Anglers who experience their first big caddis hatch aren’t soon to forget the event. 

There are surely stronger hatches with bigger bugs that occur throughout the season, but few are as reliable as the caddis.  Unseasonal rain or cold can throw bug events like the green drake or sulphurs, but the caddis hatch can be counted on and provides some extraordinary action on both dry flies and nymphs.  With that said, it can sometimes be a bit tricky to master and there is some frustration to be felt by those not able to recognize what and how the trout are feeding. 

What’s a Caddis Fly? 

Perhaps caddis more so than any other hatch experiences this weird phenomenon where anglers don’t try to match the specific hatch.  We just see a caddis fluttering above the water and tie on an Elk Hair then start casting.  Sometimes that will catch you some fish, but it’s best to treat caddis just like any other major hatch and work to imitate the exact color and size.  Caddis can come in olive, tan, brown, and a variety of other shades along with sizes ranging from #12 to #20.  Trout on technical streams will turn their nose up at a poorly chosen caddis just the same as they will a BWO or Sulphur, so try to analyze the hatch and do your best to match the natural, which usually means being armed with a variety of caddis flies!

Nymph

Before caddis hatches start for the day, caddis larvae are active along the bottom and often get swept up in the current. Tumble some nymphs along the stream bottom in your nymphing rigs.

Dry Fly

Simple presentations like the X-Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis, or Missing Link Caddis cover all your bases from caddis laying eggs to cripples stuck on the surface.

Emerger

Swinging soft hackled flies across the stream is an extremely effective way to catch trout that are only keying in on caddis pupae swimming to the surface.

Nymph vs. Dry vs. Emerger

This can be the trickiest question to answer of all because what the fish are doing can be quite deceiving.  One of the tell-tale signs that caddis are popping off is watching trout torpedo through the water and actually break the surface to feed.  It’s what makes a caddis hatch so unforgettable, but sometimes trout can be feeding subsurfacely and give the look of a fish that’s feeding on dries.  This is what’s difficult for anglers to pinpoint and can lead to frustration when offerings are being ignored.  

To make matters more convoluted, trout can be simultaneously feeding on dries and emergers as the hatch goes on!  That’s why one of the best strategies to deploy during a caddis hatch is to run a dry-dropper setup with the dropper being a caddis emerger. It might seem a bit off to do this, but having two flies in the upper third of the water column can do wonders in imitating multiple caddis life cycle stages.  

Presentation

Where caddis are really different from other hatches is the ability anglers have to provide a little action to the flies.  Caddis act quite erratically when they’re on the water, which leads to constant bouncing around upstream and downstream in random movements.  It’s because of this that trout can be seen thrashing after the naturals in a scene that looks more like sharks hunting prey rather than trout looking to eat a bug.  When fishing dry flies, most times a perfectly drag-free drift is what you’re shooting for, but that can change with caddis.  By wiggling the rod top, a slight retrieve, or really focusing on the swing of the fly, anglers can better match what the naturals are doing, and as such, give a more realistic showing that trout can’t resist! 

Caddis are dependable and a staple snack for trout everywhere.  They’re certainly a fly that anglers need to have plenty of and knowing how to fish the caddis properly is important to catching fish.  Treating the caddis just like other hatches and trying to nail down the specific size and color of the bug is the first step, followed by knowing what stage the trout are feeding on and how to best fish that way.  Those who do that will be well-rewarded with a day full of action!