wet and cold. At the very bottom of a fluvial food chain is a bio-film - powered by sunlight and dissolved nutrients - that covers the rocks, plants and woody debris upon which benthic macro invertebrates feed. Slightly higher up the taxonomic ladder are the benthic macro invertebrates, underwater organisms which lack backbones. Macro invertebrates such as insects, worms, crustaceans and isopods feed on the bio-film, then become food for other insects, birds, small fish, and ultimately, the trout we love to pursue as a favorite game fish.

 The Gold Ribbed Hares Ear meets a Kaufmann's Stone.

The Gold Ribbed Hares Ear meets a Kaufmann's Stone.

Taxonomists have divided the entire known biological world into eight categories from domain, kingdom, all the way down to genus and species. For a fly angler wanting to choose the right fly, it is important to know at least the family orders of the three primary aquatic insects. A familiarity with the three dominant taxonomic families is a must when choosing the right fly, as each family has its own distinct shape and life cycle.

The three families of aquatic insect that we must pay close attention to are: Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera, otherwise known as the Mayflies, Caddisflies and Stoneflies (EPT). Each of these families of insect has its own unique life history and key role within an aquatic food system. Each EPT family category is not hard to recognize throughout the individual life stage. Mayfly adults have a distinct pair of upright wings with a variety of three tailed larva known as nymphs. Caddis adults have tent shaped wings, with the larva stage having tubular, worm shaped bodies, and often, external shelters they build and carry around with them. Stonefly adults have two pair of wings that fold flat over the back, and the larval form are often large and robust crawling about the rocks.

Keeping a simple collection of fly patterns to imitate these three categories is the very foundation of a quality working fly box. It is easy to get drawn into an endless array of fly patterns filling the bins of a well stocked fly shop, each fly pattern calling out its own special fish-catching allure. However, expert fly anglers know that simply a small collection of fly patterns always gets the job done. The reason only a few patterns are all that is really needed is that they imitate the three families of aquatic insects very well. 

 Free living Caddis Larva

Free living Caddis Larva

I have selected a small handful of fly patterns that serve as a foundation to imitate the EPT families. The fly patterns are based on a general size and shape of each family with enough impressionistic qualities to possibly imitate more than one family by altering its size and color. Each season, I narrow down my collection of patterns based on general effectiveness. New patterns emerge from the vice that simply outperform old patterns from previous seasons. I noticed that if I focus more on impressionistic imitations with a focus on the EPT factor, the better my angling day.

 Stonefly Nymph

Stonefly Nymph

Good science has no need to reinvent the wheel. The wheel is already perfect in its intended purpose: to roll. The same holds true for many fly patterns invented long ago. There is no need to reinvent something that is already perfect for its intended purpose. However, like the wheel, we can alter it to suit our intended use without altering its core functionality. When choosing a small collection of fly patterns that function to imitate the EPT group, I look at the so-called "wheels" of fly design to select the tried and true patterns to serve as the foundation of a fly box. Having selected a core group of fly patterns I can then alter their size and color to imitate even more possibilities. In most cases I have stripped the original fly down to its most common element, to impressionistically imitate the basic shape, size and color.

 Common Mayfly Nymph

Common Mayfly Nymph

The following are my favorite patterns for each family, with a focus on patterns that can fall within multiple families. If a fly pattern can fall within multiple categories, it earns top spots in this collection. I am focusing on nymphs alone because the imitation of adults typically requires more exacting imitations rather than impressionistic fly patterns. I also spend 99% of my time searching the water with nymph patterns.

Ephemerella

Trichoptera

Plecoptera

 Simplified Pheasant Tail Nymphs mimic mayfly nymphs very well and may even be taken for other food items.

Simplified Pheasant Tail Nymphs mimic mayfly nymphs very well and may even be taken for other food items.

If we break down the shape of each of the EPT group, the single common denominator for all of them is a round, tubular shaped abdomen usually tapered at one end. In fact, beyond the EPT group, other families also have the same simple tubular shape. While many mayflies have different shaped abdomens, differing from torpedo to suction cup discs, if we blur our eyes for a second like artists do while painting, we would lose detail and a general shape of form emerges. In most cases, a simple tapered tube shape is the dominant form most frequently observed in benthic macro invertebrates.

