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Here Comes the Caddis

With the exception of a couple of very specific short-lived species (the mayfly and hawthorn) most fly patterns can be used throughout the trout season, and beyond if you target grayling. Try not to think of the dates in the fly box picture (below) as a ‘best before’ for each row of flies but as a ‘best after’. As each type of fly pattern comes into season, the natural it imitates either stays around significantly longer than one month or is superseded by very similar looking species.

Here Comes the Caddis

The importance of upwinged flies to us flyfishers should, by now, be apparent. One other group of insects sharing equal importance is the order Trichoptera, commonly known as caddis flies or sedges. Although there are a few species that emerge quite early in the trout fishing season most species of sedges tend to put in an appearance from summer right through into autumn. The range of species of caddis in the UK encompasses a huge amount of variety in diet, behaviour, habitat, size…

To cover all the various types would require volume upon volume of information. For most anglers, Trichoptera can be simplified greatly by dividing them into simple groups based on the fly patterns used to imitate them.

Caddis nymphs are often referred to cased and caseless. Cased caddis comprise many different families but are all characterised by their manufactured shelters made from various debris from the riverbed. Caseless caddis, as their name suggests, have no case and bear more than a passing resemblance to caterpillars; so much so that the Latin name for one group of caseless caddis is Hydropsychidae, which literally translates as water butterfl ies. Caddis nymphs are an important addition to the river fly box and will be covered in an article later this year.

In addition to nymphs, emerging adults and fullgrown adult dry flies, caddis have an intermediate stage known as pupa, which is of great importance to fly fishers. Unlike most other orders of insects with inactive pupal stages Trichoptera have an active and mobile pupa. All caddis build a shelter in which to pupate (in a similar way to a caterpillar’s chrysalis), but unlike the emergence of a butterfly caddis do not emerge as an adult from their pupal case. Instead they emerge as a very short-lived mobile pupa whose sole function is to get from the riverbed to the surface. It is this short journey that puts caddis pupae on the fish’s menu.

They represent a valuable meal for trout and grayling and many of the larger species will tempt fish to travel quite a distance from their lie to intercept these meaty mouthfuls. Fished as a single nymph, a team of two nymphs or with a large dry fly as part of a New Zealand style ‘duo’, the JP Caddis Pupa has taken more than its fair share of fish. When the pupae reach the surface to emerge, in my opinion there is no better pattern than the Klinkhamer. Often used inaccurately to describe any parachute fly on a curved hook, a true Klinkhamer is a large fly aimed at imitating an emerging caddis. If you’re the sort of angler who prefers surface sport then the Klink is a great fly for prospecting in most types of water, whether there are any hatching insects and rising fish or not.

When it comes to the adult stage, caddis flies and their imitations are somewhat similar to the upwing flies in that they all share a fairly common shape. Whereas upwings all have the common characteristic footprint of long tails, slender abdomen and upright wings, adult caddis all share the same low-profile wings folded back over their abdomen forming a roof-like shape.

As with the upwing flies we can use one or two basic patterns to imitate a large range of caddis flies just by varying the sizes. Caddis imitations on hooks from size 8 down to size 20 would cover almost all natural size varieties, but in practice, such a wide range of sizes would take up too much space in our fly boxes. I normally carry patterns in sizes 12, 14 and 16 with size 14 being the most commonly used. If I need smaller caddis imitations I find an F-Fly to be the perfect solution.

Picking Pockets

Caddis can be found in most types of river habitat but one of my favourites for summer fishing is the pocket waters found on boulder-strewn upland rivers. Many of these rivers offer fairly high numbers of hungry fish who each have quite small lies in each pocket. This leads to the fish having to make split second decisions on whether or not to take a fly before it travels downstream and out of reach, and in the turbulent water takes can be aggressive. Strategy for this type of fishing is fairly straightforward – that’s if your idea of straightforward is crawling up a boulder strewn river on your hands and knees! Whatever your chosen fishing method, the right stealth tactics can mean the difference between just a few fish and several dozen. In pocket water fish don’t tend to have a wider view of the above surface world, so when something does come to their attention, whatever it is, it’s usually right on top of them. Fish that don’t spook in these circumstances tend to end up as food for predators, leaving their more cautious brethren behind to challenge our fishing skills. The good news is that in this type of environment, we are afforded a lot of natural cover in both the tangible structure of the boulders forming the pockets and the intangible ‘curtains’ of white water and turbulence causing disruption to lines of sight, and plenty of noise to help mask any wading mishaps as we make our approach.

