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The life cycle of caddisflies with Thomas Ames

Description: This week, we go into great detail about the life cycle of caddisflies and the various species found in the eastern United States. Tom Ames [33:05], author of the book Caddisflies is my guest and although we go into great detail on the various types of caddisflies, don't let it overwhelm you, as imitating these insects is merely a matter of observing what stage of their life cycle is present and what the trout are eating. It's not something you can predict in advance—you need to arrive at the river and then figure out the puzzle by your powers of observation. But this podcast does get geeky so be prepared!
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to "The Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast." This is your host Tom Rosenbauer, and this week, the podcast is all about caddisflies. I asked author and photographer and long-time flyfisher Thomas Ames to join us today. Tom, wrote a book a number of years ago called " Caddisflies," and it's based on the Eastern species of caddisflies. And although Tom modestly claims that he doesn't know much about Western species of caddisflies, in my experience, you know, the various types of caddisflies behave about the same way, no matter where you are in the world. So I think this podcast on caddisflies could be applicable to someone fishing for trout anywhere in the world. And be prepared. This one gets pretty geeky, and there's some Latin thrown around. Tom loves his bugs, and he studied these species in great detail. But although it gets kinda complicated, don't worry too much if you don't follow everything, and don't let it scare you away. It's not that complicated. And if you are an observant angler, you'll be able to figure these things out. But I think having some knowledge about the lifecycle of the caddis and the different types is very important. So hope you enjoy the podcast.
But first, let's do the Fly Box. Let's try to answer some questions. And if you have some questions for me, you can send them to and you can either just type your question in your email, or you can attach a voice file. And if I can answer the question and I feel that it's something that'll benefit other listeners, I'll read it on the air, and let us start the Fly Box with an email from Isaac. "I've been flyfishing for about a year now in Tennessee. I just recently got into tying flies. I've learned how to tie the flies I normally use like Chubby Chernobyls and Squirmy Worms, but I'd like to get more in-depth. Are there any patterns you recommend I learn, maybe one pattern for each hatch? I love the podcast and always listen on my way to a fishing trip. Thanks for all your help. I hope to hear back from you."
So, Isaac, it's really difficult to narrow it down and, in general, I recommend that people, you know, investigate the rivers they're gonna fish and then find out the appropriate patterns. But here is what I would make sure that I had and that I like to tie for matching hatches anywhere in the world. So my favorite fly for mayflies is the sparkle dun. It can imitate an emerging dun. It can imitate an adult hatched dun. It just works really well during mayfly hatches. And I would have these in olive size 18 and 20. I would have them in cream size 12 through 20. And I would have them in a brown or a tan in size 12 through 18.
And then next to imitate caddisfles, I would use the X caddis, which is similar to the Sparkle Dun in that it has a shuck hanging off the back so it can be used for an emerging caddis, for a spent caddis, for a hatched caddis. It works pretty well in most situations. And at first, I would just tie those in tan size 14 through 18. I mean, you might want some green or olive ones too but, you know, I find that most times, I can get away with using just a tan caddis, and I tie most of mine in tan, kind of a neutral color.
And then, for smaller flies, I would have a Griffith's Gnat in size 18 through 22, a pretty easy fly to tie in the small sizes. And then, also, you know, you can't go wrong in matching hatches with having a Parachute Adams. It just seems to work for nearly anything. And I would have those in size 12 through 20. Now, tying those in 18 to 20 is no fun. But, you know, once you start with the 12s and work your way down in the 20s. And, you know, you'll get it. You'll get it eventually. So anyway, those are just some basic flies to have for matching hatches. You are gonna find you're gonna need other things occasionally. And you can work your way into those, but this is a good list to start with.
Stewart: Hi, Tom. It's Stewart [SP] from Scotland here. My local river is about maybe a 3, 4-mile stretch at most. And it's a real mix of deep pools, refills, and wide and narrow stretches in various depths. The problem that I have is that every time I go out, I could be fishing some dry fly, I could be fishing wet spiders. I could be fishing nymphs. I could even be fishing streamers. And I like to actually go out with as little tackle and as light as possible. So I don't want to carry a Nymph Rod. I don't wanna carry a small dry fly rod, and I don't want to carry a heavier line weight for any streamers I'm chucking at. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can actually potentially cover all these situations without carrying a complete arsenal with me? Many thanks. Cheers.
Tom: So Stewart, I think the answer to this question is pretty straightforward. You know, the general 9-foot, 5-weight trout rod that everyone recommends will handle your swinging wet flies, fishing nymphs with indicators or without or dry drop or soft tackles and streamers. And I think that you can handle most of those situations with a 9-foot, 5-weight. And then, throwing in a sinking polyleader gives you the ability to put that on your floating line and fish a little bit deeper if you're swinging a streamer or a wet fly in deeper water. So I hope that's helpful. But, again, I think the basic 9-foot four flyweight rod is what you need. And you don't need a complete arsenal.
Okay. Let's go back to an email. This one's from Gabe. "I'm sending a quick tip today in regards to fly tying with dry hands, especially in the winter. When my fingertips get dry and rough, I tend to catch my tying thread on them while holding materials for a pinch wrap, for example. This ends up fraying the thread just as it would when you clip the point of the hook. Needless to say, it's frustrating. I've found the best way to mitigate this issue was to use a nail file, not the type you'd have on a nail clipper, but rather, a very, very fine sandpaper-like file. Mine looks like a popsicle stick half the length with a very fine abrasive on both sides. A few strokes of that on the tips of the fingers usually does the trick, and I can tie without fraying the thread. I figure I can't be the only tyer with barbed fingers and hope this tip can help someone else's patience as it does mine."
Yeah, Gabe, that's a great tip. And I think the thing you're referring to my mother used to use them. And I have always called them emery boards, emery sticks. And by the way, those little popsicle sticks with the fine grit are pretty good for sharpening hooks, as well.
Daniel: Hey, Tom, this is Daniel from Colorado. And I've got a question for you. I've seen in some videos on YouTube where anglers have a large fish that they're fighting. And they use their rod hand to pinch the line against the cork handle. And this seems strange to me. I would think if you wanted to add drag you would just palm the reel and that pinching the line against the cork could give you a little bit of a salt burn if you're saltwater fishing, though I've seen it with carp as well. So I guess I'm wondering what are they doing. Is this something I should try and do if I'm playing a large fish? When is this applicable, and what does it do? So thank you, love the show, and I hope to hear an answer.
Tom: So Daniel, pinching the line against the cork will work to slow a fish down. I never do it. I don't recommend it. It's a little bit imprecise in that, depending on, you know, how sticky your fingers are, or whether they're wet or not, it can be a little bit inconsistent. And I just don't think it's a good idea. I think that you're better off either adjusting the drag on your reel when you need to get more drag or, as you said, palming the outside of the reel, which gives you a little bit more precise control over the drag. So I don't think it's ever applicable. But if someone disagrees with me, let me know.
This one's from Mitchell from Atlanta. "I know you usually don't love fly questions. But I thought this was a fun one. I recently watched the "Murder to Minnow Tie-Off" between you and Tim Flagler from 2021. You mentioned that you hated this fly but that you also hated the Wooly Bugger and the Clouser Minnow the first time you saw them. Ha ha. So I was curious. Did you end up giving this fly a fair shot? If so, it would be interesting to hear how you fished the fly in terms of what type of water, what kind of line, and what species were you targeting. And finally, what are your thoughts on this pattern now?"
So Mitchell, yeah, I did fish this fly because I had a bunch that I tied up while practicing for my tie-off with Tim Flagler. And honestly, I still don't like it. I tried it for trout in situations where I wanted a big wide stream, or I tried it for land-locked salmon, and I tried it for stripers. And, again, I just don't care for it. I don't see the use for it and probably, it didn't work well for me because I didn't have confidence in it. But yeah, so the answer is no, or the answer is yes, I still don't like it. And I probably won't tie anymore, unless I have to tie another one for a tie-off, but that's unlikely. So anyway, that's my answer, and I'm sticking to it.
Okay. Here's another email from Mike in Ludlow, Vermont. "Recently, I was gifted an 8-weight reel with two spare spools. I plan on primarily using my new setup for warm-water species in local lakes and ponds and maybe casting big streamers in some of the larger rivers close by. The lakes and ponds near me vary from 8 feet to 90-plus feet, though I tend to lack the patience to sit on those deeper pockets. I have not purchased any lines. And I was curious what three types of lines would you choose to maximize versatility? I'm a one-rod carrying type of fella. Floating, streamer, sink tip, fancy modified heat-seeking, intermediate lines. All thoughts appreciated. Thanks."
