The Five Phases of the Fall Caddisfly
Use these patterns to crack the code of one of the most troubling western caddis hatches of the season.
by John Gantner

The hatch of the fall caddis (Dicosmoecus), also known as the October caddis and the giant orange sedge, produces extremely heavy concentrations of huge insects that entice big trout to feed. The fall caddis is arguably the most exciting hatch on western waters for fooling trophy trout, but it receives minimal attention from anglers. Frankly, it’s a very frustrating hatch to match.

Large trout generally feed on baitfish, crustaceans, and other hefty morsels; trophy fish seldom select from the insect smorgasbord at the top of the water column. There are a few insects, however, that excite big trout to feed on the surface. Salmonflies, golden stoneflies, grasshoppers, and Hexagenia mayflies attract the attention of both trout and anglers, but the large orange sedge gets most of the notice from only feeding trout.

My favorite fly catalog contains only five October caddis patterns: two drys and three pupae. That same catalog has nine Hexagenia, 14 salmonflies, 12 grasshoppers, and even four cicada imitations. Why do so many tiers ignore the fall caddis?

A Convenient Autumn Hatch
The fall caddis hatches between September and November depending upon weather, elevation, and stream characteristics. It inhabits rivers in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and to a lesser extent, several other states. The insect hatches in astounding numbers on many blue-ribbon trout and steelhead rivers. It is a very convenient hatch for anglers, occurring in the fall when streams run low and clear, and are fun and easy to fish. And Dicosmoecus appears in the afternoon and early evening when anglers can see and enjoy the action; the huge mayfly, Hexagenia, hatches as darkness falls on the water, leaving you blind to striking fish.

Perhaps there are so few October caddis imitations because of the lack of success many anglers experience during the hatch. An October caddis hatch results in a veritable blizzard of bugs appearing in the air and on the water at the same time, and it is sometimes confusing to know what form of caddis the fish are taking. During this aeronautic mass-transit, the trout may be concentrating on the larvae, pupae, and drowned adults under the surface; on other occasions, trout and steelhead rise freely to the topwater adult October caddisflies. To be successful fishing during this hatch, carry patterns that imitate both the surface and subsurface stages of the October caddis.

Fall Caddis Larvae and Behavioral Drift

Matching the underwater phases of the fall caddis requires four separate patterns. One fly—the Fall Caddis Larva—works best in the early summer, but it becomes less important during the hatch. The real larva is light yellow with a brown head and short legs, and I discovered that Furry Foam makes a good imitation for the body. Brown ostrich herl for the head and short rubber legs complete the imitation. Dicosmoecus is a case builder, and the growing larva leaves its leafy shelter periodically in early summer to build a new home. During those unprotected periods, it tumbles freely and is vulnerable. This phenomenon is known as behavioral drift, and in June and July, fishing a larva imitation—either cased or uncased—is a good searching technique.

Image Gantner’s Fall Caddis Larva
Hook: Tiemco TMC3769 or equivalent,
 size 8.
Thread: Tan 6/0 (140 denier) or 8/0 (70 denier).
Weight: .025-inch lead wire.
Body: Yellow Furry Foam or chenille.
Rib: Medium copper wire.
Legs: Black round rubber.
Head: Brown ostrich herl.

Tying the Fall Caddis Larva
1. Wrap the lead wire on the hook. Start the thread and tie on a piece of copper wire.
2. Tie on a piece of yellow chenille and wrap it forward. Tie off and clip the excess chenille.
3. Wrap the copper wire over the body to form the rib. Tie off and cut the excess wire.
4. Tie the rubber legs to the sides of the fly. Tie on the tips of six strands of ostrich herl.
5. Wrap the herl to form the head of the fly. Tie off and clip the excess herl. Tie off and cut the thread. Trim the legs to length.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ImageGantner’s Fall Cased Caddis Larva
Hook: Tiemco TMC3761 or equivalent, size 8.
Thread: Tan 6/0 (140 denier) or 8/0 (70 denier).
Weight: .025-inch lead wire.
Case: Dark mottled Sparkle Chenille.
Rib: Medium copper wire.
Larva: Light yellow chenille.
Legs: Black Spanflex.
Head: Brown ostrich herl.

Crafting the Fall Cased Caddis Larva
1. Wrap the lead wire around the center of the hook shank. Tie on a piece of copper wire and a piece of dark mottled chenille.
2. Wrap the chenille three-quarters of the way up the hook shank. Tie off and clip the excess. Spiral-wrap the copper wire up the hook. Tie off and cut the remaining wire.
3. Tie on a piece of yellow chenille. Wrap the chenille up the hook to form the short body of the larva, leaving room for a small head. Tie off and clip the surplus chenille.
4. Tie the rubber legs to the sides of the fly.
5. Tie the tips of six strands of ostrich herl behind the hook eye. Wrap the herl to form the head of the fly. Tie off and clip the surplus herl. Tie off and cut the thread. The Fall Cased Caddis is complete.

