Fly Fishing Cicada HatchesNathaniel Treichler
A good bug hatch is always a welcomed occurrence for fly-fishers. Very few hatches however, are backed by the anticipation surrounding what thousands of eager anglers will experience this summer. Starting in mid-May, and lasting through the early days of July, the Brood X cicadas will emerge.
Brood X cicadas were born underground in 2004, and are one of 12 broods with a 17-year life cycle. They’ve spent all this time beneath the earth feeding, tunneling, and preparing for the final stage of their lives. Once they surface, Brood X will spend approximately six weeks above ground droning their mating songs before dying and falling back to the earth, or better yet, the water.
Known scientifically by the name, Magicicada septendecim, the insect’s black thorax is highlighted by the reddish tint of its eyes and wing veins. Emergences are expected in 15 states including Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C.
When cicadas hatch, the fish are ready. Trout, carp, striped bass, catfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass will all actively target cicadas, which provides some very exciting opportunities for fishing on the surface. The best part of cicada fishing is its simplicity. If you find the bugs, you’ll find the fish. Here are five tips for fly fishing a cicada hatch.
Seek the trees
While above ground, cicadas will cling to trees to feed, call, and mate. As they die they fall from the branches and expire on the terrain beneath. Trees that overhang streams, rivers, and still waters will discard the dying cicadas on the waters below, resulting in a fish feeding frenzy. Avoid open water and treeless banks.
Beef Up Your Tippet
You want a heavier leader or tippet than you would throw for other dry fly and surface presentations. Cicada patterns are large and wind resistant, and you’ll be targeting larger fish that are feeding aggressively. The presentation will have little relevance, fish are often fighting over these bugs, so use 3x tippet or heavier if needed.
Give it a Twitch
Cicadas will often end up in the water before they’ve fully expired. Their fading twitches and buzzes can really liven up a quiet pool. If you find yourself in a section where cicadas are present but not plentiful, and the fish don’t seem to be feeding, twitch the fly and give it some action to inspire a strike.
Fish Above and Below
The topwater action can be great when fishing a cicada pattern, but you may be able to entice even the largest fish to feed below the surface. Submerge a floating pattern with some split shot on the leader and target areas with moving water to attract large warm water fish.
Don’t be Shy
Cicadas are chubby bugs and are often one inch or bigger in size, so don’t be afraid of making a sizable splat when presenting the fly. Fish aren’t looking for a delicate presentation as they target these insects. So relax, let it fly, and have some fun tossing these bugs.
If you don’t have any cicada replicas in your box, don’t fret. Large, dark colored terrestrial patterns will suffice. If you’re on the water in the next few weeks and see or hear cicadas around, grab your biggest bug and try your luck.
Fishing during the Brood X emergence should last a few more weeks, but if you aren’t able to capitalize on the hatch this year, don’t worry. The next 17-year brood, Brood XIV, is set to break ground in 2025, and anglers from the midwest to the east coast will have a chance to fish the next 13-year brood, Brood XIX, in 2024.