So, Mike, you're right in that you're fishing lakes, it does pay to have different sink rates on lines. It's not so important in streams. Usually you can get away with just a floating line. But if you're gonna fish in lakes and you're gonna fish all seasons successfully, you probably need at least three different lines. Some still-water anglers will have, you know, as many as a half-a-dozen. But I think you could get away with a floating line. First of all, you want a floating line for shallow water when you're near the surface fishing poppers, etc.
And then, my second choice would be an intermediate line, which is a slow-sinking line. Sometimes, those are helpful on windy days. In slightly deeper water, you know, use them with a heavy fly with a fast-sinking fly. And you can get down pretty deep. And when you strip, it'll bring your line through the water rather than pulling it up toward the top like a floating line would. And then, my third choice for deeper fishing would be a depth-charge line. This is one that's typically thought of as a saltwater line. But I use them a lot in fresh water, both in lakes and in rivers when, you know, I'm fishing really heavy, fast water, fishing a streamer. So those are the three that I would take. Other people might have different opinions. But those are mine.
Robin: Hey, Tom, this is Robin, Rochester, New York. Hey, thank you for spending some of your holidays with our local Trout Unlimited Chapter there at the Orvis store there in town. It was great to meet you and to see your slide show and hear your talk on your 12-step program. It was fun and informative and fun to hear the story about how the South Green Chapter had a influence on a young Tom Rosenbauer. Thanks again.
My question today is about gear. I was just on a trip in the Everglades with Orvis-endorsed guide Captain Jason Sullivan. Had a wonderful time, got into a whole bunch of tarpon and snook. It was really the trip of a lifetime, but one I'm gonna plan on repeating, hopefully, annually. That being said, the Orvis Recon 8-weight was fantastic and did a great job. I'm looking at a bigger stick for the bigger fish. Do I hop right up to an 11-weight? Will that kind of fill in everything I'm going to need? I want to continue to do more saltwater flats fishing, you know, throughout Mexico, Belize, back to the Everglades, certainly. Will that Recon 8, and I'm looking at the Helios 3D 11-weight, will those two rods pretty much cover everything that I wanna do, along with saltwater, you know, flats fishing, in-shore fishing up in the New England area too? I'd like to know your thoughts on that. Sorry this is a little bit long. A big shout out to Jim and to Brandon at the Orvis store in Rochester. Those guys are fantastic. Thanks again, Tom."
Tom: So Rob, yeah. An 8-weight and an 11-weight would be a good combo for all flats fishing in the Everglades in the northeast. I typically go with an 8 or 9 and a 10-weight for those situations. I think that, you know, unless you're going for really, really large tarpon, a 10-weight will handle most of the smaller tarpon. And a 10-weight I find is a good rod for off-shore fishing for striped bass and bluefish, throw in some of those bigger flies and sinking lines. So, you know, there isn't a ton of difference between a 10 and an 11. So I would use an 8 and a 10. But, you know, an 11 would also be fine.
Here's an email from David. "My older brother and I recently got into flyfishing for trout and have primarily been fishing the Delaware system. I just had a quick question regarding safety and personal floatation devices. My brother is more risk-averse than I am and is always thinking about ways to mitigate danger every time we spend time enjoying the outdoors, which I am grateful for. In preparation for our wade fishing trips for this upcoming season, he has suggested wearing personal flotation devices just in case. I initially laughed at the idea suggesting that we also tie on large helium balloons so that I would always be visible, even in the event of falling in the river and getting swept away. We are young and fit anglers in our mid-20s. And I've never seen any of the older gentlemen up on the Delaware with any kind of floatation device. I was wondering what your thoughts were on this, especially for the kind of waters we fish, which I presume are quite safe compared to Western rivers that have rapids and such. Is he being overly-cautious, or am I simply being too naïve here? I've never seen anyone mention anything about flotation devices or life jackets when it comes to wade fishing. I was hoping you could ease some of the concerns he has."
So David, I think if you're young and fit and you're fishing most Eastern rivers, you probably... I shouldn't say this, but I don't think you need a flotation device. I don't wear one, and I'm older. I'm in pretty good shape, but I'm older, you know. And it also depends can you swim? If you can't swim or you have health problems that might prevent you from swimming to shore and then getting out of the river with waders full of water, in case your wader belt didn't hold all the water out of your waders, yeah, then it might be wise to wear a flotation device. And, actually, I don't know why more people don't wear them, particularly older anglers. I think that probably more people should. People drown every year flyfishing and, you know, sometimes in water that's not that swift. So I think it's a good idea if you can't swim. If you can swim and you're young and fit, well, you know, that's probably up to you. But maybe your brother wants to wear a life vest and you can go without.
Here's another email from Brandon. "I'm an experienced trout angler but have a great small-mouth stream 10 minutes from the house, and I'd love to start fly fishing for small-mouth. It's the Lower Elk River in Elkview, West Virginia. It's roughly 60 feet wide. Most of the time it's a beautiful blue-green color, generally 10 feet deep. It's a sandy bottom river with boulders and lots of laydowns. I'd love to learn to fish with the Clouser Minnow from just reading the success repots of others. I am looking for help in selecting what Clouser Minnow I should start with and why. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you."
Well, Brandon, you know, I'm not sure if the Colorado Clouser Minnow is that important, particularly for small-mouth. I would look at what other flies or conventional lures are successful on that river if you can find out, and then, start with that color. But, you know, a black and white Clouser or a brown and white Clouser is a good way to start. smallmouth love black, and they love white and, you know, the combination couldn't hurt. A lot of people like chartreuse and white for smallmouth and for other species. But I would just... You know, I would get various sizes of Clousers before I worried about color. So I'd get some smaller ones that they call trout Clousers in smaller sizes. And then, I'd get some bigger ones with bigger eyes that you can fish deeper and when the fish are on bigger bait. But I wouldn't worry so much about the color of the Clouser Minnow. Learn how to fish them, fish them all different ways, and you're gonna catch smallmouth with them.
Here's an email from Nate in Denver. "I want to thank you for helping me take the dip into Euro nymphing. I really appreciate it. I started with a mono rig, and now I have upgraded to a Euro shorty line that I'll be using on my brand new 10-foot, 3-weight Euro rod I just purchased. I'm really excited to try that. With the Euro setup, however, how important is it that you attach the two pieces of tippet with a surgeon's knot as opposed to just having one fly tied to the bend of the hook of the point fly? Conversely, could you just leave the tag end long on the point fly to achieve the same thing? I could just be tying these two pieces of tippet together poorly, but I don't love how the point fly seems to be the one that's actually higher up in the water column, or perhaps, that's just a perception problem, and I need to get used to it. But is fishing two different water columns that important? Correct me if I'm wrong, but the biggest benefit of Euro nymphing is getting down towards the bottom, right?
My second question has to do with rod selection. My current arsenal consists of a couple 9-foot flyweight rods, the aforementioned 10-foot 3-weight, a 7-foot, 6-inch 4-weight that I'm actually gonna sell to get a 7-foot, 6-inch 3-weight, and one rod TBD. I'm trying to decide between an 8-foot 6-inch or a 9-foot 4-weight to use as an intermediate rod of sorts for dry flies, dry droppers in some of the medium-size streams in and around Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding areas. I'm hesitant to do a 9-foot because then how is that easier for some of those smaller rivers? And I'm hesitant to go for an 8-foot because I wonder how much of a difference that'll make compared to the 7-foot, 6-inch that I have. But maybe the extra 6 inches will make enough of a difference. I've asked around, and it seems more like a matter of personal preference. But any insight would be appreciated. Thanks again."
All right. So regarding your first question, Nate, you can absolutely when you're Euro nymphing tie the second fly onto the bend of the first fly, and a lot of people do that. A lot of people do that when Euro nymphing. Not everybody ties on a separate dropper. So that'll work fine. The one thing you don't want to do is you don't want to leave that tag end long and tie your second fly on there. If you hook a fish on that tag-end fly, you're going to be pulling that clinch knot that you tied, or your whatever knot that you tied, you're gonna be pulling the tag end. And that, it could weaken the knot and break. So that's not a good idea. You can tie your second fly to the eye of the first fly so you got a fly with two clinch knots tied to the eye, if you can get them in there, if there's room enough. But, you know, you don't need to always tie that extra piece of tippet on a surgeon's knot. You can do it various ways, eye to eye, bend. You can tie it to the bend but don't use the tag end.
