In this post, I’m going to share with you how to fish with one of my all-time favorite flies, the caddisfly imitation. I’ll give you a bit of biology of the insect, how to cast and mimic it and how to successfully catch more fish with a caddisfly.
One of the main reasons people struggle to start their fly fishing career is they don’t even know where to start. Rod, reel and line choices are complicated enough. Once you throw in fly selection, it feels overwhelming. How do you know what’s hatching? What should you use?
Table of Contents
- Flies Technique
- Life Cycle of a Caddisfly
- When to Use Caddisflies Fly Fishing
- Fly Tying Tutorials
- How to Cast a Caddisfly
- The Best Caddisfly Patterns
- Fly Tying Materials
- Gear to Use When Fishing with Caddisflies
- Fly Rods
- Fly Reels
- Fly Line
- Fly Fishing Gear
- Fly Fishing Caddisflies Tips, Techniques & Tricks
- Best Destinations for Fly Fishing Caddisflies
- Fly Fishing Species
- Are You Ready for Fly Fishing Caddisflies?
This is completely understandable, and the questions and stress don’t go away even for an experienced angler. There are, however, a few things that you must learn if you’d like to become a successful fly angler.
One of the most important things to know is the ins and outs of caddisflies. These are the main diet of trout all over the world. They’re abundant everywhere, and trout love to eat these flies. A few years ago, I took a few weeks and studied the caddis fly: when they hatch, what they look like, and how to fish them.
After those few weeks, I found myself becoming more and more successful each time I went out on the water. It takes some extra research on your part, but the payoff is well worth your time.
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Life Cycle of a Caddisfly
The first step to the successful use of a caddisfly is understanding their life cycle. This will help you time things properly and know what type of fly you should use and when. Knowing the science of the gear you’re using can pay off!
Stage 1: Larva
Like many other winged insects, caddis start out as larva. These look very similar to a small grub. At this point, they’re at the bottom of the water and are at their most vulnerable state. As a result, they build a protective case of things they find on the bottom of the river or lake.
At this point, anglers would consider these “nymphs.” You’d use a nymph pattern to emulate a caddisfly in a larva stage. The fly will stay in the larva stage for upwards of a year. As they get closer to their time to pupate, they close their case and wait for the exact right time to emerge.
The time they emerge heavily depends on the time of day and temperature of the water.
Stage 2: Pupa
The second stage of a caddis’ life is the pupa stage. At this point, they’ve emerged from their case and have formed a gas bubble to help them float to the surface. This bubble is filled with gas and gives them a sparkly appearance.
As they rise to the surface, they form their wings and are in the midst of becoming an adult. This portion of their life doesn’t last long. As soon as they leave the pupa stage, they enter the adult stage in the matter of a day.
Fly anglers will fish emerger flies at this point. When the flies are still developing their wings, fish will feast on them. They’re fairly easy targets, and when fish see this happening, they begin the feeding process. During a hatch, you may only have 45 minutes to an hour to throw emerging flies.
Stage 3: Emerging Caddis
At this stage, the caddis is no longer a larva. It has grown wings and begins emerging from the surface of the water and you will see them floating and then flying away from the water surface.
Stage 4: Adult Caddis Fly
The third and final stage of a caddis’ life is the adult stage. Caddis look very similar to moths. They have long wings that lay flat on their body. Once they emerge from the water, they float until their wings dry, and then they begin flying.
They fly around until they find a mate. As soon as they mate, the caddis will fall to the water. This is another common point when the trout will feed. The adult caddis lays on the surface of the water after mating in hopes of laying their eggs. Some of these flies will actually swim to the bottom, but many hang out on the surface.
Overall, caddisflies live upwards of one month. These hatches occur on a regular basis, but be sure to check with your local fly shop to learn the best times and patterns that you should use.
When to Use Caddisflies Fly Fishing
Caddisflies start hatching late in the spring all the way through the summer. These hatches can happen on a daily basis, so don’t worry about how often you’ll get to use your caddisflies. In my experience, I’ve found that these flies hatch more often in the evening than they do in the morning.
If I only want to fish caddis, I get to the river around 4 pm and start throwing streamers. The fish are starting to get active, and I like to see if I can frustrate one enough to bite. In the meantime, I’m closely watching for a first glimpse of a caddis.
As soon as I see a few caddis flying around, I tie on a caddis emerger. This will usually land me a few fish until the hatch truly starts going. Once I start seeing groups of caddisflies above the water, I know it’s time to go. I tie on what I think is the closest match and see what happens.
Caddisfly hatches are some of the most entertaining hatches. The flies are big and the fish are hungry! It’s not uncommon for fish to soar out of the water to try and eat some of these flies.
How to Cast a Caddisfly
Depending on what type of fly you’re throwing, your technique will change. If you choose to cast a nymph, you’ll want to focus your time on the riffles and up against the bank. Cast at an angle upstream and let the fly drift down into a seam or riffle.
