Fly Fishing Abrams Creek

Caddis Tactics

Trout in the Smokies tend to prey on caddis fly pupa just under the surface where these small aquatic insects struggle to shuck their pupal husk. These efforts to emerge as a winged adult often makes the caddis fly pupa highly vulnerable for several minutes, providing trout with easy pickings. However, except for an occasional dorsal or tail fin breaking the surface, spotting the darting movement of a trout helping itself to a mass emerging of the caddis fly pupa is the only other visible hints we are given.

Many angling scribes have long penned prose expounding how trout relish mayfly adults and nymphs. While I am not contending these fish are not extremely fond of these aquatic insects, experience has taught me the trout will ignore hatches of mayflies in preference for picking off the subsurface struggling caddis fly pupa. Insofar as trout are classic predators, that is, they prey on that which is most readily available to them, it appears that the abundance of emerging caddis flies is an important occurrence that trout fishermen need to understand.

Ironically, surface riding caddis fly patterns such as the Picket Fence, Elkwing Caddis, Orange Palmer, Royal Trude, Chuck Caddis, or Greenbriar Special series often produce more strikes when surface caddis fly activity is not especially brisk. Admittedly, these dry fly patterns do produce best at streams and rivers where caddis flies occupy a prominent position in the food chain, which accurately describes most of the waters of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, in my opinion, many times current-riding caddis fly patterns serve as well as prospecting flies such as a Royal Coachman, as they do as a traditional hatch-matching imitator.

When it comes to fooling these trout during peak caddis fly emergence activity, wet flies and nymphs are without peer. Remarkably simple patterns such as the Tellico Nymph and Solomon's Pupa in sizes No.18 to No.10 can be used to effectively imitate most of the vast numbers of caddis fly emergers common to these waters. Most caddis fly emergers are either dark brown to blackish in late winter to very early spring; to pale cream, yellow, tan, or bright apple green, the latter being dominant a mid- to late summer color.

Caddis fly emergence imitators can usually be fished up or downstream, depending mostly on stream clarity and size. When fly-fishing smallish to medium-size, gin-clear mountain rivulets, cast upstream, and allow the current to deliver your offering. This technique requires mending your line to ensure a natural drift as well as the ability to efficiently set the hook when a strike occurs. Casting upstream is essential at small, clear streams where your presence upstream from trout facing into the current would foil your efforts.

When water is murky, or when on larger waters where more than 20 feet of line can be played out, fly-fishing downstream is not only equally effective, but far easier and more relaxed. Trolling is a fly-fishing technique wherein you simply stand upstream from a potentially productive run where a fly is either still-fished in the current, retrieved very slowly, or methodically jerked back and forth. Casting upstream to a ten o'clock position and quartering your fly across the current to a two o'clock position is another time-honored medium- to large-water caddis fly pupa imitator fly-fishing ploy.

Old-time Smoky Mountains stream trout fishermen are quick to point out you do not need to wait for subsurface activity among caddis fly pupa to catch lots of trout. In fact, as these fellows are found of saying, you don't even need a fly rod. Collecting and fishing with stickbait provides an angler with what is perhaps the single most deadly trout bait, as a few unhappy anglers who have been caught plucking them from the back sides of stream boulders in these"artificial only" waters have explained. In fact, it is not inaccurate to say that collecting a dozen stickbaits and freeing them from their houses can take longer than wrestling as many trout from a stream, but can give you remarkable fishing. However, resist the temptation. To be spotted just turning over rocks to "look at stickbait" can land you in hot water in the national park.

Odds are, if you are unfamiliar with these streams, the caddis fly is the most overlooked, yet key element in your favorite trout stream. Understanding these interesting members of the aquatic insect community will improve your odds of catching more and bigger trout.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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