And, you know, although you're trying to get your flies near the bottom, trout don't eat stuff on the bottom, and they don't look down. They can't look down. They're always looking up. So don't worry so much if your second fly is a little bit higher in the water column than your first because the higher it is in the water column, the easier it is gonna be for a trout to see it from a distance, you know, that lower fly, the fly that's lower in the water column, the fish is gonna have more trouble seeing that from a distance because it's kind of hidden against the bottom. But that upper fly, they're gonna see from further away. So it's a good idea. And, you know, if they're 6 inches apart, that's not that much difference to a trout. It's when they're a couple feet apart when a trout may be reluctant to take that upper fly. So anyways, I wouldn't worry about it. Just don't tie it to the tag end.
Regarding your rod selection, I would go with a 9-foot, 4-weight. You know, I've used a 9-foot, 4-weight in small streams in Rocky Mountain National Park. And typically, they're not terribly brushy, and you can get away with it. And it's gonna be much more useful on medium size to larger rivers than particularly an 8-footer. It's kind of a tossup between 8 1/2 and a 9. But my choice would be 9-foot, 4-weight. I think that would be a good addition to your arsenal.
Here's an email from Aaron [SP] from Kansas. "This year I got into flyfishing. I have now added bamboo to my quiver, including a 7-foot, 6-weight Orvis 99 in excellent condition. It may have been the last of the 99s, as it was completed February of '67. The internet keyboard angler's opinion of Orvis bamboo is that they are better with one step down in line size. It casts a double-taper 6 beautifully, in my opinion. Do you think that people under line these rods because they are used to the stiffness of graphite, or is it that the deep bend of these slower rods lend themselves to throw a lighter line than the rod size? Should I be trying a weight-forward 5-floating line? What would be the advantages of going with a 5-weight line?
I mostly fish carp with my 9-weight Orvis Golden Eagle fiberglass rod. I use the 6-weights for large-mouth panfish and stock trout. I plan occasional trips to wild trout areas in Colorado and Missouri, as well as Galveston and the Keys for in-shore and peacock bass in the canal system of Southern Florida. I'll use the appropriate weight rod for the species listed. I have also heard not to double haul bamboo. Are they that fragile? I have been a listener for several months and love the podcast. I can't wait until the next week's episode comes out. Thanks for all you do for our sport."
So Aaron yeah, I think you're right that people tend to under line older bamboo rods because they're used to the stiffer action, and the graphite rod has a little bit faster action. And a lighter line will make the rod behave a little faster. If you're used to graphite rods, you might like that rod better with a 5-weight. But, you know, kinda the beauty and advantage of bamboo is the slower action. And it's a different action and, you know, after fishing graphite rods for a while, it's nice to go to bamboo and slow down a little bit and feel that rod bend. So it's really gonna be up to you. The 5-weight line is gonna give you just slightly more delicacy. But that can always be.... You know, the heavier nature of the 6-weight can always be mitigated by a little bit longer leer, a longer tippet. So not a big difference. Six-weight's gonna be better in the wind. The bigger mass will allow you to cast a little bit better in the wind.
And as far as double-hauling, you can double-haul with bamboo. I learned how to double-haul on bamboo rods. And, you know, if it's an older rod, I wouldn't do a really extreme haul and put an extreme bend in the rod. But certainly, you can use a standard quick little double haul with a bamboo rod. Double-haul was invented on bamboo rods. So I wouldn't worry about double-hauling, as long as you're not really, really yanking on it. You're not gonna hurt that rod at all with a double-haul.
Hi, Tom, this is Matt from Lost River, West Virginia. I have two tips and two quick related questions. The tips come from being a long-time, back-country hiker. When I'm hiking in my felt boots along a slippery trail or down a dodgy, muddy bank, I use Yaxtrax. They're made for people who need to walk or even run on ice, and they fit easily onto shoes and boots. They give me better traction than studs. They're easy enough to slip on and off my boots, and they tuck neatly into my Orvis sling pack while I'm fishing. The second tip is to dry out your boots fast, you can stuff them full of wads of newspaper. The newspaper helps to dry out the moisture. When I'm finished with the newspaper, I set it out to dry so I can still recycle it.
So now, my question. I'm new to flyfishing, and I'm excited by all there is to learn, but I know also I need to focus. So right now, I'm emphasizing developing my casting skills. I have a 9-foot, 5-weight that I use on our larger streams, and a 7 1/2 foot, 3-weight that I use on our mountain streams. Here are my questions. Would practicing with one of those rods be a better way of developing my skill? The second question is could you suggest a few rigs that would be really useful in helping me learn? You might think of these as something like training wheels for the newbie caster. Those 15-foot leaders with two or three flies that you use are well out of my skill level. Tom, thanks so much. I appreciate your help."
So Matt, those are both really good tips. I used those Yaktrack [SP] devices once because I thought they would be a good alternative to studs in wading boots. And I found that those springs that they have on the bottom of 'em were fantastic on slippery rocks. The only problem was they wouldn't last more than an hour. They would fall apart. So great for hiking. I think that's a really good idea for hiking in felt boots. They probably won't last that long if you're gonna be on some pretty extreme trails. So you might wanna take two pairs because my experience with them was they didn't last very long, but yeah. And drying out boots definitely with newspaper, great idea, great idea.
Regarding your practicing, I think you're better off practicing with a 9-foot, 5-weight. I mean, you can practice with either one. But generally, when we start out people with casting practice, we will use a 9-foot, 5-weight if they're gonna be casting for trout and, you know, if they're saltwater bass, we start with a 9-foot, 8-weight. But it's a little bit easier to get the motion, a little bit easier to develop your skills, I think, on something like a 9-foot, 5-weight. And I couldn't quite understand your question about rigs that would be useful to help you learn. If you're talking about, like, wrist braces and fancy things like that, I don't believe in 'em. I think that you need to practice with the way you're gonna fish. And any kinda fancy devices that you put on are really a crutch. So I don't recommend those.
And, you know, as far as practicing, again, I don't know what you really meant by rigs. But for practicing casting, vary your distance, and start out short. Shoot some line to a longer target, and then strip some line in, cast to a shorter target. You know, it's accuracy, accuracy, accuracy. And go out and practice on windy days too and change the angle that you cast with the wind, against the wind, wind from one side, wind to the other side. Those are gonna be realistic situations that you're gonna want to handle. So, you know, work on your form first, you know, and on a calm day with 30 or 40 feet of line. And then, start working on your accuracy and dealing with the wind. So I hope that's helpful.
All right. That is the Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Tom Ames about caddisflies. So my guest today is Thomas Ames. And Tom has written a number of bug books, insect books. And I know that people ask me on the podcast for suggestions on books to read. And Tom has a couple of good ones, at least a couple. And Tom, you're gonna have to refresh my memory and tell me what the names are.
Thomas: Okay. The first one was called "The Hatch Guide to New England Streams."
Tom: Right.
Thomas: And that was published, oh gosh, over 20 years ago. And it was, in format, similar to some other books that have been published out of the West, "Hatch Guide to Western Streams," for example, by a guy named Jim Schollmeyer. He did a couple.
Tom: Right.
Thomas: It's been followed up by one for the Midwest. It's now out of print. If you can find a copy for a hundred bucks, grab it. Because I still get calls from people wondering where it is. And I looked into possibly reviving it. But most of the work for that was done back in the days of film. And I just can't lay my hands on the original work anymore. So I can't tell you how many hours, you know, going through boxes in my attic saying, "It's gotta be in here somewhere," because I have all the stuff from the other books, but unfortunately, not for that one, which was...
All right. The second one was really more a photography book because that's the business that I was in. I was a commercial photographer doing a lot of advertising and editorial work. And it was really just sort of beauty pictures of bugs, which sounds sort of, you know, like an oxymoron. But the people who really liked that book were the ultra-detailed fly tiers. They went nuts with that thing. And even, you know, the publisher's no longer in existence. I was kind of impressed. But even they said, and it was by he way, designed by a friend of mine, Doug Hart, and they said, you know, it was one of the most beautiful fly-tying or, you know, flyfishing books that they've ever done. You know, I think we did a great job on it. It didn't have a particularly wide appeal.
And then the major opus was a book on caddisflies in which I spent quite a while going up and down the East Coast gathering samples, fishing where I could. It helped that I had two kids in college down in Georgia at the time. So I had good excuses to go down there. So all the way from Northern Georgia way up into Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and captured caddisflies, photographed them with this sort of portable studios that I could carry with me. You know, they were all done in a place where I had some control if they tried to fly away, sometimes in motel rooms. And I always took the samples and I sent them off to a friend named Dave Reeder [SP] who was out in Colorado who was... I mistakenly refer to him as Dr. Reeder in the book, but he actually was not, although all the people, John Morris down in Clemson, Oliver Flint at the Smithsonian, anybody who was anybody in the academia of caddisflies said, "If this guy identifies a bug as such and such, you can be absolutely sure that that's what it is." And he had identified every bug in this book. And there have gotta be 300 pictures in here that he identified. So, you know, I felt pretty good about that.
