Caddis have always seemed to be one of the most overlooked and under-imitated aquatic insects in the fly fishing world. Maybe it’s because they haven’t been written about nearly as much as their sexier mayfly cousins over the years. I mean, mayflies are given names like Pale Morning Dun, Quill Gordon, and Gray Fox… just to name a few. Caddis are given names like Green Caddis, Brown Caddis, Black Caddis…
Regardless of the lack of respect given to caddis over the years, they have always been and continue to be abundant in nearly every body of freshwater and a staple in the diet of trout everywhere. I have numerous caddis patterns that I fish seasonally in the Smokies, but one that finds its way into the line-up more than any other is the Soft Hackle Wired Caddis.
There have been a number of wire body caddis patterns over the years and this is simply my variation on similar recipes. I sometimes tie it without a bead, but most often with a black tungsten bead at the head. It fishes well on a dead drift under a strike indicator but, especially when caddis are emerging, can be very effective fished with a drift and swing method. Learn more about this method and other similar techniques in this article on Active Nymphing.
Soft Hackle Wired Caddis
Hook: #18 – 12 TMC 2457 (or equivalent) Bead: Black tungsten to match hook size Body: Small chartreuse wire* Back: Peacock herl woven between wire wraps Thorax: Black or brown Wapsi Life Cycle dubbing* Hackle: Black or brown hen*
*Other colors can be substituted to match specific caddis species
Few fly fishermen, if any, possess the knowledge and experience of Joe Humphreys. Joe is probably best known as a teacher and an author, but over his many decades in the business, he has also created a number of original fly patterns. By far, my favorite is the Humphreys’ Caddis Pupa.
To be honest though, I’ve always been a little perplexed by the pattern. To me it bears little resemblance to a natural caddis pupa and doesn’t look like any imitation that I’ve seen or that I would create. In his book, “On the Trout Stream,” the only explanation Joe provides is “A good firsthand look at a caddis pupa prompted this tie.” Apparently Joe saw something in a caddis pupa that nobody else did, because his unique pattern has proven to be one of the most effective I’ve ever fished!
The body color can be varied to match caddis in a specific stream. I tie them often in olive and cream, but in the Smokies, most frequently find success with tan bodies. Some species of caddis hatches in the Smokies nearly anytime of year but the heaviest hatches tend to occur in spring.
It works best on any stretch of stream with more of a cobble or even sandy bottom. I frequently fish it as a dropper off a Neversink Caddis or in a tandem nymph rig below a soft hackle.
Humphreys’ Caddis Pupa
Hook: TMC 3761 or equivalent #18 – 12
Thread: Brown 8/0
Weight: Lead wire to match hook size
Butt: Peacock Herl
Body: Natural Hare’s Ear Dubbing (substitute other colors to match naturals)
Hackle: Dark Brown Saddle
Head: Peacock Herl
Fly Tying is a lot like cooking in many ways. Of course, in both pursuits, you’re combining a variety of ingredients to create one final product. And the quality of those ingredients along with the skills of the person putting them together can tremendously impact the end result. But the issue of originality is also quite comparable.
What constitutes an original recipe rather than simply a variation on an old standard is a very fine line. If you cook ground beef and put it on a bun with some cheese, it’s a cheeseburger. If you add sautéed onions, it’s a cheeseburger with sautéed onions. But if you use a different type of bread, it becomes a Patty Melt. Fly patterns have the same blurred lines of originality.
The pattern featured here is of my own design but I didn’t give it a very original name because, in my opinion, it’s really just a variation of a classic nymph pattern that the world already knows as a Pheasant Tail Nymph. My version here has a substitution for one material and the addition of two more materials. Is that enough to be considered totally original and warrant a brand new name? Maybe, but I didn’t think so.
