This is a full-length article on three of my original caddis patterns that I originally intended to release to a magazine for publication. Perhaps I still will. However, with the acceptance of “Bastian’s Floating Caddis Emerger” pattern by Orvis, and the recent release of the online Orvis New Products Catalog, I wanted to do a write-up here to generate interest in this pattern. Reading through my Caddis Pattern Trio article that I wrote a few years ago, I decided to print it here in its entirety. I have included discussion on the Hatching Caddis Adult and Hatching Caddis Pupa, but the focus of this piece is on the Floating Caddis Emerger.
I have been unable to post much here due to my depressed health since November 1st, but I guess now that I’ve finally posted something with substance, this is a post with substance to make up for it. I hope you all find something interesting, even enlightening, in this writing.
Here is the Orvis link to “Bastian’s Floating Caddis Emerger:” http://www.orvis.com/store/product.aspx?pf_id=7R6A
Orvis did an excellent job of replicating my pattern. I will only say the Tan version should have a hackle that is lighter, more of a light – medium mottled brown. But I doubt the darker hackle will reduce the effectiveness of Bastian’s Floating Caddis Emerger.
Caddis Pattern Trio
By Don Bastian
Caddis flies are among the most ubiquitous aquatic insects. As a genus they are widely distributed in water types from flowing to still, shallow to deep. They inhabit virtually every ecological unit within their environment. As a species they number in the thousands, and their diversity in size, color, habits, and environment is fascinating, even astounding to fly anglers. Across the country, wherever trout are found, caddis flies will be found as well. Some species of caddis flies often occur in warm water environs unsuitable for trout. Some varieties hatch once per year, while others are multi-brooded within a twelve-month period. In some areas caddis hatches occur with incredible density, the number of insects occasionally creating the illusion of a blizzard as individual flies easily number tens of thousands. An upstream caddis migration flight is a spectacle to see, yet when this occurs anglers often wonder why few trout are rising when there are thousands of insects in the air.
For fly fishers, caddis flies often present challenges during emergence. Perhaps the most confounding issue confronted by anglers during caddis hatching activity is determining exactly what stage of the caddis lifecycle the trout are feeding on, particularly when the occasional occurrence of splashy rise forms are encountered. Often our glance in the direction of the rise is met with the sight of a small caddis fly fluttering on the surface in an attempt to become airborne, and as we watch we see a second follow up rise as a trout engulfs the struggling adult. What just happened there? Obviously the trout took the adult caddis, because we saw it happen. In this case you can believe what you see. However, what we did not see may be far more significant. What happened to trigger the initial rise of the trout? What exactly transpired immediately before and during the first rise of the fish? While we might hope to one day solve this puzzling question, the resolution of this riddle would by its very solution remove much of the intriguing appeal that fishing caddis imitations for trout can provide.
The element of challenge is one of the most compelling reasons why people are drawn to fly-fishing. An opportunity to fish an emergence of caddis flies inherently contains an element of risk. The risk is that one might not be wholly successful in imitating the caddis life stage trout are feeding upon, and as a result, fewer trout will be brought to net and anglers often return home somewhat perplexed. Most fly fishers readily immerse themselves in this risk regardless of their knowledge or ability to overcome the challenge. My hope through this writing is to relate my experiences, resolve some lingering questions, and offer some caddis fly pattern solutions that have served well over the years to increase angling success for myself and many of my friends.
I recall meeting Gary LaFontaine for the first time at a fly fishing event in the early 1990’s. His book, Caddisflies, is a monumental work that illuminated a trove of information regarding caddis activity that had been previously enigmatic. Employing the use of scuba gear to study and gather data, Mr. LaFontaine actually viewed caddis emergences underwater as they progressed. What struck me most significantly during Gary’s presentation was his revelation that most of the time during a caddis hatch trout are not feeding on the caddis adults. Predominantly, LaFontaine described, trout are feeding on the emerging caddis. But what exactly does that mean? This could easily be interpreted to mean that trout are feeding on the ‘emergers’ as they rise to the surface. Which begs further questions: What is a caddis emerger? What form do they take? How can we mimic them effectively?