As the fly is drifting towards the seam, start to pull in the slack and raise your rod tip. You want the nymph to be in complete control. If you let the line drag, you’ll ruin a natural looking drift. Keep the rod tip high as it drifts past you. With nymphs, you likely only have 10-15 feet of natural looking drift.
If you’re casting an emerging caddis, go ahead and throw it near any rises that you see. I call this type of fishing target practice. It’s a great test to see how accurate your casts are. Cast near a rise and let it drift. It usually won’t take long for you to have a fish. Depending on where your emerger sits in the water column, you may want to use a bit of strike putty.
Strike putty will help you detect minor strikes. It’s amazing how much better and more confident you feel when you’re able to see what strikes you’re receiving.
The same advice for emerging flies applies to dry flies. Anywhere you see a rise, cast. This is the one time in fly fishing that the fish make it a bit easier for you. They let you know where they are and you can easily pick your spots. With dry flies, it’s important that the fly leads the charge. Don’t let your leader or fly line pull the fly downstream. It’ll make it appear unnatural.
The Best Caddisfly Patterns
Besides mayflies, there may not be another fly with as many options as the caddisfly. Anglers often find themselves completely overwhelmed when they’re choosing the proper fly. This is when it’s important to take a look at your local hatch chart or talk to a fly shop to receive some advice.
Green Rock Worm
The Green Rock Worm is a wonderful caddis nymph. The green body, black hackle near the eye of the hook and bead head make this a perfect option on your next adventure. Be sure that you attach a strike indicator when you’re using this pattern.
These are some of the most basic nymph patterns you can tie, but it’s well worth your time. They do a wonderful job imitating caddis larva. Cast this fly upstream, and let it drift back towards you and bounce along the bottom. I’ve caught hundreds of fish on this fly. After a while, you can essentially predict when you’re going to get a hit.
One little dip of the strike indicator and you know that you have a fish. Depending on the speed and size of the water, you may need to use a weight forward line or attach a split shot. You need this fly to be on the bottom. However you can accomplish this, do it!
Plus, it’s smart to fish this fly on a rocky bottom. The caddis larva often attach themselves to a rock under the surface. I’ve had some success on sandy bottoms, but I’m much more productive on a rocky bottom.
The Sparkle Pupa is likely the most famous caddis emerging fly. The green “bubble” is a nice representation of the casing and air bubble. This is a challenging fly to tie, so I usually purchase it from a local fly shop before I hit the water. I trust their fly tying abilities.
This fly will sit just below the surface. Some anglers choose to apply a bit of floatant to this fly, but I like to let it sit in its natural state. It’ll drift right below the surface. I like to throw this fly before the hatch officially gets started. I also like to fish this fly without a strike indicator or split shot.
Since it’s a bright green and sits right below the surface, I don’t have any trouble seeing it on the water. Plus, in my experience, the fish will leave the water to eat this fly. Some anglers swear by strike indicators, but I’ve found that I’m plenty successful without them on this fly. Whatever you need to do, go ahead!
Caddisfly fishing is all about experimentation. You never know what size of fly the fish want or what color. Take some chances and do some experimenting. You’ll be pleased with what you find!
Elk Hair Caddis
The Elk Hair Caddis is the most important and useful fly on this list. It’s a classic in the world of caddisfly fishing. The Elk Hair Caddis doesn’t require much floatant and can be fished in a variety of ways. If there’s a nice hatch going and I’m not getting strikes, I like to dance it on the water.
The other important thing to know when you use this fly is that you should carry it in multiple colors. Have black, tan and olive colors. These will lead to the most fish. Cast any of these near the rises that you’re seeing and you’ll be shocked.
Also, size differential can be important. I carry these flies all the way from size 10 to 20. I find myself struggling the most with what size of fly to throw. I’m never quite sure what will be required of me. I make it easier on myself by carrying a variety of different sizes and doing some trial and error. More often than not, I find that a size 14-16 is the most successful.
X-Caddis looks very similar to Elk Hair Caddis. However, it has a much different performance on the water. The “tail” is an added touch that entices the fish to make a swipe at the fly. The one downside of this fly is that it doesn’t have as much material as the Elk Hair CDC Caddis.
The Elk Hair Caddis will sit very nicely on the surface of the water. You’re able to skate the fly around and cause quite a bit of commotion. The X-Caddis isn’t as easy to maneuver. It will sit in the film of the water and is almost a better representation of an emerger fly.
If the fish want a more sluggish-looking fly, the X-Caddis is the perfect option. If you’re going to use floatant, be sure that you use very little. You don’t need this fly to sit on top of the water because it won’t twitch very well. Let it sit in the film and act like a caddisfly that’s drying out in the water.
This was the first dry fly I tied. It took me quite a few tries, but I eventually learned how to do it. I have the fly saved for a special occasion! I felt it was a monumental accomplishment when I finally learned how to do it. If I know a bite is hot, I may choose to pull it out and see what I can land.