And then, so the book goes into some pretty deep science. It goes a lot about the evolution of it. And what I'm trying to get at in the book is that, you know, there's lots and lots of books about mayflies, lots and lots of them. And we all know that mayfly larvae are divided into, what is it, swimmers, clingers, crawlers, and burrowers. Most people I think know that. I'm assuming so, okay? Caddisflies gets a little bit more complicated because A, there are many, many more of them. And B, because of the way that they sort of evolved, I mean, since way back when there was just one big continent, Pangea, they've split into what are they called, primitive groups? And then, there are all the casebuilders, which are just, you know, a whole, whole fascinating variety of those.
And particularly within those casebuilders, some of those continue to evolve. And the whole idea, the whole case strategy is that it enables them to go into environments where they were not otherwise able to go and carve out new niches. And the more sort of extreme those environments, the less likely they are to be available to fish. For example, there are some caddisflies that can thrive in vernal pools. You don't find a whole lot of trout in vernal pools. But the other thing about vernal pools is they dry up. So there's no place for the caddisflies to fly back to, unless they can live a long time, which some of them do. But what most of them do is paste their eggs somewhere else with a kind of fluid mass. And then, when the vernal pools refill, those eggs can then hatch and evolve. Okay?
So, and unfortunately, when I look through some of the existing literature, there are a lot of really gorgeous casemakers that manage to make their way into some of these flyfishing books whereas, in fact, they don't hatch on the water, and they don't lay their eggs in the water, and they don't swim through the water. They crawl through the water to get up onto the river. And so we really don't have any opportunities to fish for these things. So anyway, I'm gonna put that set off the table.
Tom: Okay. Now, but there are casemaking caddis that do emerge in the stream, right?
Thomas: Yes, yes. So that's in the early spectrum of that. What I do in the book is I divide them into two groups. One is the groups that we can actually fish for, okay? For instance, grannoms, the ones that build those beautiful little tapered four-sided cases.
Tom: Right.
Thomas: And which around here usually late May, early June, a little earlier down in Massachusetts sort of more mid-May. And I fished a grannom hatch in mid-March just a few miles out of downtown Atlanta. It was great. It was just flies all over the place. But those are the casemakers. But they're on the sort of ultra-primitive end of it. In terms of the way their morphology is, they don't have the humps that help them get water to flush through the cases that some of the later ones do. But they're also usually... First of all, there's a lot of them. They're usually on the tops of rocks so that you can pick away at them.
And then, they tend to move from place to place. They hatch on the surface, they lay their eggs underwater, which most of the primitives do, is swim or crawl underwater to lay their eggs. So we're imitating those with wet flies rather than with dries. Anyway, and there are sort of like three groups in that. There's the grannoms, and they're from a larger family. It includes something called [inaudible 00:41:13], which we see, and then another one I've forgotten because we never see it. I think it's mainly out west. There's Glossosoma, the little saddle casemakers that make these little sort of hump-shaped cases. And then another one called, the Latin name is hydroptilidae, which are the little tiny purse casemakers that you might find in some spring creeks like La Torte or something like that. They're really, really tiny, so I don't much bother with those.
But what unifies all these is... Oh, no, I'm sorry. Let me back up a second. The brachycentrus are the primitives and then the casemakers. I'm gonna roll even further back to these earlier primitives, Glossosoma, the purse casemakers, the saddle casemakers, and then the free-living caddisflies, rhyacophila, which means lover of fast current literally. And those are the ones that you can find anywhere. There are 125 species in North America, so there's during the course of the summer always one hatching here or there or somewhere. These also, but these, they move around. They have an interesting way of doing this, of moving around, is because they don't use their silk to make any kind of a case or a net or anything like that. But they use it to move from rock to rock much as a rock climber would propel down a mountainside. They can paste it to a rock, cast themselves into the river, land on the next rock, cut it, and keep doing that so that they don't tend to wash into the drift.
Tom: And those are those green ones, right? They're typically green.
Thomas: Those are the green rock ones, yes. They tend to be very green. Now, in my experience, I was catching most of them on the surface when they would hatch. Later on, as I was sort of researching the book, I found ones that would not hatch on the surface. They had to be out on a rock somewhere before they would hatch. But they did return to lay their eggs and swim down to lay their eggs. After the book came out, I got an email and lots of photographs from a wonderful fly tier, you've probably heard of his name, Oliver Edwards.
Tom: Oh, yeah, sure.
Thomas: And he had all kinds of pictures of rhyacophila crawling down rather than swimming down and late night behaviors and, you know, lots of different things, which, you know, is fascinating. I might point out that there hadn't been any kind of a land connection between England and the Western Hemisphere in many, many, many millions of years, unlike the fact that we had a land bridge to Asia. So it's not unusual for something that evolves differently on different continents to have different behaviors. So that's the ultra-primitive.
Then, we have this huge, mainly five, families that we can fish of six retreat makers. Those are the most common in most places. They need water that has a certain amount of dissolved food in it because they're not shredders. They're collectors. And these include the hydropsyche. Those are the ones that actually build little nets and little huts next to them out of, you know, pebbles and sticks. And I took photographs of some of the nets. They're exquisite. You just can't believe they built something so delicate. And they catch food in it. And every once in a while, they come out of their shelter and scrape some food out off of it and go back into their shelter. And there tend to be a lot of them so that they overcrowd the rocks. And then they move downstream and until that gets overcrowded, and then they move downstream. So periodically, those are available in the drifts. So I would say the most commonly-imitated caddisfly larvae are those fixed retreat-makers, and particularly those, they call them the same-net makers, hydropsyche.
And then, there's a closely-related one, cheumatopsyche, which are the little, not the olive duns. Oh, I've forgotten the nickname for those. I'll have to go back and look. But yeah, the little sister caddis, often known on the Farmington River as the emerald scourge because they had such trouble imitating it that it's, you know, also quite a bit smaller. So it needs even finer particles. So you tend to get them a little further downstream, in general, okay?
Then, there are all kinds of interesting ones that build nets on logs and create little trap doors in the crevices. There's one that makes, it almost looks like a piece of kelp. And it makes these little tube cases, at least they call them the tube cases. And you see those on the bottoms of lakes. You'll see them in the Farmington River in some of the soft spots there. But all of those, they tend to be available at times in the drift, particularly the same net makers. And they hatch in the surface, and they also swim below to paste their eggs. There's very few... You get a little later on, and you start to get some egg layers that are on the surface. I do have a chart in the back of the book that gives you the egg-laying behavior, the larval behavior, the hatching and the pupal behaviors, as well.
Now, I'm gonna sort of stop in my analysis of the evolutionary characteristics here before we get to the casemakers and talk about if you're gonna ask the question of, "How do I not necessarily match the hatch but imitate caddisflies?"
Tom: And we're talking larvae. We're talking larvae right now, right?
Thomas: Well, actually, what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna lay out eight stages.
Tom: Okay. It sounds good.
Thoma: Okay?
Tom: Yeah.
Thomas: I didn't make them up. There was a wonderful writer. I wrote in one of the first books I read years ago that just opened my eyes to a lot of things. Sid Gordon wrote a wonderful book called "How to Fish from Top to Bottom." And he identified these four mayflies. But mayflies don't have a pupal stage.
So the stages are larvae, the pupa, which by the time we are able to fish it, it's actually sort of a wrapped-up adult that will unwrap itself. It's called the fair-rate adult so that we generally call the pattern, it's a pupal pattern.
The emerger. So the adult that's actually getting rid of that skin. A failed emerger or a crippled. A freshly-hatched adult. The egg layers. Spent adults, and drowned adults. So that's sort of taking that structure that Sid Gordon came up with and looking at that in terms of how we can imitate caddisflies. So in order to know something about each of the stages, we have to know is this caddisfly a surface egg layer? Is this caddisfly a swimmer? Does it lay its eggs somewhere else so that we can't even imitate that stage? Okay? But so, for example, let's take hydropsyche. We know that it makes a little fixed retreat, that it periodically has this behavioral migration where, you know, overcrowding. And most of that tends to be in low light. But basically when they're in the drift. So those are the main things we need to know about them, other than what they look like and what the pattern is, okay?