An October caddis larva lives most of its one-year-long life in a case constructed of leaves, twigs, and other detritus; during its final instars (molts from one case to another), the maturing Dicosmoecus moves into faster water and builds cases of small stones and gravel. The insect feeds by extending its head and legs out of the case to crawl along the rocky bottom in search of food. At this time it may become flushed into the flow and drift helplessly, an opportunistic morsel for a feeding trout; the size of the larva, up to a plump and calorie-packed 35 millimeters, is too much of a good thing for a foraging fish to ignore. I imitate the head of the larva using light yellow chenille, and the stone case with dark variegated Sparkle Chenille. The short legs are black rubber. The Fall Cased Caddis is weighted and designed to bounce along or near the bottom.

Fall Caddis Pupae
Don’t Believe Everything You Read
October caddis pupae typically tumble and crawl toward shore to emerge. I have read articles indicating that they never emerge in the flow, but that is incorrect: many pupae do rise in the water column and hatch midstream. The hatches are so profuse that even just a small percentage of the insects emerging off the middle of the flow are enough to encourage fish to feed on the drifting pupae.

ImageGantner’s Fall Caddis Pupa
Hook
: Tiemco TMC3769 or equivalent, size 8.
Thread: Tan 6/0 (140 denier) or 8/0 
(70 denier).
Head: 4-millimeter copper bead.
Weight: .020-inch lead wire.
Underbody: Five silver-lined clear 
    glass beads.
Body: Large VernilIe, light yellow, orange, 
    or mottled.
Rib: Medium copper wire.
Wing buds: Crinkled cellophane.
Head: Brown Henrys Fork Hackle.

Creating the 
Fall Caddis Pupa
1. Slip the copper bead and five silver-lined clear beads onto the hook. Start the thread at the end of the body and tie on a piece of copper wire. Tie off and clip the thread. Restart the thread behind the head bead. Wrap a thread dam to separate the body from the head.
2. Double a 4-inch-long piece of Vernille. Tie the ends of the Vernille behind the head.
3. Grasp the folded Vernille with hackle pliers and spin it into a tight noodle. Fold the noodle forward, and the material will twist on itself. Tie off the twisted Vernille behind the head and clip the excess.
4. Hold the Vernille on top of the body beads. Wrap the rib of the fly. Tie off and cut the excess wire.
5. Burn or clip the wings. Tie a wing onto each side of the body.
6. Tie on the Henrys Fork Hackle. Make two wraps of hackle, forming a large shaggy head. Tie off and clip the excess hackle. Tie off and snip the thread. Trim the cul de canard fibers from the top of the fly. Done!

I fish a pupa imitation as much as or more than any of the other patterns. There are many species within the genus Dicosmoecus, and coloration can vary from light yellow to pale orange or a mottled brown on yellow. I tie my pupa imitation using three colors of chenille to account for these variations. The frilly cul de canard head, made using Henrys Fork Hackle, gives the pupa lifelike movement.

I make the wings buds using clear cellophane. Roll a small piece of cellophane into a tight ball, and then flatten it out; crinkled cellophane imitates the air bubbles surrounding an emerging caddis. Next, clip or burn the wing buds using a size 14 or 16 mayfly wing burner. I also slip silver-lined clear beads on the hook shank to enhance the air-bubble effect. I fish the Fall Caddis Pupa fly dead-drift under an indicator or as a dropper below an adult caddis imitation.

The Foam Fall Caddis

Predictably Prolific
In autumn, newly hatched adults pop onto the surface and float helplessly while drying their wings. At the same time, adult females return to the river and dip their eggs into the water, often riding the surface for an extended period of time. The Foam Fall Caddis imitates both the new adults and egg-laying females.

ImageGantner’s Foam Fall Caddis
Hook: Tiemco TMC2312 or equivalent, size 8.
Thread: Rust 8/0 (70 denier).
Body: Orange 2-millimeter-thick closed-cell craft foam or Fly Foam.
Overbody and head: Brown or khaki 2-millimeter-thick closed-cell craft foam or Fly Foam.
Hackle: Size 16 brown grizzly hackle.
Legs and antennae: Cream and orange Super Floss, Spanflex, or fine rubber.
Wing: Web Wing.
Strike indicator: Orange 2-millimeter-thick closed-cell craft foam
 or Fly Foam.

Tying the Foam Fall Caddis

1. Cut a strip of orange foam ¼ inch wide and 1 inch long for the underbody. Trim one end round. Insert the hook point through the rounded end of the foam. Start the thread in front of the foam at the end of the hook shank.
2. Cut a point in the end of the orange foam. Cut a second strip of foam for the overbody. Clip a point in one end of the foam. Tie the pointed end of the foam to the hook. Next, tie on the hackle.
3. Wrap the thread three-quarters of the way up the hook. Pull the orange foam forward under the hook shank. Tie off and clip the excess foam. Spiral-wrap the hackle up the hook, tie off, and clip the surplus.
4. Pull the brown foam forward loosely and tie it down in front of the hackle; the overbody foam should be hunched over the top of the hook shank.
5. Clip a second strip of brown foam. Clip a point in the end of the foam. Tie the point behind the hook eye.
6. Tie a piece of Spanflex on each side of the hook to form the legs of the fly.
7. Fold the front piece of foam back to form the head of the fly. Tie off and clip the excess foam.
8. Burn or clip the wings to shape. Tie the wings to the top of the body.
9. Tie on the bright strike indicator. Wrap the thread to the hook eye and tie on the antennae. Tie off and clip the thread. Trim the legs and antennae to length. Your Foam Fall Caddis is complete.

