The humble caddisfly. This has to be one of the fly patterns that has been taken for granted for decades. Why would I say this? Simply put, they are everywhere, in every life stage, and form a large part of trout’s diet.
We tend to forget about these insects and focus more on the bwo or Pale Evening Dun hatch. I was actively chatting with my buddies about a specifically pattern that we think it will work better than the one we tried yesterday. We get so caught up in the new stage of discovery that we forget and miss what is right in front of us, and in most cases, it’s the caddis right there!
I am the first person to get caught up in new patterns, tips, and tricks compared to proven ones. Maybe it’s the thrill of trying something new. Who knows, but I remind myself to take a look in my old fly box a lot more this past season to see what I have tied and what could work on the next fly change.
Most of my patterns in this old box are caddis patterns, funny enough, with 80% of them being various nymphs.
The caddis is a great pattern to fish as a search pattern or as’ a ‘match hatch’ pattern. I have often thought about why the caddis isn’t always recognized as a great imitation and, in many states, ignored really, with preference taken towards the Mayfly and Stonefly.
Is it because the latter two have more thrilling hatches, and the fish tend to come to the party when the hatch starts, or is it just because caddis are everywhere and a very common finding in most water systems throughout?
Whatever the case, here are my top 11 patterns that will catch fish and should be carried for all conditions and waters.
The caddis nymph is so versatile and easy to tie. It’s almost a shame we don’t fish them more. On a more recent day trip, I was reminded never to overlook the caddis nymph ever again. We had been hiking and fishing a stretch of water that I was relatively familiar with without much luck.
My buddy, who I was showing the water, was getting less and less impressed as the day progressed. Now he knew this wasn’t a ten-fish-per-person river. It was quite the opposite. Few fish, but their size and condition usually make up for the lack in numbers.
It is only fishable at a certain time of the year and can prove to be very technical and temperamental.
Anyway, without much luck before lunch, we decided to stop and have lunch at the tail of a large pool. We ate and chatted about what we could try next and why we think weren’t catching. You know, the usual stream lunch chat.
During the chatter, I turned over a few rocks to inspect, and guess what I saw in abundance? Yip, you guessed it! The roaming caddis, it was a light bulb moment, and I know I shouldn’t have been, but it was. The very next drift post lunch, we were in with a beautiful specimen of a wild rainbow.
Now this goes to prove my point and why this particular article is so important for any trout angler. Caddis patterns catch fish, and we or I should be fishing them way more often, especially the nymphs.
There are three main types of caddis nymphs that roam our waters, and it isn’t uncommon to find at least two of them in the same system. The Free Roaming Caddis is one that does exactly that. It roams freely on the undersides of the rocks. The Cased Caddis is one that builds a small casing around itself for protection, and then Net Builders, which are technically free roamers which, build a net to catch food. I like to tie and fish nymphs that imitate most of these and cover my general need.
1. Tungsten Caddis
This is a heavy pattern, as you can see. The tungsten bead gets the fly down fast; it’s a great pattern to fish in both still and running waters. I tend to use the pattern just before a hatch and try to get the fly down deep, then swing it through the currents as an emerger.
Alternately fished as a normal nymph works wonders as well. The colors greens, peacock, and red tag work great in the more stained waters. A black bead or silver bead will work great in clearer waters. Fished in sizes #14 to #16.
2. Iris Caddis
This pattern is tied to fish as an emerging caddis or sedge. The sedge is more a British term for a family of various caddis flies. They are the same as caddis. Tied on a curved shank hook, the pattern works very well in both still and moving waters.
I tend to fish this pattern on a dropper-style fish and will happily let the dry drag a seam to create that emerging caddis imitation underneath. The natural colors are best for this pattern, and is a size #14 to #18
3. Beadhead Caddis Larva
This is a great pattern to fish on a double rig. It can be done on a dry dropper rig or on a double nymph rig. The pattern fishes well on the point fly, with a heavier point fly doing the hard work of getting the flies down in a faster current. This is a very life-like pattern that imitates a free-roaming caddis. I fish these in #14 to #18, in the natural green and black.
This has to be one of the best dropper patterns around. It has a very lively collar and really does spark the interest needed. I like this pattern in a heavier pattern as the collar does seem to parachute the drop a little. Keep to the natural colors, and make sure you have it ready for the session. I like to fish them in a #16 and #18 and even a few #14 when the pupa is large.
5. Micro Tungsten Bead Caddis
This is a hybrid of a small tube midge with the colors of a free flowing caddis. It’s a great fly to tie and catch fish. It imitates many a nymph and, with an added weight of the black bead, is a deadly little pattern. I like fishing size 18-20.