So then, the next stage would be the pupa. And at the end of its pupal cycle and its shelter, and what it does is it just seals itself shut and just pupates right in there. And then it cuts that open. It's gonna swim to the surface. And it doesn't just sort of rocket right up. It's gonna float a little bit. It's gonna drift along the bottom for quite a ways mainly as it's kind of accumulating gases within it. And then, eventually it's able to sort of float or swim to the surface. And then it needs to drift a little bit on the surface for a while until it's able to shed that skin. And depending upon, oh, the size of the insect, its ability to get through the meniscus, how cold or warm it is, that can take a while or, you know, maybe that can be kinda rapid. So I use this sort of nomenclature of what I call drift-rise-drift, which is, you know, how long does it drift before it comes up?
Does it come up quickly? Does it come up slowly? And then, how long did it have to drift before it climbs out and becomes an actual adult? So, for instance, if you use let's say a Prince Nymph which is one of my favorites... No, actually, I wanna save that for later. Let's do something like, oh, just a bead head caddis larvae.
Tom: Okay, like a Walt's worm or something?
Thomas: If I'm gonna fish at that or one of the Mercer ones or something like that. If I'm gonna cast that during what I can see are active times for a hydropsyche, I'm gonna let that drift for a ways on the bottom. Then, I'm either gonna stop the drift, or lift my rod or something to get it to accelerate at the right rates to the top. And if it hasn't taken it by then, I'm not gonna let it continue because now we've got really, at that stage, we're really getting into an emerger. So I'll cast again, okay?
Now, so next state on that is the emerger itself, which in the case of again of a hydropsyche, they're right on the surface. Down in the Housatonic, just about I think it's just a little before the Hendrickson hatch, maybe it's right after, it's been a while since I've been there. You get a really great hatch of hydropsyche morosa, which is a pretty good-sized caddis that I'd like to say has a green body, but actually I've captured several samples with different bodies, and they have all turned out to be the same thing. But it's a size 14, 12, maybe at the largest. And it hatches on the surface. And you can see them, You can see them right there and cast to them and with an emerger and do pretty well.
Now, sometimes, an emerger or an adult, you know, doesn't make it, drowns underneath the surface. In a busy hatch, you might get some fish that are keying onto that. And you can do something like clip the wing or do something to get it below but not let it actually sit on top of the surface but to have it just below the surface. Okay?
Tom: Do you have a favorite pattern for an emerging caddis?
Thomas: I do. It's one of mine. I call it an upwing caddis emerger. I can describe it quite simply. It's done on not a curved nymph hook, but the same kind...a dry-weight grub hook. It's like a Gemco, a light version of their heavy one. I tie a simple body on it. I might take a thread rib, but I don't put any kind of sparkle in there. A bit of the ways back from the eye, I tie in deer hair as though I were just gonna do any kind of a deer hair caddis. An elk hair would work just fine. Then, I take the thread and I wrap it in front of that wing to lift the front. And then I wrap it behind the wing and in front of the wing around it to make a post just like you would if you were doing like a parachute fly.
That will lift the wing a little bit, and it gives me a little bit of room to take two or three turns of hackle parachute-style around that. I tie that off. I clip the hair in the front just like you would for a elk hair or a deer hair caddis. That's it. And I base that sort of on a Klinkhammer. And I do what Hans would do if he were doing one of his flies is I jus like grease the deer hair. I don't grease the legs. I want them in the surface film. And I'll spit on the body so that it hangs underneath. And it's an absolute favorite. I've done very, very well with it.
I have a very good friend, Jonah, who I fish often with up in Pittsburgh. And I was having such a good day with that, but I had to get in my car and drive home. And he was gonna stay an extra day. And so I gave him the fly that I was fishing with. And he started catching fish with it. And then, he was... I forget why but something happened and he dropped it. And he said he spent a half-an-hour trying to find that thing. And so anyway, I've since made sure that he has plenty of those when we're fishing.
Tom: And so you just vary the body color depending...
Thomas: What's that?
Tom: You just vary the body color...
Thomas: What's that?
Tom: You just vary...
Thomas: Yeah, it just depends. I mean, I tie it mostly in sizes 14 and 16. I will tie it for just about any caddis that I know is gonna hatch in the water. But that's gonna be mostly the rock worms will hatch underwater, okay, although we've seen that sometimes they don't. Any kind of a finger-net or a same-net or any of the six retreat-makers makers generally will hatch underwater. Brachycentrus, which we were talking about earlier, the chimney casemakers, will hatch underwater sort of at the dark blue sedge. A number of the more primitive casemakers, particularly the ones that live in upland streams and not so much in the warm waters, are all surface hatchers. So I wanna be ready for any of those.
And I'm finding lately that I'm, just because, you know, it can get crazy, I tend to tie warm yellow bodies, rusty brown bodies, and olive and sometimes bright green bodies, and that's pretty much it. I don't worry too much about the color of the deer hair because it doesn't seem to make much of a difference. I know that coastal deer hair gives me the sort of just the right flare and lift that I want. And a lot of caddisflies when they're first hatching, their wings aren't the color of what they're gonna be when they're gonna be an adult. I think that's particularly true with the grannoms, the brachycentrus. I had a fly that I picked up one day. And I said, "I have no idea what this thing is. It's got almost white wings." And I put it in a little box that I often carried way back then to photograph it later. And by the time I photographed it, it had completely changed color. And actually, that was rock worms as well.
Tom: Now, the wing on that fly, is it about the shank length? Does it go about to the bend of the hook, or is it shorter?
Thomas: I'm sorry. I missed that.
Tom: The wing, the wing, the deer hair wing on that fly, how long do you make it?
Thomas: Oh, it doesn't go past the bend of the hook. Yeah, I don't want to make it big. I mean, you know, Larry Solomon's old emerger fly was basically a deer hair fly with a short wing. You know, that's his slow emerger. Yeah, yeah, the wing is just to give a sense of there being something up there. And also, I need something to see. So it's really that more than anything else.
Tom: Now, Tom, there's a frustrating situation with caddisflies that happens when you get these very explosive rises. And people say, "Oh, that's a caddis rise." I don't think it always is. But it seems like people believe that when it's a very explosive rise, the fish is taking a caddis. Do you know why they take them so explosively and how do you approach that situation when you're fishing?
Thomas: That's more likely to happen I think with somewhat larger caddisflies that can escape their shucks fairly quickly. I think it's more likely to happen in warm weather. So, I mean, you know, we can't place too much emphasis on fish thinking or learning. But they clearly do learn something when they key in on a hatch. But if you've got an insect that's just not staying on the water very long, the fish are gonna be in much more of a rush to get it. And so I'm certainly not gonna say that that happens only in caddis hatches. And I'm certainly not gonna say that it happens in all caddis hatches. But certainly in the ones where the caddis are more likely, if the conditions are right that they can leave the water quickly, that's definitely going to happen.
Tom: Okay. So warmer water, dry air probably, get a bigger caddisfly?
Thomas: It also, sometimes, there's some caddis that, I mean, on the Farmington, for instance, both a winter and a summer hatch of a little caddis called golophilodus [SP], which is one of the net-spinners there. And the pupa runs across the water to the shore. That also happens sometimes with the saddle casemaker I was talking about, Glossosoma. And that's definitely gonna get a fish that's gonna come up fast because it's chasing something now.
Tom: Yeah, I've seen those where the pupa kinda skitters along just under the surface.
Thomas: Yeah, they come up on the surface, and they run right across it. And you'll find guys on the Farmington around 9:00 in the morning in, you know, February wiggling their rods 'cause they're trying to get the caddis to move just right.
Tom: That would be a good situation for swinging a soft tackle, wouldn't it, in a situation like that?
Thomas: Well, you'd think so. I don't know. I mean, I guess it's sort of the culture of the Farmington is no, that's not what you do.
Tom: Well, I mean, let's talk about...
Thomas: [inaudible 01:02:04].
Tom: Let's talk about other places where you can do whatever the hell you want.
Thomas: Anyway, that's my best answer to that question. There are a number of lake caddis that are definitely runners. One of them is a big one. It's a casemaker in the giant casemaker family. It's called agrypnia and another one called Banksiola. And they'll come up to the bottom of the lake, and then they will sprint to the shore. They've got quite a ways to go, and they're quite big. They also lay their eggs right on the water there. So you've got a number of chances at those.
And then, I found out... I was actually up in Maine for the Hexagenia Hatch. And there was this caddisfly running across the water. And I captured it, and I recognized it because I'd seen it before, but the one that makes... I was talking about a tube that looks like a piece of kelp. And I had seen that in the Farmington, but this same fly was hatching in this pond. And it was running across. And, you know, I'm sure you've fished thousands of ponds. And you know that, in many cases, you kinda have to, if there's a hatching insect that's flying off, you kind of have to say, "Okay. The fish went there, the fish went there. It's gonna go there next," and you cast it out. But you don't have to do it with these running ones because the fish are just looking up the surface. And then they see the movement and they just come up and nail it.