The adult giant orange sedge has a pudgy, rusty-orange body, a small head, six long and skinny legs, and mottled semitransparent wings.  Some giant orange sedges measure up to 30 millimeters long. Burning the wings out of a material called Web Wing gives the finished wings a dark edge. (You may clip the wings if you wish.) I use a medium-size body cutter to punch the underbody out of closed-cell foam. Two layers of foam and a hackle palmer-wrapped over the body create a very buoyant fly, and the long legs and antennae, made of Spanflex, add movement to the pattern.

When huge trout feed freely on the surface, the Foam Fall Caddis pattern encourages strikes. It floats high and even supports a dropper or two. Tied with an orange foam indicator, the fly is clearly visible on the water. There was a time when I concentrated my efforts on the top water, and fished an adult caddis pattern throughout the hatch. I now know better and use the adult only when I see obvious signs of surface-feeding trout. The adult imitation is typically most effective late in the hatch, near dark, and fished close to the stream bank. When I do use an adult imitation during the October caddis hatch, I almost always select the Foam Fall Caddis.

The Drowned Fall Caddis
Life after Death
The fifth pattern in this series imitates a stage that is often overlooked by many tiers, but provides great action when the trout are feeding beneath the surface. The Drowned Fall Caddis imitates an egg-laying female that has succumbed to exhaustion and the ravages of the river, and is also a good match for an emerging drowned cripple. For this phase, we need a slow-sinking fly that turns and tumbles in the current or dangles lifeless, suspended beneath a floating adult.

ImageGantner’s Drowned Fall Caddis
Hook: Tiemco TMC2312 or equivalent, size 8.
Thread: Tan 8/0 (70 denier).
Head: Brown glass bead.
Body: Four silver-lined orange glass
    beads.
Thorax: Orange Magic EZ Dub.
Legs and antennae: Orange and
    cream Super Floss, Spanflex, or 
    fine rubber.
Wing: Web Wing.

Tying the Drowned
Fall Caddis

1. Slip the brown bead and four orange glass beads onto the hook shank. Start the thread at the end of the hook shank and wrap a small dam of thread to prevent the beads from slipping off the hook. Tie off and clip the thread. Next, start the thread in front of the orange beads. Wrap another small dam to secure the beads in position. Coat the thread and orange beads with cement.
2. Tie a piece of orange Magic Dub in front of the body beads. Tie a piece of Spanflex onto each side of the hook to form the legs of the fly.
3. Wrap the Magic Dub forward to create the thorax. Tie off and clip the excess Magic Dub. Burn or clip the wings to shape. Tie on the wings in front of the thorax. Tie off and snip the thread.
4. Start the thread in front of the bead head. Tie on the antennae. Tie off and clip the thread. Trim the legs and antennae to length.

Silver-lined beads make this subsurface fly pattern supremely attractive to the fish. The Drowned Fall Caddis should be your go-to pattern when insects are on the water but no surface feeding is visible.

Steelhead Patterns

When Size Does Matter
You’ll find the fall caddis in large western streams, including many coastal rivers containing steelhead. Some runs of steelhead coincide with the fall emergence of Dicosmoecus, and in some waters steelhead rise aggressively to the hatching insects. Steelhead on dry flies is great sport!

Several of the best steelhead rivers contain fall caddis: the Klamath and Trinity rivers in California; the Rogue, Deschutes, McKenzie, and North Umpqua in Oregon; and the Clearwater and St. Joe in Idaho. For those times when the steelhead are willing to rise to a surface pattern, I use the Foam Fall Caddis with one important design addition: I add a sidewinder-style hackle to the head to provide the skating and waking surface disturbance that agitates fish to roar to the surface. The sidewinder hackle includes a strip of foam on the top and bottom to separate the hackle fibers and push them to the sides of the fly. I’ve also had good results fishing the Fall Caddis Pupa for early season steelhead; I just change to a heavier hook with a larger gap when tying a caddis pattern intended for steelhead.

Forget the frustrations of past Dicosmoecus hatches. Armed with these patterns, you can approach this year’s October caddis hatch with new confidence. I suggest you fish two- or three-fly combinations; try the adult with a pupa or drowned fly, or use all three at the same time. Or, use a strike indicator and drift the pupa with a drowned dropper and a larva as the point fly. These patterns really work: I guarantee it.

John Gantner is a regular contributor to our magazine. John lives in California.


 



 
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