April 20th, Caddis Dry Fly Lessons

The night before plans were hatched (interesting I used that particular term). I was set to arrive at 8:45am and with a short hike in Wendy B. and I would be staring at trout water by 9:15am. An initial water temp was taken at the first riffle crossing made, a cool 50 degrees. Rocks were picked and I set up a two fly nymph rig, BWO nymphs were present in higher concentrations so the WD-40 was employed. Before I could drift the rig more than a handful of times [singlepic id=1525 w=360 h=280 float=right]through the first spot we arrived at it became clear that nymphs were not going to be needed today.

I had some initial concerns that the stretch of water we chose to tackle today might not have much of a Grey Caddis hatch, those concerns quickly faded. Splashy rises were coming from smaller trout under 10inches within the first hour we were on the water. By 10:30am the stream was coming alive, Caddis were coming and they just kept coming. The larger trout could be spotted just by watching the rises, they were consistently at the head of each pool or run, often holding to one side of the seam in the slightly slower water. They do this to maximize the calorie intake from all those tasty Caddis flies but also to minimize the calories they burn by expelling less energy avoiding the faster [singlepic id=1540 w=320 h=240 float=left]current. Wendy B. and I sat on the first run we came to taking back to back Brown trout as we worked our way up to those larger fish at the head of the run. This was shaping up to be a once a year day.

The Grey Caddis just kept coming and by 11:30am they could be seen swarming near rocky structures, near downed trees and any vegetation hanging near the stream. Note: we observed a higher strike rate when we put our flies near structure which in turn had larger concentrations of Caddis swarming near. 90% of the trout I took were taken on a #16 CDC and Elk pattern that I tied rather sparse, it worked wonders. I wish I had tried a hackled pattern to see what if any effect it might have had,[singlepic id=1551 w=360 h=280 float=right] skittering a Caddis dry is still a bit of a mystery. We fished, with smiles on our faces in the sun. Glorious, tight lines, back to back, for the next couple of hours.

No count of fish was kept, it would have been a pain to do so. Even pictures kind of slimmed to a minimum, for a while we could do no wrong, just keep the fly in the water and out of the weeds behind you and it was going to get attacked, period. Wendy exhibited more restraint at times and I got over excited forcing me to spend some (but not too much) time picking my fly from the weeds. I fooled around with pull on my CDC and Elk pattern by casting it into slack water, crossing the current with my fly line and waiting for my line to tighten thus pulling the fly, as long as the fly stayed on the surface it was slammed every time after moving only a few inches. I found this particularly effective in certain spots where a traditional upstream approach wasn’t available. Keep this in mind when dealing with Caddis, a traditional drift will work but sometimes not nearly as well, these fish become keyed on that quick moving, darting fly and sometimes they don’t want to see your fly just sitting there. Caddis are not mayflies and they behave in extremely different manners.

We couldn’t argue with rising trout, water temps were pushed to the far reaches of my mind and I didn’t flip another rock for the rest of the day. We moved to each run exhibiting rising fish, worked each until one of us took the largest fish willing to show it’s face, they showed and we won. Wendy managed two really nice fish while standing in a riffle casting downstream to slack water, the marauders. He pulled each upstream through the riffle with the 2wt., that rod [singlepic id=1535 w=320 h=240 float=left]puts up for sure man. We progressed upstream and the adult Caddis numbers diminished, we could have continued on but not with dry flies, we chose to split, double back and fish the first few runs for a limit of 10inch fish for the grill.

By this point it was approaching 1:30pm and the adults were everywhere but rising behaviour seemed to drop off a cliff by 2:30pm. We each managed a few fish each before the dry fly drew no responses. To round out the day I chose to swing a streamer to trout with very full bellies, very few struck at my fly, perhaps something to take into consideration. At 3:15pm we made the trek out and by 4pm I was on my way home, what a seriously kick ass day. Minimal wind, nothing but dry flies. I mean I used only two flies all day and landed more fish in a few hours than I had any other day I’ve been fishing for trout. To my surprise the CDC and Elk pattern lasted for a long time (maybe I’m getting better at tying) and even after it came loose from the shank of the hook it still managed one last trout before it had to be retired, got my hook back though, a marvelous end to a dry fly. How often does that happen, to retire a dry fly after so many fish rather than busting it off on a trout, or loosing it to a tree? Hasn’t happened many times for me yet but there are many years of this in my future so I’m sure I’ll see it happen again. Thanks Wendy for another good run.[singlepic id=1536 w=280 h=200 float=right]

Other Notes and Observations:

  • I wonder if we wouldn’t have taken more fish early if we had tried pupa patterns.
  • #14 through a #20 adults were seen, so start large and work smaller and darker if the fish hesitate.
  • Seriously considering a voice recorder for notes from now on, wish I had one this day.

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12 Comments

  1. Dean you should send me one so I know what I’m supposed to be tying, or send a photo with hook/materials info. winonaflyfactory@gmail.com Also, any advice on how to fish them? Droppers? How deep? Solo? Like a nymph or a wet fly? Thanks for any and all information, also I’ve tried your leaders you sent a while back and both work and were made very well. I may have to spend some time looking into making my own.

    Bill, I hope you encounter what I found. Everyone should get that atleaste once a year. I’ll be hoping they stick around for you. Check back, if I get out before Monday I’ll let you know what I see around the area.

  2. Average probably 8-10inches. At the head of most runs one or two fish up to and maybe pushing 15inches were caught, the cool thing about it was that you could simply pick your prey by watching where each fish was if you could get your fly to that fish as it was going to rise. Several times Wendy B. pulled his fly up and out saying “Not that fish.”

  3. I love wearing out dry flies. 🙂 I’ve worn out a few CDC & Elks on the grey caddis this year.

    For a pupa, try a green body with black rib, hackle, and head in size 16. I fish it as a dropper behind a dry fly at the beginning of the hatch. It will pick up some fish, and some bigger fish, before they’re totally keyed in on the adults.

    avatar JRS
  4. Awesome story.. the 21st was the same sorta deal for me.. caddis were coming off thick for about 6-7hrs.. i could not go wrong with a #14 black elk hair.. also they were hitting this fly i got from Bigyflyco.. Danger Baby.. it kinda resembles an emerging cased caddis

  5. Your site is awesome!! Keep up the good work. I am an aspiring fly fisherman who lives quite close to you in Caledonia, MN. Any tips on where I should start? I have yet to buy any gear as I’m somewhat overwhelmed on where to begin. I am thinking about taking a starter course from the guys @ the Driftless Angler shop in Viroqua, WI (http://www.driftlessangler.com/). I am also on the Minnesota Coldwater Conservation Forum as well (digitalflaunt)……

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