I ended up spending the rest of the evening fishing that hatch whereas the friend that I was fishing with, went over the other side where the Hexagenia were hatching and both of us had a good night on completely different insects in the same pond. So yeah, long answer to a short question.
Tom: So another difficult situation when caddis pupae are rising to the surface, a lot of authorities, so-called authorities, say that they rise to the surface very quickly. And that can be frustrating when, you know, you see caddis hatching, but you don't see any of the adults disappearing in the rise. You don't see any of the emergers disappearing. It's fish chasing these pupae up from the bottom. Do some of them come up very quickly? Do some of them pop to the surface?
Thomas: I'm sorry. I missed the question.
Tom: Do some caddis pupae rise to the surface very quickly?
Thomas: Do they...? Oh, oh, as adults?
Tom: Yeah, yeah, when they're emerging, when they're emerging.
Thomas: the back of my mind, I think so, but I can't remember offhand any specific one that does.
Tom: So they're mainly drifting not so much different than the mayfly nymph, right? They're kind of drifting slowly to the surface?
Thomas: Yeah, although they tend to be better swimmers. I mean, obviously, that depends upon, you know, I mean, they're not as fast as [inaudible 01:05:30]. They not are fast as a [inaudible 01:05:33]. Nothing's as fast as the [inaudible 01:05:35] If my dog were the size of a [inaudible 01:05:37], it would run faster. But they have these...the middle leg on most caddis pupae that swim to the surface is quite modified. And it's big and it's paddle-shaped and almost like that of a water boatman. And they can swim to the surface pretty fast. Yeah, I mean, if you look at pictures of the pupae, you'll see that. And that all goes away once they come off the skin. You know, all of those things, all of the little beaks that they use to cut themselves free of the pupae, of the pupal casing, those paddles, whatever bits of gill structure they have left. All of that just drops away when that exubia [SP] comes off. So yeah.
Tom: Do you ever use shucks? Do you ever tie a shuck in your emerging caddis?
Thomas: You mean tie them on the tail of the...?
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Thomas: Of the fly? Yeah. Yeah, I do. Certainly on a rising pupae, you know, certainly on an emerging pupae. But I don't on this fly that I tie. So I don't know. Part of the challenge was I like to tie flies that have really very few ingredients.
Tom: Yeah, me too.
Thomas: And, you know, on those days when my pattern's not working, maybe I should have that in reserve and see if that makes a difference. That would be fun to do. So we are... I'm still going on my eight stages here.
Tom: Okay. All right.
Thomas: We have the emerged adult.
Tom: Right.
Thomas: Now, very often, an emerged adult will run across the water, okay? Glossosoma is one of them. I don't think it's actually in the pupal stage of those. I think it's in the adult stage. Definitely hydropsyche I've seen that definitely happen in hatches down in Connecticut that I've fished down there. And then, there's something, like there's the granddaddy of them all of the net makers, which is the big zebra caddis, the so-called alder fly. And that, very often, just dropping out of trees and coming right back up into the trees, just dropping down. I believe it's just going for a drink because caddisfles do need to drink. And so, you do get adult activity that's separate from egg laying. And that's why patterns like a bivisible might work. You'll get them definitely running a little bit when they're egg laying. But we're not at that stage yet.
Let me see. So where am I? I'm [inaudible 01:08:34]. Okay I guess, yeah, [inaudible 01:08:35]. The egg laying is the next one. And that's really where you have to identify what does this caddisfly do? If it's a subsurface egg layer, and I'm gonna say more than 50% of the time that's going to be the case, now you're in wet fly territory. And you have so many good black flies. You know, some of the old, original, like, you know, the olive dun wet fly. Oh, just anything can imitate a caddisfly that is rising to the surface after it's laid its eggs.
And so, now I'll go back to my old favorite, the Prince Nymph. For particularly the green rock worms, but it seems to almost work for, you know, certainly for hydropsyche and any number of other caddisfles, the beauty of the Prince Nymph is that you can tie it with enough weight to let it sink. I'll do it with and without bead heads, you know. I was declared a [inaudible 01:09:49] of bead heads for years. But nowadays, I'm certainly not gonna guess, and, particularly a lot of fishing pressure these days and the paucity of insects in the water. I'm certainly not gonna look askance at that because clearly now, if you start looking it up, oh, the Euro nymphing, the emphasis is get the thing down.
And so I want to get that egg layer down. But most of the time that the fish are gonna pick it is when it's on its way back up. Now, when a caddisfly goes down to lay its egg, it tracks oxygen, an oxygen bubble, in between its wings because it needs to breathe. It's no longer capable of breathing underwater. And it can absorb that subcutaneously right through the skin. So there's that bright spot. And those two little white [inaudible 01:10:46] on the Prince Nymphs, to me, that seems to be one of the things that might be suggesting. Then you've got that peacock body, which, depending upon you look at it, the natural peacock certainly can be all kinds of different colors. And then, some sense of tail, which I don't really think looks like a tail to the fish. I just think it looks like an extension of the wing, and then some hackles to get the movement, okay? So sinking those and, you know, letting them drift back to the surface, maybe speeding that up, maybe retrieving, maybe swinging it as a wet fly, is a wonderful pattern to use during the egg laying stage of caddisflies.
Tom: Now, Tom, don't you think that that shiny metal bead could imitate that oxygen bubble too?
Thomas: That what could, the bead? Oh, it could be.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Thomas: Yeah, it could be.
Tom: The beads that you don't like.
Thomas: Yeah, it could absolutely be. And actually, in a minute, we'll get to that because we were gonna talk a little about Euro nymphing, okay?
Tom: Yeah.
Thomas: Because, as I say, for years I did all of my Prince Nymphs without a bead. So that's why I'm looking particularly at wings as representing that option. Okay. Can that bead head do that? Absolutely. So let's start talking about a kind of a modern approach here. And that is that if we start to look at what the people who are competition flyfishers are doing, there's two of them, Devin Olsen and Lance Egan who have each developed a fly, and I'm gonna say certainly in the case of Lance Egan, based on the Prince Nymph because he said so in his video. He says, "This is..." I used to fish with Prince Nymphs all the time. This is the fly I now would use instead." And it's his Red Dart. And a Red Dart doesn't have a [inaudible 01:13:02] tail. it has a bright red tail. It doesn't have the white [inaudible 01:13:09]. It does have a light pink color [SP]. And then, it's got this enormous bead head on it and then the little bit of red that he uses and the tying thread to tie it off and augment the color, okay?
It's got the same brown hackle on it. He uses 10. I tend to use a rooster hackle on my Prince Nymphs. And it's also got a rib. His is a little more complex. It's a combination of sort of a holographic tinsel and then monofilament, which is mainly there to make it durable. I think that's a little bit of overkill. There's also a lot of weight underneath it, okay? So the more I look at this, the less it looks to me like a caddisfly. But you know what? It works. You just can't argue with that, okay? And when I first looked at this thing I said, "Hey, that's a Prince Nymph but there's this whole idea of contrasting colors and then this whole approach of get this thing down." And, you know, they can still lift it at the end. They frequently do. But the whole casting style, the whole, you know, fine, fine monofilament leader and all of that structure. I mean, it's great for me because I have kind of an exciting thing I can now go out and do and do something different and fun. So I'm looking forward to that.
Then, I think when I look at Devin Olsen's Blowtorch, it seems to be very much along the same lines there. Now, you've done some wonderful videos with George Daniel. And George certainly knows his bugs. I'm not gonna speak of him as though I know him personally. I've met him once I think. And he, if I'm not mistaken, has a slightly different approach to his fly selection, in that he doesn't quite go for the bright stuff. He seems to go a little bit more traditional but then definitely adds the weight. Am I correct on that?
Tom: Yeah, yeah, although, you know, George is innovative, and by now, he may be using more bright stuff. I haven't talked to him about it recently but, yeah.
Thomas: I'm gonna just do something quickly here but you'll have to edit this out. I have a young border collie who can't stand being out of my sight for too long. Making a little noise there. So I thought she would be quiet. Anyway, yeah, so we were talking about George Daniel and, you know, and he has a slightly different approach. But, you know, again, get that fly down there. And then, you know, you look at some of these other flies and even the Perdigon and things like that that just it's like okay, to what degree does this look like a bug? And it kinda changes your thinking about, well, how realistic do our patterns have to be in order to be successful? So what are they actually looking at?
Tom: Yeah. So you think a lot of these deep nymphs could be imitating egg-laying caddisflies that have dropped down to the bottom.
