Gary LaFontaine wrote that October caddis are the most important ‘big fish’ hatch of the West, & I lean toward his point-of-view on that, at least as regards my home water the upper Columbia, where OC imitations take some of the best trout of the year. Interesting though, there seems to be widely mixed feelings about this insect, ranging from the positive Gary LaFontaine end of the scale, all the way to: “Aint wortha sh*t. Never caught a fish on one. They don’t eat em.” And I do admit to hanging near the cynical end of the fish-O-meter during my early years living in October caddis country. I’m a painfully slow learner, but, hammer long enough, something will break & the nut is revealed to even the thickest among us. Maybe confessing a couple of the things I know (now) I did wrong might serve to shed light on why others struggle when meeting the enigmatic Dicosmoecus.
My first mistake was allowing myself (for too long a time) to be influenced by the Great Big Fuzzy approach, as in great big fuzzy dryflies, always alluring, & sometimes effective, though day-in day-out not the best call, at least not where I fish. I was guilty of trying to make the trout conform to the way I preferred to fish, while the trout, for the most part, blithely foraged on subsurface pupae & emergers. The big dries do take fish & that is a happy occurrence, though trout seem more inclined toward them in the latter portion of the emergence season when a lot of adults have accumulated & colder weather starts to knock them down onto the water. Adults are strong fliers & you seldom see them stranded on the water during the early half of the season. On my home water, & I know this to be true of other rivers in the Columbia drainage, October caddis emerge early September through October, & though steady through the season, the ‘hatch’ is widespread & generally sparse, occurring from mid-day into dark. Dryflies tend to work best early morning & right up against dark, while wet imitations will take fish throughout the day. (Don’t get me wrong. Not saying one should dismiss any notion of fishing dries except during those times I say. O no. If you see a bunch of adult October caddis on the water & trout up & feeding on them, then you know what to do.)
But, most of the time, wet imitations will produce more trout. And that was another source of vexation, I spent a long time experimenting with patterns conceived in fog, due to my lack of understanding the natural’s behavior & actual appearance in the water. Slowly, year after year, hammering away, observation & revelatory stomach content checks informing, my fly patterns for OC & method of delivering them improved, & I started to feel great fondness for this insect, & anticipation of its appearance replaced perplexity. Not saying I’ve discovered any be-all, end-all patterns. There aint no such thing. Just saying I’m up the road a little further than where I started out with October caddis & am having more fun than befuddlement when meeting them, which makes me glad.
There are actually, to my mind, two subsurface phases of October caddis that are important on my home water. Though the imitation has merit on some waters, the cased stage is not a great producer on the UC, rather, it’s the uncased pupa & winged emerger that get the nod.
The cased larvae accumulate near the edge of the river in July, where they seal themselves off in the case & pupate until ready to emerge. When mature, the pupae chew through the seal & emerge from the case to clamber & swim near the bottom. This occurs throughout mid-day. The naked pupae are robust & active, many of them crawling clear of the flow to complete emergence on shoreline rocks & vegetation, but also a good number of them, their biological clocks ticking down the big event, emerge fully winged from the bottom of the stream & struggle to the surface – & a portion of those will be crippled & riding helpless in the flow. I carry both winged & wingless versions of October caddis, though, lately, winged versions like the one featured here are getting a lot play.
The October Flame is meant to simulate an emerging winged adult, & might be taken for a pupa or drowned spinner as well. I tie a more realistic version using brown mallard puff over the thorax, but an experiment using orange in place of brown, thinking to create a ‘color spot', yielded better than expected results & became a staple. Though the fiery orange thorax is a departure from stark realism, for reasons known only to themselves the trout are liking it. I tie these un-weighted, & usually fish them deep with a sink-tip line or splitshot on the leader. For deep, swift water like the UC, I fish this one on a 12’ sink tip, working downstream, quartering, dead-drifting, swinging, lifting, dropping back, dangling.
Hook: #8 Dai-Riki 889 (Depending on location, naturals are #8-#12 – #8, where I fish – I like the heavy wire steelhead hook to aid in keeping the fly deep, though a lighter hook might be more appropriate for skinnier water & smaller sizes – the TMC 200R is a good alternate choice.)
Body: Mix of 2/3 Umpqua orange sparkle dubbing & 1/3 Wapsi Superfine sulfur yellow dubbing, dubbed in a loop of the tying thread (Pumpkin orange on my home water, & that seems to be fairly common over the northern regions, though color will vary with location, pale orange to tan & yellow more common to the south into California. A wingless version of this pattern will fish for the pre-emergent pupae, but keep in mind that these are paler in coloration than the adults – a common mistake tiers make is representing the pupa with adult coloration – mixing in more of the sulfur yellow will give the lighter coloration.
Thorax: Puff taken from the base of an orange-dyed mallard flank feather – tie in around the center of the puff then fold back & arrange around the hook shank – the puff from one side of the feather tied in on top, & the other side tied in on the bottom usually does it, though it might take a bit more – this will extend over about half the body & when wet creates an enticing shroud
Antennae: 2 mottled turkey tail fibers extending well behind the hook bend
Wing: Pine squirrel tail
Hackle: Furnace hen ~ & finish.
Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird: http://ucflyfishing.blogspot.com