Steeves’ Masquerade Caddis
I love this fly. It utilizes rubber as well as quite a bit of elk hair. I’ve found that this is one of the easiest flies to spot on the surface of the water. The rubber legs do a great job of imitating one of the larger caddisflies you’ll find.
Cast this fly near any of the rises and you’ll likely land quite a few fish. Another aspect of this fly that I love is that I rarely have to apply floatant to it. The rubber and foam keep it on the surface. If anything, the elk hair will sink into the water.
At this point, it emulates an emerging fly! As far as caddisflies are concerned, this is one of the most versatile. I’ve had the most success with the olive color of this fly. The fish can’t get enough of it!
Bird’s Octoberfest Caddis
Bird’s Octoberfest is an amazing fly. The attention to detail on it makes it fairly expensive, but it’s well worth the price. Use this in the late fall and you’ll land fish. There’s usually only one hatch later in the day during the fall. The sun is at its peak, and you know it’s time to start throwing the Octoberfest.
Be diligent when applying floatant to this fly. You’ll get quite a bit of use out of it and it needs to be sitting on the surface. You can skate this fly all over the place. However, the later in the season it gets, the less feisty fish become. Start by using small twitches and get more aggressive if needed.
Jake’s Hi-Vis CDC Caddis
This is one of my dad’s favorite flies. His eyesight isn’t the best, so any sort of hi-vis fly makes his life easier.
The small piece of orange foam makes this a great option. Plus the sparkle hackle on the bottom of the fly is appealing for the fish as they look towards the surface.
Gear to Use When Fishing with Caddisflies
Whenever you’re fishing dry flies, the most important thing is your line, tippet, and leader. Pay careful attention to these before you set out on the water!
As long as you’re using a rod that you’re comfortable with, you can go ahead and use it. Any size trout will hit a caddis fly. Be aware of how much power you’ll need to cast and fight the fish, and make your selection based on those details.
Your reel needs to match your rod. You can’t mess up your balance when you’re casting with dry flies. The accuracy of your casts is quite important, and an awkwardly-weighted rod will create quite a bit of a challenge for you.
If your reel is more than one size heavier or lighter than your rod, you need to change it! You have a bit of leeway, but you should do your best to keep it as close as you possibly can. Go ahead and purchase a large arbor reel as well.
Floating line is the best option regardless of what type of fly you choose to use. Even if you’re using a nymph, tie on a floating line. This will give you the most control all-around.
Your leader should be between 3 and 5x. This size can handle the heavier fish you catch and still give you control over the fly. I like to use a 9′ non-tapered leader because I find that it’s easier to tie tippet to it.
When you’re choosing a tippet, make sure that you understand the clarity of the water. Ultra-clear water requires 5 or 6x tippet. Otherwise, a bit cloudier water gives you the chance to use 4x. I like to stick to 4x as much as I possibly can. I struggle to tie anything smaller, but that’s a personal problem!
Fly Fishing Caddisflies Tips, Techniques & Tricks
Caddisfly fishing requires patience and practice. I spent the first two years of my fly fishing career confused about how I needed to fish with these flies. It all depends on your local water. Be willing to learn and make mistakes!
Timing Is Imperative
When you choose to fish caddisflies, make sure that they’re in season and hatching. You won’t find any sort of success if you’re throwing a fly that’s out of season. The fish are smart enough to know that something is wrong.
Again, these flies hatch in late spring and throughout the summer. Before a hatch in the middle of the day, go ahead and throw the nymphs. As the sun begins to set, tie on an emerger until you start seeing caddisflies above the surface.
Focus on the Rises
In dry fly fishing, focus on where you see fish. If you see a rise up and across the stream, cast towards it. As soon as your fly hits the water, it likely won’t take long for a fish to strike. 95 percent of my strikes come within 5-10 seconds of my fly hitting the water. After this, I don’t have a problem recasting.
Action Is Good
If you’re dead drifting all of your flies and not catching anything, go ahead and cause some commotion. This will entice some fish to strike. Twitch, skate and strip as much as your heart desires. There’s no one single method that has proven to work all the time!
Experiment and see what you can learn.
Best Destinations for Fly Fishing Caddisflies
There are few areas more productive with caddisflies than the western United States. You can’t go wrong making a trip out and seeing what you can find.
The Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch on the Yellowstone is a must-visit for any diehard dry fly angler. This hatch is magical and the fish are starving. They can’t wait to feast on the millions of flies hatching! Be sure to put this at the top of your bucket list.
Also, be sure to visit the Madison River. The hatch is extremely prolific on this beautiful body of water as well.
Check out our full guide to fly fishing in Montana.
Are You Ready for Fly Fishing Caddisflies?
Fly fishing with caddisflies is one of the purest forms of entertainment for fly anglers. These large flies make fish go crazy. I’ve had hours of fun on the water trying to land fish with insects flying all around me.
You’ll truly feel like a fly angler when you land a fish on a caddisfly. Do some research on your local bodies of water and make the trip. You’ll end the evening with a big smile on your face!