Thomas: They absolutely could. They absolutely could, right? And then, a lot of those could be just, you know, a caddis larvae drifting among the bottom with some of the green ones and things like that. I mean, even that big junk fly they call a mock fly. And I look at that and I say, "Well, change the color a little bit. And that looks exactly like one of the big case caddisflies that may not ever get to the surface and may not ever lay its eggs on the surface, but I've seen them running around on the bottoms of the rivers and lakes before."
Tom: Oh yeah, yeah.
Thomas: So I'm playing around with that and getting material that looks a little bit more with the caddis case, but basically, it's still a mock fly, you know. Anyway, so egg layers, and then there's also the ground egg layers, and those are just something that could look like a wet fly that's just dead-drifted, something that looks like, well, it was a bug once, you know. Oh, and then, of course, there's the spent ones too. That's actually the seventh one is the spent one. And those are wonderfully effective flies. I caught my best salmon on the Upper Connecticut on an imitation of a dead October caddis one. They're not October caddis out here. They're more like August but the [inaudible 01:17:50], the big orange ones because those, again, they hatch off-stream. They lay their eggs off-stream. They aren't on the water, but they'll end up there. Particularly if the weather is a little windy or a little wet, they'll end up there. I've had, it's a later caddis called neophylax also an off-the-water caddis, except as a larvae. But I've had them in...I had a bunch of them in a clump of trees on the Housatonic, and the wind was blowing, and I think there was a little rain too. And they kept dropping, and I had a field day, and so did the fish. They found this little spot off the, you know, where the... It was kind of a sweeper. And these things were dropping off and just pop, pop, pop. So yeah, that's not to say you can't fish 'em, and under certain circumstances that certainly happens, you know.
Tom: Yeah, they're almost like a terrestrial in that stage, you know, because they're falling in. They're not hatching.
Thomas: Yeah. I have had that often happen in the Upper Penobscot. It was a driving rain but the caddisflies were out for some reason, and they kept on hitting the river. And I did okay with some spent wings, okay? That one that Larry Solomon tied, the deltawing caddis, worked beautifully.
Tom: So the spent caddis, most of the caddis, they go back to the water, they hit the water, they dive underneath, they lay their eggs, and then they pop back up to the surface?
Thomas: Okay. Sometimes, sometimes. And apparently, some females an actually mate a second time. I don't have anything to verify that. But now the deltawing caddis, we're gonna move out of the net-spinners and go into the more primitive casemakers. Brachycentrus, the grannom, they're the biggie. Brachycentrus, the grannom is the biggie. The next biggie is the dark blue sedge. Its Latin name is silitrita [SP] that, you know, unfortunately, there's no native Latin speakers who can argue with my pronunciation of that. But that's the one that triggered two books. One was, "Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect" by Leonard Wright. And it was one of those cases of, you know, there is this caddisfly, and it's doing these weird things, and it's pretty big. It's like a size 10. And there are other hatches going on. I think there was a green drake hatch. And the fish [inaudible 01;20:43] were eating these things, but the dead drifts didn't work. And so he devised these things like the 7 inch and these other little techniques and had little hook casts in order to cast so that the pattern faced upstream. He devised a pattern for it that would stay pretty buoyant. And he would scan it across the surface and bam, that's when the fish would hit it. That's an egg-laying caddis on the surface because it's trying to rub it off sort of like a stone fly does. It's trying to rub the egg off onto the water. So you get this kind of a movement there, okay? And therefore, when it's expired, it's more likely to die on the water. And I think that's why Larry Solomon had that delta caddis specifically for that hatch. He would go out in the morning and find these things. And he would clean up, you know, a fish here and there that were still feeding on those spent wing caddises, yeah.
Tom: Okay. So the ones that dive to the bottom, they're just gonna drown. So they're gonna be imitated by a wet fly after they finish laying their eggs.
Thomas: Can they fly off again? Absolutely.
Tom: Oh, they can? Okay.
Thomas: Oh, yeah, oh yeah. They can fly back to the trees. They can make multiple visits.
Tom: Wow.
Thomas: Yeah.
Tom: So it could actually look like a hatch, couldn't it, because these caddisflies might be coming out of the water.
Thomas: Yes and that's why, you know, the big answers to the question is look at the fish and see what they're doing. Look at the caddisflies and see what they're doing.
Tom: Yeah. Be observant. Be observant all the time.
Thomas: [inaudible 01:22:27] thing. a caddisfly that's returned to the surface after laying eggs, it's not gonna take very long to take off again. So if the fish are on that, they're probably gonna hit it pretty hard.
Tom: Okay. Wow. It's a lot more complicated than I thought.
Thomas: I'm afraid so.
Tom: And that's why caddis hatches frustrate us so much I guess.
Thomas: You know, it's great because as we're talking about this and, you know, you sort of asked the question and said, "Oh, yeah, that's right." Circle back around to sum up the thing that we were talking about. But anyway, so there are a variety of other little mostly up in the stream, there's this little one called [inaudible 01:23:12], which is a really odd-looking thing that actually I was in a hatch of that down in the Chattahoochee, which is a lot of fun. And yeah, I mean, like with mayflies and everything like that, to figure out what caddis is going to be where, you have to look at, well, what's the speed of the water, what's the turbulence, and what's the food? So, for instance, those big wonderful stick caddisflies that we see in the spring just about everywhere, they're mostly in the margins and particularly anyplace where you get a lot of detritus that's gathering, you can see these things crawling around.
Tom: Right, yeah.
Thomas: And they're gonna be in the slower margins, and those are the ones that are gonna be big orange caddisflies later on. But they need sticks to build their cases out of, and they're also leaf shredders. They need something fairly substantial to rip apart. What they're actually going after is not the leaf itself but a fungus that grows on it. So the leaves have to be, you know, fairly old. You're not gonna find them in piney areas because that takes too long to break down. But you're gonna find the little lepidistomas there because they are better at processing those piney resins. And I don't know, maybe more patient. You know, like shady net [SP] caddisflies, you're gonna need some place...sounds like you have a dog there too.
Tom: Yeah, two of 'em.
Thomas: The shady net caddisflies, as I say, they need food in the drift. They need small particles of food like what's left over after the leaf shredders shredded all of the leaves. And then the further down, the finer it gets. So you're not gonna find them fringed in the upper reaches of the Connecticut lakes where the water tends to be faster. You're gonna find more of the current-loving caddisflies that love cold water, the rhyacophelias. And, you know, by the way, it's much more about altitude than latitude. You can find these things in Appalachian streams, you know. Once you get up into, oh, basically you cross the border from South Carolina into Tennessee or North Carolina. Excuse my geography. It's South Carolina that connects with Tennessee. I think it does. I know Georgia does. But when you get up into those high mountains, you're gonna find a lot of the same insects you'll find in the not-so-high but cooler mountains that we have up here. So these things are all over the place. It might be different species. They don't have the big alder fly down there in the south. But they have a different version of them, a different species, which looks, you know, very similar, just a little smaller.
Tom: And I would assume that west of the Mississippi, the distribution is fairly similar. I mean, you see caddis hatches there and...
Thomas: Well, the Mississippi is very effective in dividing species, less true as you go further north because you don't have the Mississippi running into Canada. It starts below the Canadian border, I think at Lake Itasca yeah, in the northern part of the U.S. And so those, there's no problem with migration there. But the Mississippi River and the plains present pretty much of a barrier to a lot of these species, especially the ones that require cold water. So there's not really very many that are transcontinental. I mean, that's true of mayflies too, you know, lots of different species. And you've got a whole family of crawling or of clinging mayflies that you don't have many of at all out West, which we've got, you know, many, many species here, all those...we used to call them [inaudible 01:27:40] until Pat McCafferty got involved and started calling them [inaudible 01:27:40]. But, you know, [inaudible 01:27:43], the big guy, he is transcontinental, he or she. You know, that species is transcontinental. So that's a fairly northern species. The great Mississippi Divide separates them.
Tom: But the lifecycles and the behavior are gonna be similar in the Western streams.
Thomas: Generally speaking, yeah. I don't know what to tell you. I don't have a whole lot of experience fishing caddisflies in the West. I mean, the last time I was out there, it was a trip to Yellowstone, and I don't know if I ever put a caddisfly on. I probably put on something rubber. But, you know, there were definitely some mayflies there. But yeah, there are certainly studies of caddisflies. I know, you know, Rick Hafley and Gabe Hughes who did a lot of books that include caddis species out there, not a whole of [inaudible 01:29:00] species, but yeah, I can't, you know, with any authority answer your question. But I know the species aren't the same. And their October caddis or their great big orange caddis doesn't look anything like ours. It's a completely different species. Oh, so, have I muddied the waters here?
