From around mid-September the first caddis hatches of spring arrives almost as a windfall for hungry fish that need to stock up just before the rigors of the spawn start. It is also a windfall for the angler who has grown weary with the technicaly demanding fishing of the slow winter days. In contrast, fishing caddis hatches is pretty much a straight forward affair of effectively covering emerging pupa cressending with a surface rise that’s like the 101 of dry fly fishing . Things happen pretty much the way they are supposed to. It’s a fast paced affair and its fun that kicks into high gear around October.
A few factors contribute to this spring hatch being such a glorious affair for fish & fisherman. Probably the most important is the fact that these hatches are thick and an almost daily occurrence. I say “almost”, because in spring the weather is unfortunately not as dependable as the caddis hatches and when a late cold front, with its usual low pressure cell, moves through, the fish tends to sulk.
Another factor is that this daily bounty of bugs brings the fish, including some serious specimens, on the feed . And because the streams and rivers are low and clear at this time of the year, it means a lot of that feeding will take place on the surface. The surface being the feeding lane which captures the biggest fascination of a hatch junkie. Lastly, the hatch peaks in the gloom of dusk. With the biggest concentration of bugs on the surface at this time, the fish feed boldly on top, moving right up into the structured braids of pool heads and slipping into the thin tail outs under the cover of dusk. This means a lot of stationary targets, feeding rhythmically, sitting in current seams and flat spots making the fishing a bit more predictable and allowing you the luxury to concentrate on things like how to set up your presentation, instead of just getting your fly in front of the fish.
To a flytier the insects that live in the streams and rivers holds a great fascination and from a hatch junkie’s point of view, this is a good thing. After all, it helps a great deal if you know what you’re dealing with. In the case of the caddis on my streams and rivers , it means dealing with 3 caddis subspecies from the family Hydropsychidae, which are of importance. Of greatest importance due to their density are two of these sub species, which are small and hatch daily in serious numbers, and I mean serious. If you’ve never choked on a bug before, you’re very likely to do so while standing in a stream, in darkness, in this particular caddis hatch…..wearing a headlamp. They are the minnions of spring! The third sub specie of importance is Macrostemum Capense which even though important in spring, makes its biggest impact in March/April.
The 2 smaller Hydropsychidae species are pretty much the same size and the only way you can tell them apart is by the colour of their abdomen. The most prolific of the 2 subspecies has a chartreuse abdomen and the lesser has a yellowish/tan abdomen. There are occasions when the fish show a preference , but mostly I get by with a pupa imitation of my own design with a caddis green abdomen. As with all imitations, size is important, and in this case the pupa are best imitated on a #16 hook. An interesting phenomenon I found is that these bugs , just as in the case with Baetis, drop in size towards the end of their hatch period a few weeks later. I’ll detail my pupa imitation at a later stage, but patterns like Barr’s Graphic Caddis or Mercer’s Glo Bubble Caddis will get serious attention as well as swinging an appropriate Soft Hackle later in the hatch.
On a spring day with a lot of promise , there is a sprinkling of hatching pupae throughout the day with the main event peaking at dusk, which results in what we as flyfishers would call “the evening rise”. I love this hatch for one plain reason – it is so simple to fish. The reason happened a few years ago when I morphed my favorite pupa design, at the time , into the Klinkhamer mold , which ended up as the silver bullet in this hatch. We all know there’s no such thing , but this one comes bloody close. No matter on which stream or river in my watershed I fish this fly during this caddis hatch , it flat out produces. Those familiar with the complexities of selectivity during heavy hatches will understand what a godsend this is. Especially if you are racing against time and fumbling in the dark. The only time I get stumped is when the fish changed over to spent adults without me noticing or I delivered a poop presentation. OK, I do also stumble on the odd stubborn riser or have a complete dose of operator error , but for the most part the fish play ball. At one stage I was so overawed by the abilities of this fly that I named it the Herman Hamer – yeah its cheesy , I know. Hans van Klinken absolutely pegged it …. and so it will remain – the Klinkhamer. In my case – Theeee Klinkhamer.