Guide Pro Tip- when tying up your various nymphs, we often tend to tie the heavier patterns to sink and get to the bottom fast. I have recently started to tie in a heavier collar, CDC, or hackle to parachute the fly and give more hang in the water. This is very helpful when the hatch is on and the fish are cruising the subsurface.
How to Setup for Nymphing
Their rigs can be as complex as you wish to make them. I fish competitively with anglers who have all the gear and techniques, and they do well. Then I fish with guys who have a very simple, streamlined approach to the water and barely carry anything, and they do just as well. It is all about what makes you comfortable to fish with confidence and what you enjoy the most, suppose.
I like a healthy blend of both. I like the theory and technique behind the chosen method but will happily fish to my weaknesses to catch fish.
As we know now, the caddis nymph is on the bottom of the riverbed, so this is where we need to focus. The best rig would be a euro nymphing rig or mono rig, as some refer to it. The aim is to keep that nymph bouncing on the bottom and always maintaining direct contact with the fly.
This works particularly well with heavier caddis nymphs as point fly because they are usually weighted. The second dropper pattern can be slightly smaller and lighter to cover the water just off the bottom. You can also use a wet fly or hybrid like the Micro Tungsten Bead
A ten-foot rod with a 20-foot leader is ideal. Again this is very subjective to each angler and can be altered as needed. This is how I fish, and this is what works for me.
For many years the dry fly approach to fly fishing was seen as the pinnacle and perhaps the only way to really catch trout. How things have changed, and as we know, there are many other attractive ways to target trout. Let’s not take away from the dry fly. It is a wonderful way to fish for trout and any species of fish that are sipping insects off the surface.
The Caddis dry fly is one of those old-school patterns that doesn’t get enough mention, namely the Elk hair caddis. This thing is a beast of a fly and works so well. Most of the dry’s work as well and have a great floating character due to the large wing imitation that is needed.
These patterns ride the surface very comfortably and can hold a dropper fly beneath them with ease. They are often a first choice for many anglers as a search pattern as well. The water profile is just so buggy the fish battle to leave it alone.
There many different caddis species around the world, and they make up a large part of trout diets. The most important thing to remember in the hatch is to match the hatch nearest the flies that are coming off the water.
A hatch generally starts small in size and gets bigger as it continues. I like to use this pattern as a search pattern on a dry dropper rig or as a singular dry fly. With the additional CDC fibers that act as the underwing, this pattern is very buggy and has a lovely profile on the water.
One can tie these with a sighter in the top part of the hair should you battle with sighting the fly as it lands. I often struggle with this and always like to see the fly land to follow it through the drift. I feel it’s too late if I pick it up midway through. Fish them in sizes #14 to #16.
Attached is an SBS to follow. Elk Hair Caddis
7. Elk Hair Caddis
Very similar to the first pattern, but this was the original one and had its place. The same style and build minus the CDC. The hackled body has similar traits to the CDC and elk. I felt it is important to note the similarities and minor differences. Keep the colors natural and in size #14 or #16
So this parachute pattern is a great example of how innovation will always trump tradition in my mind. Now, I have nothing against tradition, and I consider myself a traditionalist in some aspects, but the use of a parachute-style pattern just works wonders for me, and it’s a great way to fish a pattern in a slightly different way.
The pattern tends to ride a little lower in the water, with the parachute halo holding the fly up well. The bonus is the post can be tied in whites and hotspot colors, whichever works for you. I like to use hotspot orange during the day, and as the light fades, I tend to shift to a white post or a light chartreuse color. This helps in the last light stages as well. Fished in a Size #14 or #16.
9. Goddard Sedge
A must-have in any caddis/ sedge dry fly selection. These patterns work very well when fished with any rising fish. This sedge pattern, often referred to as the G & H Sedge after its creators John Goddard and Cliff Henry, is an excellent floater because of its dense deer hair body. Keep the colors natural and in a size #14 and size #16.
10. Black Caddis
The Black Caddis Fly perfectly imitates the adult caddisfly with its dark body and tent-shaped profile. Interestingly, the caddisfly is a small (think size16 to 20) moth-like insect, showing its close relationship to butterflies.
The best time to use this pattern is during the evening when the Black Caddisfly hatch occurs. The Black Elk Hair Caddis (Sedge) Fly, a design by Al Troth from the 1950s, has been particularly effective, imitating not only the shape of the caddisfly’s wings but also their natural movement in the water.
11. Balloon Caddis
The balloon caddis is a great pattern to have and to fish at certain times of the day or session. The same foam thorax adds to the buoyancy abilities of the pattern as well as creates a small bow wave when you skate the pattern on the surface. More on skating shortly.