Tom: Well, no. I mean, that's what you get into when you talk about imitating insects, right? You do muddy the waters because it can be complex.
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, when I sat down, I didn't intend to write a 300-page book. But, you know, you get kind of into it, you know? And I also, you know, I went through everything that had been written before, you know, what Larry Solomon had done, what LaFontaine had done, what Carl Richards had done. And I looked at all of the species that they covered. And that was my list. And then I said, "And I'm gonna discover some other ones." And that little one that, you know, was running across the lake up in Maine, that was a wonderful discovery of something I knew nothing about, you know? Its family name is wonderfully bouncy. It almost describes its behavior. It's dipseudopsidae. You can almost see it bouncing along the water, dipseudopsidae. But I discovered that, unfortunately, a lot of the things that they covered. Hey, Carl, I'm having a little trouble with this hatch. I haven't actually seen any of them hatching on the surface. Well, there was a little hemming and hawing going on in a few cases. So, you know, they're wonderful books. I learned a lot from them. But there were a few corners cut, you know. I'd like to think I didn't cut any. Sometimes, you just don't know. I couldn't fish everywhere I wanted to fish. There is a wonderful little book called "Opitania" [SP] which is related to the... It is a saddle casemaker that I saw in southern Tennessee. But I just crossed into Tennessee out of the Smokies, and I didn't have a license, and there were fish rising to these things. By the time I could get to a place where I could get a license, no story anymore.
Tom: Well, at least you got to observe the flies hatching, right?
Thomas: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I say something about it. I mean, I don't give any fishing instructions, you know, except some suggestions. But, you know. And then, there are certain ones that I've been able to get to over and over and over again.
Like mayflies, some of these flies have, you know, a week or two that they hatch, and then they're gone. The dark blue sedge is one of them. Grannoms tend to be more stretched out because you can have four or five species in the same place. You can have three species kind of overlapping in the same space over a period of a couple of weeks. But there's not that much difference in the species. What else are the big ones? I can't remember.
Tom: Is the apple caddis or or the shadfly, is that a granum?
Thomas: Oh, that's a granum, yeah, the apple caddis. And that nickname comes from the fact... As I was describing earlier, I had caught one that had really white wings. It also had an incredibly green, Granny apple green, body. And so that's the hatching color. And within an hour, it's something else. So that's not the egg-laying color.
Tom: Interesting.
Thomas: Yeah, that changes quite a bit, and they can go almost black, particularly in some of the smaller species. And there is a certain... I think I have included in the book a sequence, a hatching sequence, of the caddisfly, the green rock worm, rhyacophila. I think it was rhyacophila [inaudible 01:33:38] and just why that sticks in my mind, I don't know. But it was from the Farmington. And I had scooped it up from the surface. And I put it in a container of water that I had. I didn't have any light with me at the time. But I had some container of water to put it into. And I sat there and I waited for it to start hatching. So it was just running around and running around and running around. And I said, "Wait a minute. This is supposed to hatch on the surface." I finally grabbed a rock and put it in there, it crawled on the rock and it hatched. And it was quite an emerald green through the hatching process. You could definitely see it casting the exubia. And then, when the wings were down, the wings were green. And within 10 minutes, the wings had turned charcoal. So quite a dramatic change. Yeah, yeah.
I've got a hatching sequence also of that little [inaudible 01:34:37], the one that goes running across the river on the Farmington in the winter time. So, you know, that's the mechanics of... The beauty of those pictures is I can see because they always put their wings up for a moment or two and shake 'em out. And that's what I was after by raising the wing on my emerger pattern was to emulate that shaking the wings kind of a moment where yeah, and so yeah, the exubia is gone. That's, you know, by this point, it's floated somewhere and their legs are out and they're shaking it and the body hasn't quite gotten out of the water yet. That was the idea there.
Tom: Okay. And it's a very vulnerable stage. So it's a point where the trout are gonna key in there.
Thomas: I'm sorry. I missed the question.
Tom: It's a very vulnerable stage, right? So it's [crosstalk 01:35:30].
Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, like, yeah, like a lot of hatching insects, they can't do much. They can't fly. They can't really run. And yeah, I mean, I don't know what it must be like to suddenly lose your breathing system and have to get used to another one. Yeah, yeah, and that's it. But isn't that kinda true of all of the hatches that we match is tha we're hitting them at their most vulnerable time? Because that's what the fish are doing.
Tom: Right. Yeah.
Thomas: And they have tiny brains, but they're not stupid.
Tom: Nope. Nope, they aren't. They don't seem to be anyways. All right, Tom.
Thomas: Do we got it?
Tom: Yeah, I think we've probably got a few people whose heads are hurting right now. But, you know, the bottom line is through all of this is that you need to be observant. you need to watch the fish. Watch whatever bugs are on the water, and try to imitate what they're doing with a fly that's as close as possible in your fly box. You don't need to have seven stages of caddisflies. I mean, you know, I often imitate an emerger and a spent caddis with the same fly, and seems to work.
Thomas: Oh, absolutely. yes. And as a matter of fact, I specifically say that on a lot of the times, I'm just... You know, to me, if you don't have the pattern, you got a pair of clippers. You can make it out of something you've already got.
Tom: Right, yeah.
Thomas: If you wanted to slightly change the confirmation of that, yeah.
Tom: So you don't need thousands of flies in your box, people. But you do need to match the behavior.
Thomas: No, I'm not trying to suggest that you need eight different flies. Okay? But, you know, a reasonable assortment of colors. I would make sure that I have some sort of a weighted pupal imitation for that midwater, you know, part where the fish are catching them as they're on their way up. I would make sure I have larval patterns. I would make sure I have some sort of an emerger. And, again, it doesn't have to be for each of these species.
Tom: Right, yeah, absolutely not.
Thomas: Right. And then, you know, some lively little thing like a bivisible or something on the top that, you know, to be dragged around a little bit.
Now, of course, there's always those folks who want to, you know, bring out a little net and see what's going on, and that's gonna be very helpful if you've got one. What I don't advise is having your buddy go upstream and kicking up the substrate because that's gonna bring up all the stuff that the fish aren't feeding on. They're not gonna be digging down there. And secondly, it's really damaging to the stream.
Tom: Yeah. yeah. I mean, there's a term called epibenthic feeding, which is, you know, a fish grubbing on the bottom. And it's actually requires a lot more energy for a fish to grub a caddisfly off a rock than it does for the fish to sit there and just let it drift by or drift in the surface film. So, yeah, that's a really good point.
Thomas: Yeah, they have to go at it. Now, you know, not such a problem in those slow reaches and in lakes, but, you know, I have plenty of spots here along the White River where you see fish working their way upstream on the surface. And, you know, it's slower down in the bottom. I'm sure if they can, they will do the same thing down in the bottom. Yeah, I mean, that's it that I can think of at the moment.
Tom: Well, that's a pretty good education in caddisflies. And I certainly learned some stuff. So I wanna thank you for taking the time.
Thomas: My pleasure. Go ahead.
Tom: And, again, the book Tom's referring to is just called "Caddisflies." Right?
Thomas: It's called "Caddisflies" and just to distinguish it from the LaFontaine book of the same name, it's "Caddisflies: A Guide to Eastern Species for Anglers and Other Naturalists."
Tom: Yep. And who is the publisher of that?
Thomas: That's Stackpole.
Tom: Stackpole. Okay. Okay. And that's still in print. So if anyone is int-...
Thomas: As far as I know, yeah. There's no reason to believe otherwise.
Tom: No. If anyone is interested in pursuing caddisflies further, it's a great resource, particularly if you're in the East.
Thomas: Yes. Yes. It's not gonna help a lot for the West but, you know, who knows?
Tom: Oh, I think those patterns and things will work just fine in the West. I think the patterns you got in there and the, I think they'll work just fine.
Thomas: Come to think of it, I have learned a thing or two when I went out West about stuff I can do in the East. Not to expect quite so many fish but... Oh, well.
Tom: All right, Tom. Again, thank you very much. We've been talking to Thomas Ames, author of the book "Caddisflies." And I really appreciate you taking the time today.
Thomas: It's been a pleasure.
Tom: All right, Tom, I will talk to you soon hopefully. Okay.
Thomas: All right. Bye-bye.
Tom: Bye-bye. Thanks for listening to "The Orvis Flyfishing Podcast" with Tom Rosenbauer. You can be a part of the show. Have a question or a comment? Send it to us at in the body of an email or as a post attachment. You can find more free fishing tips and how to fly fish at