Across the West, the October caddis hatch begins in September and hits its stride in the first weeks of October. Even into November, the big bugs can still be found above the river.
Separate a caddis larva from its shell and what you have is a pale yellow rock worm with jet black head and legs. Trout eat them shell and all, but the larva itself can be compared to trout candy.
Sometime in August, the caddis begin their final transitional stage, similar to the process of a caterpillar enclosing itself in a cocoon. The caddis attaches itself to a rock and seals itself inside its case, where it transitions from the larval stage into a pupa. When the time is right, the pupa breaks out of the case and begins to migrate to the edge of the stream, where it crawls out upon a branch or a rock and dries its wings.
Trout feed on caddis throughout the year, but they are suddenly more available in August, September, and October.
Hatch timing is not as easy to mark as a stonefly hatch. Much of the hatch can come off during night hours. In fact, it is safe to say that if a single orange-bodied, tent-winged bug can be seen above the river, the hatch is on. To the trout's way of looking at the world, the party has started, and it's mostly below the surface.
The larval stage is imitated in both cased and uncased versions. Artificials can be tied on scud-style on English bait hooks, or on straight hooks sized No. 10 to 6 and 2X to 4X long. The fly should be heavy. Beads, lead wire, and copper ripping can all be used to make sure it sinks fast. To tie a passable cased caddis imitation, peacock herl works as a good body base and may be overlaid with a rooster hackle to add depth to the body. The body of the worm can be tied to represent it partially out of the case, or not.
To be ready in the event of an October caddis feeding frenzy, tie or buy John Hazel's Deschutes Cased Caddis, Oswald's BH Rock Roller, Peeking Caddis.
Now picture the worm free from its case. This is a really good fly to fish by itself anytime between the middle of July and end of September. My favorite representations are tied in off-white, yellow, and orange overlaid with clear latex. Heads and legs are completed with dark rabbit or muskrat with the guard hairs picked out. Some other good caseless larva patterns include Tan Caddis Larva, Rip Caddis (Hafele and Morris).
For all intents and purposes, these flies should be fished dead-drift. I learned to fish them with the rod in the high-stick position, but they can also be fished with a strike indicator. Trout tend to suck them in and spit them out just as fast, so it pays to set the hook at the slightest suggestion of a grab.
Peak caddis hatch activity will probably take place on cloudy days from late afternoon until dark. Anticipating this can precipitate what I think is the most important and exciting stage of the hatch.
Exploit the "pre-hatch" phase with a tandem rig that includes a pupal imitation up top and a larva imitation down deep.
Fish the two-fly rig on a dead-drift, then let the flies swing at the end of the drift.
If a few naturals begin to hatch, it might pay off to tie on a dry with a pupa imitation on a 24-inch trailing dropper. Cast, dead-drift, swing, lift the rod, twitch.
Some of the better pupa imitations include the Tungsten Dirty Bird, Mercer's Tungsten October Caddis, Morrish October BH Caddis Pupa.
ON THE SURFACE - HATCHING
Fishing the dry is a lot like fishing in hopper season. October caddis are not typically all across the surface with trout attacking them. But the flies are big and some trout are looking for them. The fly is trying to break free from the surface, get its wings dry, and fly off. Some accomplish this with ease, while others struggle.
After the natural has left the surface, it will not be available to trout again unless a strong wind drives it back to the river. At such times, the fly may be wind-smacked and a dead-drift is the preferable presentation.
Some of the great October Caddis dry imitations include Morrish October Caddis Dry Fly, Improved Orange Sofa Pillow, and Orange Stimulator.
This is a good time to stay with the time-honored dry and dropper routine with a small Rubber Leg Pheasant Tail, Emergent Sparkle Pupa (brown and yellow) or a yellow X Caddis in tow. Run the dropper about 24 inches back.
ON THE SURFACE - MATING
The next opportunity for the trout to eat the big bug is when the female returns for the egg laying dance.
When the adult female drops eggs atop the water, she touches down, lifts off, and touches down again. Sometimes the current pulls her under and she beats her wings to get back to the air, only to touch down again. This most often takes place from late afternoon until after dark, and the process will assuredly bring trout up off the bottom. Some trout get so engrossed in the ritual they will chase caddis out of the water and try to take them in the air.
Add skitter to the end of a dead-drift dry fly presentation with a quick mend to get the line up, and then turn a small circle with the rod tip. If the fly lifts off the water and touches back down, creating a bit of drag, it is okay. It is one of those moments in a dry fly fisherman's career when drag is a good thing.
Trout seem to materialize in the clear water and chase the bug for two, three, four, five feet across the surface.
Look at the "hatch" of the October caddis not as a single event, but as a process. It's October, what are we waiting for?
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To contact Gary Lewis, visit www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com