Fountains of Youth – Classic trout flies that have withstood the test of time … flies that remain “forever young”
by Rusty Dunn
‘Stoneflies’ are named for the stony-bottomed, well-oxygenated streams that the insects inhabit. ‘Mayflies’ for the month of May, during which hatches of historically famous English species reach their peak. But what of ‘caddisflies’? How were they named? Today’s term ‘caddis’ originated in the middle ages from the root word ‘cod’, which is a husk, bag, or pouch. Larvae of many caddisfly species live within such cods, known today as ‘cases’.
Dame Juliana Berners recommended use of cased caddis larvae as live bait when she wrote in 1496 “put on thyn hoke a codworme” in A Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle. ‘Cod’ and ‘cad’ were often used interchangeably in Middle English, and by the 1600s, common names for cased caddis were various permutations of both words, including ‘cad bait’ (1620, Secrets of Angling), ‘cados worme’ (1634, Theatrum Insectorum), ‘Cadis-worme’ (The Compleat Gentleman, 1622), and ‘cadice’ (The Art of Angling, 1651). The modern spelling ‘caddis’ appeared as early as 1653 in the first edition of The Compleat Angler by Isaac Walton, whose entomological naiveté was evident when he wrote that a trout “especially loves the Mayflie, which is bred of the Cod-worm or Caddis“.
Caddisflies inhabit all trout water and are especially important in streams whose water quality is compromised. When water quality declines, the number of aquatic insects declines similarly. Stoneflies are the first to dwindle in number, followed by mayflies. As the food base shrinks, so does the sustainable population of trout. The good news is that caddisflies are a hardy lot, persisting in the face of most human insults. You’ll find varying numbers of stoneflies and mayflies during your trouty travels, but caddisflies will always be there. A well-stocked box of caddis patterns is perhaps your best angling companion.
Most caddisfly species build cases of sand, gravel, or
foraged vegetation glued together with a sticky secreted silk. Larvae live within such protective cases, which are attached to rocks or wood on the stream bottom. Many caddis species carry their cases like travel trailers as they forage and move about the bottom. Trout feed on cased caddis by plucking cases from rocks or taking them adrift in the current. A few cased caddis probably drift throughout the day, but greater numbers are available during times of behavioral drift. Like many aquatic insects, cased caddis exhibit a daily behavioral drift, during which occupied cases detach from the bottom at reproducible times and drift downstream before reattaching. Behavioral drifts of most aquatic insects peak at dawn and dusk, but those of several important cased caddis species occur in mid-day. Trout feed readily on drifting cases, especially when little else is hatching.
Many generic nymphs are reasonable imitations of cased caddis, but the Strawman nymph, designed by Detroit’s Paul Young, was the first explicit imitation of the group. Young, who is most famous for his delightful hand-made split-bamboo fly rods, offered Strawman nymphs in his tackle catalog as early as 1927. The pattern was later published in his 1934 book Making and Using the Dry Fly.
Today’s most popular cased caddis pattern is probably that of George Anderson, owner of a well-known fly shop in Livingston, MT. He designed the ‘Peeking Caddis’ in the 1970s to imitate Mother’s Day caddis of the Yellowstone River. Quoting Anderson, “The key to tying an effective (cased caddis) imitation lies not only in imitating the case but in convincing the trout that it actually contains life“. His pattern imitates a caddis larva protruding from the open end of its chimney-like case. A band of brightly colored dubbing imitates the abdomen, and a collar of ostrich herl imitates the protruding thorax and head. The fly catches trout wherever they are found. If you’ve ever been puzzled by the seemingly inexplicable effectiveness of John Bethke’s Pink Squirrel, look no further than George Anderson’s Peeking Caddis for inspiration and guidance.
Copyright 2017, Rusty Dunn
|Hook:||2X-long nymph hook; #10 – #16|
|Weight:||An underbody of lead or non-toxic wire.|
|Thread:||Black, 6/0 or 8/0|
|Rib:||Oval or flat gold tinsel.|
|Body:||Natural hare’s mask fur, tapered slightly.|
|Thorax:||A band of cream or bright green fur dubbing.|
|Legs:||Brown partridge feather barbs, tied either as a collar (Anderson original) or a beard (most popular today).|
|Head:||Black ostrich herl.|