Caddis. Though it is true that trout prefer eating mayflies to caddis, mayflies (& stoneflies) aren’t nearly as available as caddis (sedge). And I believe it is true, as Gary LaFontaine sagely observed, that caddis are the most important streamborn insect to anglers. And I would add: particularly to soft-hacklers.
That is certainly true of my home water, where, with a few seasonal exceptions, mayfly hatches are stingy, sporadic affairs, rarely meeting the hopeful angler’s expectations, while caddis are on the menu April to November, with spotted sedge, the most prolific, providing reliable fishing almost daily, June through August.
Spotted sedge (Hydropsyche) is the most prolific caddis of the West. On my home water spotted sedge peak in early July & by late August emergers have diminished to a sprinkle just before dark, while, simultaneously, egg-layers & males emerged from previous nights assemble to deposit eggs, or, in the case of males, programmed for daily flights over the water at dusk, fly around until spent enough to fall (dive) into the water, as if, in their final moments of life, seeking to return to their place of origin.
Living beside the river, a lot of what’s hatching from the river is attracted to the house lights & ends up in the house. The kitchen is a convenient place to observe insect behavior. If there is water left in the sink basin caddis will invariably be attracted to it, hover above it, then plunge in, breaking the surface film. These seem perfectly at home under water, able to scoot rapidly, expertly kicking their legs & gliding, & able to keep that up for several hours without breathing air, just under the surface film. Once breaking through the surface tension they never regain the air. And though they are able to swim in rapid spurts, the buoyancy of the wings seems to prevent them from diving to a greater depth.
Which leads me to question the ‘diving down to lay eggs’ behavior often described by angling writers. I’ve not seen it. I’m seeing females dapping eggs on the water, to my mind a safer adaptation than having to dive down where there is danger of being eaten, not to mention the realistic hydrodynamics involved getting so light a being down more than a few inches in a 6-knot current. I’m just not seeing it. I may be wrong (& as a human being I reserve the right to change my mind) but my own observations lead me to think that the ‘diving’ behavior is simply the result of spent adults going for a final swim. Whatever the case, there are live adult caddis swimming under the surface film, usually enough to get a handful of trout up & going, a happy circumstance for the soft-hackler looking for a thrill on an evening during the dog days of August.
In the early season, trout prefer emerging pupae to winged adults, but in the late season, with fewer pupae available, the balance shifts to those spent adults that have been accumulating around the river, living for up to a month (or more). So late season is when ‘diving’ patterns come into play. As soft-hackle designs, these aren’t much different than the emergers I tie. The dark wing holster of the emerger is a prominent feature of the natural, so I hackle emergers with a darker wing, a dark brown brahma with heavy black mottling, or a dark mottled feather taken from a ruffed grouse, meaning the hackle to simulate the wing holsters as well as an emerging wing & legs. As adult caddis age their coloration fades somewhat (& the abdomens shrink), hence, I choose a lighter hackle on flies meant to be fished as an adult spotted sedge, a faded mottled brown or dun hen.
I carry several variants to cover adult or ‘diving’ sedge, as trout do exhibit regional, seasonal & even daily preferences for this one or that one, however, the version featured today is usually reliable & probably the most universal, as it serves to simulate a number of species, East & West. The material list for this pattern has been around for a long time. Ray Bergman described it, & it was probably in use before his time. I recall John Merwin, writing in the early 1970’s, extolling the virtues of this pattern fished in the rivers of
. I consider this one an essential
bait. Any serious trouter anywhere will
do well to carry these in #12-#18, & #8-#10 will cover many of the larger
sedges as well. Vermont
Hook: #14 Daiichi 1150 (most used, a #15-#16 can be tied on this short-shank hook)
Thread: tan UNI 8/0
Abdomen: light olive rabbit dubbing
Thorax: pinkish-brown fur dubbing taken from the base of a hare’s ear
Hackle: watery-brown speckled hen, grouse or partridge, trained back & tied down ~ & finish.