Splashy rise forms we often see are typically caused by trout aggressively feeding on caddis flies that are about to escape. This aggression is probably triggered by the specific behavior and habits of the emerging caddis and not as we often believe, by the adult insects. This conclusion could be plausibly rationalized and understood by most anglers. Gary went on to explain that his research indicated, as many anglers are aware, when a caddis fly is ready to hatch, a buildup of gaseous bubbles within the pupal shuck causes the pupa to rise to the surface very rapidly. Unlike mayflies, whose wings inflate with the flowing of body fluids after the sub-imago emerges from the shuck, the formation of gas bubbles inside the caddis pupal shuck is the final indication that the pupa has completed its metamorphosis. As this transpires the adult is fully formed inside the shuck, ready for flight as soon as it can release itself from the case that constrains it. The gas bubbles within the caddis pupal shuck enable a rapid rise to the surface. This rate of rise is so fast that the trout have little chance of intercepting the pupal shuck during these brief moments. The optimum opportunity for trout to feed on emerging caddis flies occurs when the pupal shuck makes contact with and breaks through the surface film.
Gary LaFontaine reported that adult caddis flies emerge from the pupal shuck within two to three seconds after contact with the surface film has been achieved. Furthermore, his observation that average trout stream and river current speed is four feet per second translates to this: On most rivers the caddis pupal shuck floats and drifts on the surface an average distance of eight to twelve feet before splitting open, whereupon the adult takes flight almost instantly. In most cases when trout break the surface during a caddis emergence they are not usually feeding on the adult caddis flies. In recent years it has become more evident that aggressive rises of trout taking hatching caddis flies are caused as they take the drifting pupa with the adult still inside, and not the adult, in the surface film just prior to emergence. Trout know from experience that the fly will disappear imminently, so they act quickly, decisively, and often with reckless abandon to gain the meal before the opportunity is gone. With trout feeding so eagerly, it is thought-provoking to note that at this stage of the hatch anglers choosing to fish with standard top-water caddis dry patterns invariably meet with limited success.
What can fly anglers do to solve this puzzle? I remember meeting Eric Leiser and Larry Solomon, coauthors of The Caddis and the Angler, in the 1970’s at an event I attended. They related one technique employed during a caddis hatch was to use a dry pattern like an Elk Hair Caddis or a Henryville Special (both good caddis adult imitations), and stand in the water, waiting for a rise, false casting the fly. The idea being that when a trout rose within casting distance, the angler was ready to respond by instantly casting the fly to the rise in an attempt to trick the trout into thinking it missed its target. This method is clearly time-consuming, and if the trout are not feeding actively it comes up short. Not to mention tiring out your arm and being just plain boring. Such a technique has its merits to take a few fish but it is little more than a ruse that leaves the problem unsolved.
Through my years of fly tying and fishing research I have created some caddis emerger / transition patterns that, while not foolproof, have proven at times to work quite effectively to dupe trout into taking the fly. The significant aspect of these patterns is that they have worked successfully when other patterns have failed, and they have taken trout when there was very little caddis activity. In the mid-1990’s I was contracted to tie some custom caddis emerger patterns for a local fly shop. LaFontaine’s Sparkle Pupa had become well known by this time. In tying these custom patterns, what interested me was the addition of some sparkle material to the side of the fly, swept back along the body. There was also the inclusion of a rib of Krystalflash. Incorporating some of Gary LaFontaine’s ideas, these two ingredients sparked my mind to create my own versions through combination and modification. The first fly I developed, about 1996, was called the Pre-Emergent Sparkle Caddis Adult. A few years later I decided that the name was too cumbersome and renamed the pattern the Hatching Caddis Adult, which is what it was designed to imitate. With a trailing shuck like some other caddis patterns, I added a Krystalflash rib to the Haretron body and Hi-Vis along the sides, which I named the side-shuck. My other addition was a stub of Hi-Vis over the body to form what I refer to as a half-wing. I reasoned this wing stub would retain fly floatant and improve the buoyancy of the pattern, which proved to be correct. This fly was designed as a floating pattern to imitate the ready-to-hatch caddis adult with lots of sparkle to attract the trout. It was initially very successful on Ontario’s Grand River in the late 1990’s. It has proven successful through more than a decade of use, but at the same time has not been a complete answer to the dilemma of matching a caddis hatch.
My next development in this series was the creation of an underwater emerger pattern. Similar to LaFontaine’s Sparkle Caddis Pupa, my version has a trailing shuck, the body bubble, adds the Krystal flash rib and the Hi-Vis side-shuck, retains the little half wing of Hi-Vis, and has a soft-hackle collar. So it is very similar to my Hatching Caddis Adult, but it includes the LaFontaine style body bubble of Antron or Hi-Vis pulled over the body to make it resemble a caddis pupal shuck. I tied these on a 1x long nymph hook. This fly, called the Hatching Caddis Pupa, works very well when fished as a nymph pattern.
