Fly Fishing the Cicada Hatch

How to Fly Fish with Cicadas [Plus an Easy Fly to Tie]

A BUZZ is in the air.  Like clockwork Cicada’s hatch and swarm in different parts of the US.  These buzzing bugs are the perfect meal for Bass, Trout, Carp and Striper.  The trick fly fishing the cicada hatch is being in right place at the right time. 

That last sentence seems to be the story or my life, the great thing with Cicadas is that they’re predictable.  Watch the weather temps in the right area of the US and you’ve got an excellent chance of matching the “Cicada Hatch”

A Little Bit about Cicadas

These big, ugly lumbering bugs look like mutant house flies to me.  Broods emerge in different areas of the country following either a 13- or 17-year cycle.   From what I can find is nobody really understands why the bugs follow these cycles.  Whether the cycle was forced as a reaction to bird cycles or to overwhelm the ecology to ensure a brood sustains into the future.

Magicicada Hatch for Fly Fishing
Magicicada Hatch for Fly Fishing

A brood is a group of cicadas specific to an area and a year.  As an example Brood X will hatch in Indiana, Mid-Ohio and parts of the Smoky Mountains.

Wikipedia has a good write up and amazing sound recordings of Cicadas from around the world.

When Do Cicadas Hatch?

Cicadas hatch when the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees and stays dry.  A heavy rain slows the emergence of these clumsy bugs.  This is perfect for the fly fisher, because the fish are warming up and trying to put on pounds from the winter slow down.  April and early May is also when fishing seasons tend to open across the U.S.

USA LINK today published an illustrated article a little while back that summarizes the cicada lifecycle, it doesn’t get into how to fish with cicadas – but you’ve got me to help.  Check out the article here.  

Dan Mozgai has a cool website called Cicada Mania LINK that has everything you might want to know about these bugs if you dig enough.  I particularly like this video that details the Cicada Timeline.

Setting up a Fly Rod to Cast Cicadas

Cicadas are big, at 1 ½ inches long and with a wingspan of 3 inches you need to use a stout fly rod to overcome wind resistance and punch this fly out casting. 

I would recommend a 6 to 8 weight fly rod, 9 feet long.  Load that rod with backing and a weight forward fly line.  A favorite fly line taper for these heavy bugs is a Bass taper.  Bass tapers fly lines have most of the line weight forward creating a shooting head.    

Fly Rod Setup for Cicadas
Fly Rod Setup for Cicadas

Onto the fly line tie a short heavy leader.  Start with a 7 foot – 1X tapered leader and cut it down to about 5 ½ feet.  The objective cutting the leader down is to remove the tippet section, which leaves a heavy “thick” line to turn the cicada fly over. 

I use a 10-foot, 7 weight Winston BXII.  I don’t think Winston sells this rod anymore, but the med-fast action works great for my weak arm plus the extra length gives me a little bit more UMPH since I’m a little guy. 

This rod casts perfect with the 7 weight Bass Bug line from Scientific Anglers and then I use the cheap leader I sell at River Traditions –  Tapered Leaders (3) for $2.94. Scientific Angler sells leaders on Amazon which is convenient here’s a link – Scientific Anglers Freshwater Leader

Finally finish up with a size 6 to 10 cicada.  Black and orange are the primary colors I use for the periodic hatches and I’ll tie the same pattern with green for the common annual cicada I get here in Michigan.  

How Long is the Cicada Hatch?

Cicadas are a regional, so the “hatch” is dependent on where in the country you are.  The hatch is usually 3 weeks long.  From April to June the hatch will move from the south to north following the 64-degree ground temperature

Guide Tip: Ground temperature in the daylight is typically higher than air temperature.  In terms of fly fishing southern states will see the Cicadas in early April.

Where to Find a Cicada Hatch

Often when a big cicada hatch is happening the local news will highlight the sounds and do a story.  A neat example is this

So how does a fly fisher use this information?  It seems silly but do this -In google type cicada hatch in XXXX (fill in town, city or county)

I’m heading to the Smoky Mountains in May and before heading south I did this exact search to see if I’d “hit” the hatch.  Sure enough, I should see a hatch so I’m tying a bunch of flies to fill my fly box.

Here are the results of my search – Yes!  Bugs in May

Find Cicada Hatch for Fly Fishing

Some other Resources to Find Cicada Hatches

The USDA Forest Service has a map that’s pretty good.  It gives brood year labels and a rough map of where to see the “Bugs” See    If you dig deep you can find a map detailing where each of the broods will hatch. The map below is from the USDA Forest Service.  See below:

Cicada Map from US Forest Service

Get a copy of the map from the Forest Service here.

Another place to look is an APP being developed by the IT folks and Gene Kristky Ph.D. and Dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences at Mount St. Joseph University (located in Cincinnati, OH).  I haven’t played with the app but you can find it at Google play and Apple app store.


How to Fish a Cicada Hatch

First, you’ve got to find the bugs.  If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that’s hatching (buy some ear plugs so you can sleep) then setup your fly rod.  Look for slow flowing rivers and lakes.  Pay attention to wind direction, just like fly fishing with grasshoppers and other terrestrials these bugs aren’t the best fliers.  Downwind shorelines are going to be your best place to be.  Of course, casting in windy situations is tough, that’s why you need a heavier fly rod (+6 weight) and that bass taper fly line.

Once the fly hits the water, LET IT SIT.  Cicadas seem to drown quickly and don’t kick and squirm like a grasshopper.  An occasional twitch of your fly rod is all the action needed.

The cicada pattern I like rides low in the water, it’s not great for casting so you need to strip in a lot of line before you cast. 

An Easy to Tie Cicada Fly Pattern

Receipt and Video

An Alternate Flies for Cicada Hatches

  • A size 6, Madam X with red is a good choice.  It doesn’t have the black but let me give you a little tip.  Use a black permanent marker and color the underside black.
Madam X Fly
Madam X Fly
  • Chubby Chernobyl’s in size 8 and 6 with black and orange are great.
Chubby Chernobyl Fly
Chubby Chernobyl Fly

5 Tips for Fly Fishing Cicada Flies

  1. These bugs require some advanced reconnaissance.  Luckily so many studies have mapped the different broods you can get the specific timing. 
  2. An excellent alternative to a cicada fly is the Chubby Chernobyl. 
  3. Don’t twitch a cicada much.  Once a cicada hits the water it isn’t strong enough to get airborne again, so it dies. 
  4. Most of the time during the cicada hatch the fish aren’t line or leader shine.  So, cast often and don’t let a splashy cast get you discouraged.  (These are big flies and tough cast)
  5. Partially sunken flies are preferred.  Cicadas are not high floating bugs, don’t treat your bugs with dressing.  The foam used on most patterns will absorb some water – this is a good thing.

Last Cast

Don’t miss out on this hatch, it’s similar to the Michigan Hex hatch in that if you don’t have the right bug on the water, you’re not going to catch much.  I tie my cicadas, YES, I know they’re ugly, tough to cast but guess what? They work and I don’t have to pay +4 each for a fly that emerges once every 17 years or so.

Some Great Articles You Should Check out

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish

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