Try to approach each pocket (or group of pockets) from directly behind, keeping as low as possible. You can aim to use any rocks or boulders at the tail of the pool or pocket as cover, and I quite often use conveniently placed rocks to lean against as I fish up into the next pocket. Try to be wary of showing your rod over the pool as you get into position; on some rivers this can be a big mistake, and it amazes me how many anglers make so much effort to creep into position, only to wave the rod over the fish like a warning flag as they position themselves for the first cast.

Tackling Up

The basic principles are to keep as much line as possible off the water and fishing at as short a range as possible. As a consequence, as long and as light a rod as is practical tends to be better. On this type of water I will usually opt for my 9ft 6in 3-wt rod coupled with a French leader, or, on anything but the most overgrown of streams, I will often favour a tenkara outfit. Both setups provide plenty of reach to hold the line off the water (to avoid unnatural drag) and provide pinpoint accuracy on the smallest of pockets.

One recently memorable outing to one of my local boulder-strewn rivers took place while I was scouting for filming locations with Paul Gaskell of the Wild Trout Trust. Arriving at the river around mid-morning with only a couple of hours scheduled for our ‘scouting mission’, we’d both brought our tenkara outfits with us. A coin toss decided that I would get the first hours fishing so without wasting another minute I was off to the river for some pocket picking, tenkara style. I’d rigged up with a green JP Caddis Pupa attached to three feet of tippet with a hi-viz indicator between the tippet and leader. After a minute or two of creeping into position I was perched on a boulder at the bottom edge of a particularly productive looking pocket. Just as I was about to make my first cast there was a huge splash right at the tail of the pool literally two feet from me; this just goes to show if you take advantage of natural cover you can get within feet (sometimes even inches) of a fish. I’m more than happy to change flies at short notice so off came the Pupa before even getting a cast and on went a Klinkhamer. Keeping as low as possible my first cast of the session was met with a fantastic ‘slashy’ rise right in front of me, resulting in a pristine wild fish of around ½lb. This may seem too good to be true to those of you new to river fishing, but I assure you it happens far more often if you choose your spot carefully and make the effort to get into position as stealthily as possible.

A fish on the first cast is a great way to start any session, especially if your working schedule dictates it being a short one! I opted to leave the Klink on and prospect around the pocket in front of me before moving on or making any changes. Half a dozen casts with no takers was enough to assure me there were no other fish looking up for their food so I quickly reverted to the Caddis Pupa. In fast-flowing pocket water one or two casts is enough in any one area, as fish tend not to ignore an easy meal.

A few casts either side of the fast foam line at the top of the pocket and the indicator zipped away with an unmistakable take. Lifting into the trout was a surprise… all 3oz of it! Quickly unhooking fish number two I moved over the boulder I was using for cover and slowly positioned myself into the next available cover overlooking a longer pocket with a long ‘tongue’ of foam running straight down its centre. On pools like this it helps to mentally divide the water up into a grid and aim to fish each square on before moving on. On this occasion I could only effectively fish half the pool from behind my boulder but that accounted for three or four fish before I needed to break cover. After taking what trout I could from the lower half I slowly moved over the boulder and up into the pool.

Taking your time when moving can be frustrating but it will pay you back in the long run and, as if to prove my point, I was rewarded with three more finished off with a trout of around 1lb from the head of the pool. Moving a little further upstream and approaching the end of my hour’s fishing I spotted some sporadic rises at the tail of a large pool. With no particular flies coming off the water but given the fact that I’d seen a few caddis flies disturbed in the bankside undergrowth as I’d approached the river, I quickly switched to a CDC Caddis pattern for my last few minutes of fishing. Two more fish before my time was up left me with a tally of more than 10 fish in the hour… not bad when you consider that I’d probably spent a quarter of my time creeping and crawling into position. For over 10 fish in one hour, though, I’d hardly call that time wasted. When fishing dry flies in fast water, tie your Klinks with pink yarn rather than white; it will stand out far better against the foam line.