In any case, it is a nymph I have been tying and fishing for about five years and it has become one of my favorite flies and most consistent nymph patterns. Like the original Pheasant Tail Nymph, it doesn’t specifically imitate one nymph. Rather, it’s dark and buggy and is suggestive of many mayfly nymphs and caddis larvae. The addition of rubber legs gives it a little more movement in the water, and the Ice Dub thorax and Krystal Flash wing provide a little more flash. I’m always wary of having too much flash on my flies, particularly when fishing for wild trout, but this seems to have just enough to add a little more life to the pattern without sending the fish running for cover.
Rob’s Flash Wing Pheasant Tail
Hook: TMC 2457 or equivalent, #18 – #12
Thread: 8/0 Brown
Weight: Black tungsten bead sized to match hook
Tail: Pheasant tail fibers
Abdomen: Pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Fine copper wire
Wing: 4-6 strands of pearlescent Krystal Flash
Thorax: Peacock Ice Dub
Legs: Black micro rubber legs
If you haven’t noticed by now, there are not a lot of “Hot New Flies” that I feature here. Most of the flies I fish with, particularly in the Smokies, are older, traditional patterns, or possibly an old staple that I’ve put a modern spin on. Maybe that makes me a curmudgeon. I don’t know. But until the old staples quit catching fish…
This month’s fly is no exception. The Zug Bug was created in Pennsylvania by Cliff Zug in the 1930’s. It was originally designed to imitate a cased caddis or caddis larvae but over the years has proven to be a highly successful generic or searching pattern. It’s popularity quickly spread through the Catskills and eventually to the American West. Today it is widely known around the world and is on the “must have” list of patterns for many fly fishermen.
While I have success with this fly throughout the year, it has been, for whatever reason, particularly productive for me in the late winter and early spring. During that time of year, I like to fish it deep and slow through slower pools, typically under a strike indicator. However, it also fishes well later in the year on a swing through pocket water.
It’s relatively easy to tie and is available almost anywhere that sells flies. Bead head versions are also available but I tend to stick with the original, mostly in sizes #16-12. If you don’t know this fly, you should! Play around with a few different sizes and variations and see what you think.
Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.
The Ginger Caddis of the Smokies is known in other circles as the Great Brown Autumn Sedge. Many lump it together with a few other similar species and refer to them all just as October Caddis. No matter what we decide to call it, fish just call it food! Caddis of numerous varieties are available most of the year in the Smokies but really seem to come into their own in fall. And of the many caddis species hatching in the fall, the Ginger Caddis is the undisputed king.
Ginger Caddis are big, big bugs – in the hook size #10-8 range to be exact. They are in the stream all year, most of the time in a larval encasement of lengthwise sticks. They feed mostly on decaying leaves throughout the winter and spring, and in early summer, when that food source has diminished, they seal off their cases and remain inactive until late summer. They begin pupation in late summer, with emergence, mating, and egg laying occurring in early fall. Eggs will hatch in late fall when most of the leaves have fallen, and the larvae will again begin feeding on this foliage. Their entire life cycle is completely synchronized with this food source and they are one of the most important converters of leaf material in the woodland streams of the Eastern United States.
What does that have to do with you? Well, it gives you a good idea of what to tie on the end of your tippet. You will probably only see a handful of these on the stream as the adults tend to fly mostly at night, but there is plenty of spillover near dusk and dawn. And trout don’t seem to care that their not supposed to be seeing them in the middle of the day because they regularly take imitations with plenty of vigor!
While there are a number of more exact imitations out there, I have found few flies that work better than an orange Stimulator or an orange Neversink Caddis in sizes #12-8. Even when they’re not hitting the dries, these are both highly buoyant dry flies that do a great job of suspending a dropper. For dropper nymphs, the usual suspects like Pheasant Tails, Princes, and Green Weenies are always good choices. Or you may try a #12 orange soft hackle pattern to imitate the Ginger Caddis pupa.
Actively fishing an orange soft hackle by itself or in tandem with another nymph can be very productive, especially in the early morning. Refer to the Active Nymphing article in the Journal section of my web site for tips. Ginger Caddis begin showing up (hatching) in the Smokies in mid to late September and typically hang around until late October.
Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.