I have snorkeled many salmonid streams performing fish counts and identifications including benthic macro invertebrate sampling. I frequently see a behavioral pattern with fish holding in feeding positions within the stream channel. Fish will move from side to side and slightly upwards a few inches to take in any small object that has a cylindrical shape. Many times that object is just a broken twig or leaf stem that is then quickly ejected as a non edible object. The importance of this observation tells me that fish are prone to sampling anything that has a common cylindrical or torpedo shape common to most aquatic macro invertebrates.

Most of my angling time is spent fishing in a general searching pattern, probing likely fish-holding locations with these attractor style nymph patterns. This is the time I use any of the general attractors that I have mentioned, patterns that have the general size and color of many of the insects commonly found in my river. It is only when fish key in on a specific insect at a specific moment in that insect's life cycle that I will then fish patterns designed to specifically imitate that instance.

 
 

Aquatic Larvae - Water Snipe and Crane Flys

I frequently spend time snorkeling trout streams so that I can observe the aquatic world in action. While snorkeling, I will grab ahold of rocks or boulders, so that I can hold myself in the current and gain a vantage point to observe fish holding in the current. I will watch fish moving around in small holding areas mouthing almost everything in the drift. Most times the object - be it a small twig, leaf stem, seed or any manner of detritus that gets blown into the current-  is investigated and most likely ejected. Sometimes, this morsel is a real food form and is taken deeper into the mouth and crushed with pharyngeal teeth before being ingested. I can imagine that twigs and most artificial flies might be too tough to crush, so are immediately ejected out of the mouth with a quick reversed opercule pump motion. In the case of an artificial fly, often the rejection occurs before we can detect the take.

 Tipulidae - Aquatic Cranefly Larvae

Tipulidae - Aquatic Cranefly Larvae

A recent discussion I had on facebook with an angling friend in the Pacific Northwest has me re-examining what I know about habitat conditions, namely water temperatures and metabolic demands placed on the fish throughout the season. He made an observation that fish are not as selective in temperature ranges in the 40º-50ºF range, while above 50ºF the fish become more selective.

The optimal temperature range for trout growth is between 42º-52ºF. Between these temperatures, fish are at their peak and can afford lower degrees of selectivity so they feed more actively and gain weight as rapidly as possible while the temperatures are optimal. Also, it’s important to note the stream order we are observing. Lower stream orders stay cooler while higher stream orders generally run warmer. Higher stream orders also have noticeable changes in food availability. In higher stream orders - lower in the watershed -  the diversity of macroinvertebrates changes to include a higher ratio of aquatic larvae such as the water snipe and crane fly. I have sampled large rivers such as the Madison, Colorado, Roaring Fork and routinely pull out large numbers of Athericidae larvae, the water snipe fly. This aquatic larvae is easily imitated with a common olive green rock worm pattern and is often mistaken for a green rock worm.

  Athericidae Larvae - The Water Snipe -  often confused with the green rock worm

Athericidae Larvae - The Water Snipe - often confused with the green rock worm

When times are lean and the guides are casting #22 baetis or #24 trico imitations in the late summer, trout will often move further for a big juicy aquatic larvae as it drifts by (stream order 3 and greater). This is opportunistic feeding at its best, more caloric reward per unit of effort. I regularly defy the conventional wisdom of casting small flys in the late summer when I regularly catch very large trout with one inch long larvae pattern used as an anchor fly while the smaller beatis is often ignored.

One other point I would like to make is that as the season progresses, mayflys, stoneflys and caddis that are available tend to diminish in size yet the aquatic larvae and free living caddis larvae keep growing. By late summer I can be fishing an aquatic larvae or even a free living caddis almost an inch long. I also notice that my daily benthic macro samples start revealing more and more water snipe larvae and less of the big three bugs on which we often focus our attention.

 

Fly patterns such as Sawyers Killer Bug, the Utah Killer Bug and my Latex larvae are the perfect imitation.