You have probably heard it said, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” This was true in my case, because on numerous occasions I was fishing Hatching Caddis Adult patterns during a caddis hatch with some success, but with results somewhat less than desired. While some fish took the fly, many trout rejected it. Recalling LaFontaine’s research of trout feeding on floating, drifting pupal shucks, I tried my Hatching Caddis Pupa pattern, dressed with floatant and fished it on the surface. This provided limited success, primarily because it did not float well. The pattern improved slightly when tied on a dry fly hook, but still not what I would state as an achievement of success. Again my mind wondered, “How can I make a pupa pattern to float on the surface without dressing it like a traditional dry fly?”
Here again, I thought about some elements of the caddis fly that I felt important to imitate. Form, silhouette, and floatation were key elements that needed to be designed into the fly. Caddis pupal shucks quiver and vibrate while floating on the surface as the adults struggle to emerge, so I reasoned that the addition of various fibers to blur the trout’s vision might suggest this behavior. And it needed to float as well. I also thought of a mottling effect to imitate the variegated markings of some caddis flies. This thought process caused me to develop the Floating Caddis Emerger. This pattern has become my favorite because it works far better than the others. In fact it has worked so well that I am prone to exaggerated ravings about it, however I shall endeavor to focus on the facts. The Floating Caddis Emerger differs from the other two patterns in two ways. First and most significantly, there is what I call an overback strip of closed-cell foam. This is my solution for unexcelled floatation. Even if swamped in surface turbulence, the fly remains suspended in the film. The second addition is a single wrap of mottled hen back feather at the head to achieve a variegated effect. Omitted ingredients are the body shuck and the half wing. Included are the trailing shuck, Krystalflash rib, Haretron dubbed body, and dubbed head.
Note in the photo above my discovery that the Floating Caddis Emerger, dressed with a ginger body, is an excellent sulphur emerger. It’s still a dry fly, low-floating but nevertheless, a dry.
I confess that the Floating Caddis Emerger has yet to be fished during a heavy caddis hatch, but therein is my strong belief in its effectiveness, because it has proven to bring trout to the surface when few other flies have brought success. It has been fished on New York’s Beaverkill and Croton Rivers, the Madison and Ruby in Montana, Big Pine Creek, Penn’s Creek, Spring Creek, all in Pennsylvania, and the Housatonic and Farmington Rivers in Connecticut. There have been several times on Spring Creek when I hooked over three-dozen trout on the Floating Caddis Emerger in a few hours. Most noteworthy was the fact that there was no significant hatch on, just the odd caddis fluttering about here and there. Spring Creek is often notorious for its no-hatch, consequently no-rising-trout scenario. Dressed with floatant and sometimes using a very small, fly line diameter-sized pinch of strike putty on the tippet knot so I can track the flush-floating fly in broken water, the Floating Caddis Emerger tempts trout to the surface and instills confident strikes.
One difficult afternoon in July 2005 on Pennsylvania’s Penn’s Creek, my friend Dave Rothrock was with me. I had given him a few of these flies to try. After a day of relatively slow fishing due to the absence of major aquatic insect activity, Dave’s evaluation was this: “Any time I could ascertain a trout was feeding on caddis they would rise with confidence and take this fly.”
It also remains effective if fished in rough water where it may occasionally be swamped by surface action. Not to worry though, because with the built-in life-preserver of closed-cell foam, the fly remains in or just under the surface film. If an indicator fly or pinch of strike putty on the tippet knot is employed, the rise of a trout can still be detected. A good fishing technique would be to use a Floating Caddis Emerger with a very small pinch of strike putty on the tippet knot. Or do as I did once on the Madison River; use the Floating Caddis Emerger on 5x tippet tied from the bend of a #10 Grizzly Wulff or some other large attractor dry as an indicator fly. This combination brought a bank-hugging twenty-inch brown to net. Another version would be a two-fly rig with the Hatching Caddis Pupa on a 5x tippet with a micro-shot above the fly, and the Floating Caddis Emerger as an indicator above it, also tied on 5x.
Fishing a caddis hatch remains at times, somewhat of a challenge and I do not contend that these fly patterns will resolve all the associated difficulties. However, I have enjoyed success on many occasions with these flies, and I encourage you to try them as well. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.
Furthermore, I believe this pattern design can be adopted to other mayflies, most notably the Slate Drake, which can and does emerge mid-stream. Also March Browns and Green Drakes. More tying and fishing to do…
Geez, I almost forgot!!!!!!!! Very important!