The pattern floats well and holds a beaded dropper with ease. It is handy to use a color foam that you see better as the sighter. I find this helps to track the fly as it drifts down the run. Fish this in size #14 is best.
Guide Pro Tip- with reference to the above-mentioned ‘’skate the fly’ I like to do this with certain caddis patterns. Patterns that float well and can hold a dropper without sinking. The skate is exactly what the term says. I gently pull the fly to move faster than the water and create a bow wave. This is a great trigger for subsurface cruising fish. If you have a small wet fly below it, this can also imitate an emerger pattern and trigger an eat, especially with a caddis pupa swimming upwards.
The Bouncing Caddis technique is no secret and works a charm when the conditions are right. The linked video is a great document of how the trout respond to it. If you think of how the fish target low-flying caddis, dragonflies, or damsels, it is no wonder they react as they do to the hanging fly.
A key factor is to have a dropper fly heavier than you may usually fish it, as this serves as the anchor point to bounce from. Making sure the caddis pattern bounces and touches the water resting slightly between each lift. Make sure you create a significant disturbance each time. If you have ever seen a caddis fly drop and dip its abdomen each time, dropping eggs in the water, this is what you need to imitate.
This is a very exciting way to catch trout and really get the heart pumping.
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How to Setup for Dry Fly
Dry fly fishing is one of my favorite ways to fish a hatch. I find myself leaning towards a single dry at the end of a session. This is generally in the afternoon when the early evening hatches start.
Walking up onto those long deep glides, the ones you flag in the early season, for this exact reason. A single dry drift, a rising bow, and a gentle sip. All hell breaks loose thereafter. Those are the days that I live for.
When it comes to set up for the dry fly, I often just fish a dry fly on my tight line rig and have a great catch rate. It is just easier for me as I very quickly change back to a double nymph or dry dropper. On the days that I only fish a single dry, my setup is obviously very different from the nymph rigs.
Rods I tend to use a 3wt 8’6 Dry fly rod; it’s slightly shorter but casts like a dream.
Understanding the leader and what you want him to do is very important. Its functions for the purposed purpose are key.
With the tight line rig, your leader carries the flies with the energy from the fly rod. The weight of the flies is an important aspect of the functionality of this rig and its effectiveness. Your distance is compromised when you put a lighter dry fly on.
This is why I keep my same approach, close and shirt when fishing the dry on a tight line rig. Most of the waters I fish allow me to do so, but if you are fishing a bigger body of water, a dry fly leader and setup are necessary.
With the dry fly leader, you, A, don’t have the weight of the flies to work with, and B, you don’t want the tight line contact to the dry. You want the slack and the line’s ability to move. It’s this very slack that will allow the fly to drift drag-free and look as natural as possible.
As we all know, the DRAG is what kills the drift, and when there is drag from the fly or the line, we need to prevent it at all costs.
I like to fish a digressing tapered leader. Fifteen feet is good for me, to which I connect my tippet, about 6 feet of 6X. This leader is a combination of the Lefty Kreh 50/50 leader construction and the George Harvey leader build.
The only reason I do it like this is when I started building my own leaders. I never had all the required diameters for the Harvey-style leader. So, I had to improvise. The leader build turned out really well and rolled just perfectly.
A good dry fly leader is meant to land on the water with a few S curves and slack. These can be taken up by the various currents on the surface while the fly drifts unaffected down the drift.
Remember that the dry fly leader is designed to soften the energy for the fly line and gently let it roll and land. The added extra slack is what does this and is what makes this style of leader so popular. You never want a straight, taught, dry fly leader.
More Nymph Fishing Articles – WHY because NYMPHS Catch Fish!
- Best Rod, Reel and Line for Nymph Fishing – All about the equipment to nymph fish.
- How to Tie and Fish a Traditional Nymph Setup – An introduction to rigging up for nymph fishing.
- Nymph Fishing Styles Explained Traditional, Euro and Indicator – An overview of nymph fishing techniques and when to use them.
- Reading the Water for Nymph Fishing – Learn how to recognize the right conditions to fly fish with nymphs.
- A Complete Guide to Stillwater Nymphing – The title says it all, learn how to nymph fish lakes.
Last Cast with a Caddis
The caddis is one of those patterns that always has and will always work, which many of you and I started with and can relate to when we speak of dry fly hatches and fish. Tying them is always fun. They are mostly very simple patterns to tie, and the nymphs tend to catch a wide array of species. It’s always worth having a few in the fly box. Fish them in a hatch or not. They will get fish to the net, and you will have a fun time doing it!
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.