|Black Hole Caddis tied by Steven Bird|
In my last post we considered the addition of a color spot or ‘hot spot’ to create a stand-out feature that might make our nymph more visible & attractive to trout. But color is not the only way to gain visibility. Sometimes fussy trout demand a more subtle form of obfuscation in a stand-out nymph.
The #12-#16 spotted sedge (Hydropsyche) emerging from June into August are the heaviest of the caddis hatches on my homewater. Spotted sedge concentrate trout & afford a long season of opportunity to experiment with new patterns, a thing I look forward to doing every summer at the river. The yearly rounds of fishing & observing & tying & binge thinking have led to some interesting discoveries that, more often than not, serve to tilt or even shatter notions gathered from past years.
Trout prefer the emerging pupae of spotted sedge above all other stages; & drifted & swung soft-hackle nymphs work well. At maturity, the natural pupae are chestnut-brown with black wing holsters, & abdomens ranging from cream through shades of tan & darker to chestnut brown. Many individuals exhibit an olive coloration on the abdomen, making them nearly identical to grannom pupae at emergence. (Spotted sedge are often mistaken for grannom, though more abundant than grannom in the
drainage.) Quite a few years of my search for better spotted sedge patterns were
belabored with the notion that nailing the colorations of the naturals was a
prime objective in creating a good pattern, right up there with correct size
& shape. And I did nail the natural colorations, at least to my own eye,
& came up with some decent fly patterns that have proven reliable, &
even, at times, taken with stupid abandon by trout – yet still I’ve not found
any one pattern to be reliable at all times & under all conditions. I
discovered early on that no one imitation would prove the be-all-end-all I
wanted. No perfect world. There are just too many nuanced variables influencing
our quarry’s momentary whims. And always subthemes running through. Columbia
Oh, & those bag-like creations based on the theory that sedge pupae rise from the bottom inside a bag of gas?... Phfft. But hold on, you who are gas-theorists, I don't want to lose you, stay with me, I think you might find some sparkling gaseous merit in the Black Hole patterns presented here.
A longtime mystery to me was the reliable effectiveness of dark nymphs like the Partridge & Peacock or Leisenring’s Black Gnat, which seemed to trick selective trout feeding on emerging spotted sedge pupae as well, & often better, than any of the more ‘imitative’ patterns I could come up with. I hate to admit it now, but that was a mystery to me for years, & I couldn’t explain it, so I shoved it into the ‘Unexplained Anomaly Department’ of my mind, where it needled, while I blithely pursued the color/material problem while missing the important lesson contained within the overly-dark nymphs.
Then one day, at last, I began to consider the prevailing light conditions, & what trout might be really seeing. I finally got around to considering that spotted sedge emerge in low light – The Gray: early morning, overcast days, & most importantly, evenings, after the sun leaves the water, until dark. It came to me that I spend very little time fishing in light bright enough to show my natural-colored patterns off to best advantage. I reasoned that trout feeding on emerging pupae near & on the surface were, for the most part, looking up at a gray background & actually seeing very little color at all, but rather, acting on more subtle cues like size, movement, & profile. I laid a sheet of gray construction paper on the table & laid out my favorite sedge emerger patterns on it. In light, the LBG & the P&P stood out starkly, like ink blots, like black holes, while the natural colorations tended to blend into the gray background. With distance, the ‘naturals’ faded more into the gray background, while the dark patterns remained very visible, as silhouettes. I picked up the paper with the flies laying on it & held it under the table in the shadows – & noted that the dark patterns remained more visible, & still visible when the ‘natural’ colorations disappeared from view.
The observation led me to believe that the Partridge & Peacock & Leisenring's Black Gnat work as emerger patterns for spotted sedge because: they provide movement by virtue of their soft hackles, & the dark (black, lack of) coloration is readily visible as a sharp silhouette in low light. There is good reason the simple Black Gnat was Leisenring’s favorite fly. And we’ve all heard some version of that well-founded bit of angling wisdom: ‘If you’re not sure what color, black is always a good choice.’ I think fish are used to seeing their prey as a colorless silhouette, so are less apt to refuse a black imitation of the right size & shape than they might an imitation of the ‘wrong’ color. Black is a reliable form of obfuscation, perhaps the most perfect form.
When fishing over a heavy spotted sedge emergence, or any hatch, you need an edge. Your imitation is competing against bazillions of naturals & must get the trout’s attention without being offensive, & the harder profile a darker imitation affords is an unobtrusive way to accomplish that.
But, of course, a fly tier can’t resist sullying the purity of plain black.
Looking at my nymphs in the shadows under the kitchen table, I noticed that the wire ribbing glows, reflecting light to near darkness, & that got me wondering if flash might be applied as an effective body material for a nymph, beyond simply ribbing, a sort of ‘hot spot’. I wondered if I might somehow get hi-vis profile, flash & color into the fly through incorporating colored tinsel, which would be a quick & easy tie &, I determined, would reflect some color in any available light while providing a hard silhouette in lack of light. Flash as the body material for a nymph is not exactly a new idea, of course, the 24 Carat, a soft-hackle, & the popular Copper John are a couple that come immediately to mind. Experiments, some ill-conceived, some not, led me to the low-light sedge emerger variants featured here, which caught trout & show promise. I started to play with the metallic designs at the end of the season this year so haven’t had a full season to try them out, though results so far are encouraging & I plan to fish them a lot next year, along with some other tinsel-bodied nymphs (including a damselfly nymph & midges) designed to fish for insect species other than caddis.
Black Hole Sedge
Hook: #10-#18 Daiichi 1150 or caddis style
Rib: (choice) fine wire wound over the abdomen & thorax
Abdomen: (choice) mylar tinsel – weight through the thorax area with about six turns of copper or lead wire & shape the body with thread or floss before winding the tinsel – after winding the rib over the tinsel & thorax, I coat the finished abdomen with Loon Hard Head to keep the rib in place over the slippery mylar tinsel & form a sturdy light-diffusing miasma over the abdomen which serves to blend the tinsel & wire colors, creating a juicy segmented effect
Thorax: peacock herl (attractive in light, turns black as light dims)
Hackle: Black hen or choice
Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird: http://ucflyfishing.blogspot.com