Caddisflies produce top-water trout action

If someone had told me I wouldn’t catch a single trout on a dry during the entire month of May here in central Pennsylvania, I would have been willing to bet almost anything I owned to the contrary.

But that is indeed what happened last year — the lack of dry-fly success, that is, not the huge wager. For a dry-fly fisherman, the month of May in our part of the world can be about as good as it gets: perfect spring weather and some of the best hatches of the year to bring lots of trout to the surface to feed. The operative word in that optimistic description is “can,” because last May was anything but perfect for fly anglers in general and dry-fly enthusiasts in particular.

As much as I dislike recounting it, constant rain throughout the month had every stream running high most of the time and all too often unfishable by any means.

With the unrelenting rain came many cold, dreary days rather than the glorious spring weather we expect during May. In fact, I seem to recall seeing some snow flurries on May 1 last year; that’s why I was especially delighted when an exuberant rainbow trout grabbed a dry fly for me last week on the first of May.

At the time, I didn’t realize that May had already arrived. I was just enjoying the chance to get in a few hours of fishing that afternoon and had caught five or six fish on my way to one of my favorite pools for the first time this season. That reliable spot quickly surrendered two more trout, and as I released the second one, I saw the first few fish rising at the top of the pool. Not many flies were hatching, just a few caddisflies and an occasional small mayfly. The splashy rises indicated that the caddisflies were getting most of the trout’s attention. Not needing much more persuading, I clipped off the nymphs and split shot I was using, adjusted my leader and tied on a caddis imitation.

On the third cast, the aforementioned rainbow became my first trout on a dry fly of this season. Four or five casts after that, another rainbow eagerly snatched my little caddis imitation.

Gratified by some quick success, I moved to my next target. I had noticed a few rises beneath an overhanging bush, which looked like a bigger fish as well. The location and the more deliberate rises indicated that fish was probably a brown trout. I placed three or four what appeared to be perfect drifts over the spot with no results.

As I surveyed the situation, a live caddis floated down and began fluttering as it attempted to leave the water’s surface. The trout grabbed it instantly.

I delivered another cast under the bush and allowed the fly to drift naturally for a foot or so, then twitched it slightly. The fly disappeared in a large swirl, and I was attached to the nice brown trout I had expected. After that, two more rainbows came to my caddis pattern before I saw large swirl tight to a fallen log on the opposite bank.

On the first two casts, the fly swept past the log unmolested. On the third offering, a small twitch produced a solid take, and after a stout battle, I slid my net under a beautiful, 15-inch wild brown trout that had literally inhaled the fly. A trout that size is a true trophy on that particular stream, so I took an extra few seconds to admire it before releasing it to fight another day.

A combination of fly pattern and presentation produced that enjoyable hour or so of dry-fly fishing last Wednesday afternoon. The pattern was my personal variation of the popular Elk-Hair Caddis that works well for matching many species of caddis or as a general-purpose attractor pattern for prospecting when nothing specific is hatching.

The body is dubbing or other suitable material in a color to match the species of caddis that happens to be on the water. Black, brown, olive and tan will cover the majority of them. Elk hair in natural or dyed gray or brown is used for the wing. Instead of wrapping a hackle over the body of the fly as is the case for the standard Elk-Hair Caddis, I wrap a heavy hackle collar in front of the wing. Hackling the fly in this manner allows it to float higher on the surface and makes it easier to twitch when necessary. I call it the Skittering Caddis.

Caddisflies are often more numerous than mayflies on many of our trout streams and can produce many great dry-fly opportunities throughout the season. I always have an assortment of both Elk-Hair Caddis and Skittering Caddis with me on the stream.

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