Salomone: Mother’s Day caddis … or is it?
Observing the Eagle River’s caddis hatch from a unique vantage point
The Mother’s Day caddis hatch — is it really on the second Sunday in May every year? Not really. It is more of a generalization for what is happening across the Rockies at that time of year. Whether in Montana, Wyoming or our beloved Colorado, the rivers are all speaking the same language. It’s pre-runoff time. And conditions are set for the great caddis emergence.
Water temperature is the key for a massive emergence of insects. When temperatures reach 50 degrees in the river, activity has already begun. While not a full blown hatch yet, the nymphs are active, positioning themselves for the transformation. At 54 degrees, the hatch is going off.
Around the West there are many storied waters that sport healthy populations of early season caddis. The almighty Yellowstone River in Montana has a well known Mother’s Day caddis hatch. The Miracle Mile in Wyoming supports another established mid-May caddis hatch. And here in Colorado, the Arkansas River possesses a notoriously active Mother’s Day caddis emergence. However, they are not the Eagle River.
Here is where the Eagle River shines with its fantastic angler access, well stocked local fly shops and a massive caddis population. With my family living on the river in Gypsum and my home on the bank in the town of Eagle I can observe the caddis hatch progression from a unique perspective.
Did an angler miss it if they were not on the river this past Sunday? No. The Eagle River is showing off her caddis prowess. The lovely, little bugs are popping up from Eagle to Gypsum and beyond. The Colorado River is reflecting similar conditions with a healthy caddis emergence as well.
If you haven’t been on the water throwing caddis in some stage, you are missing out. Yes, the water is high and off-color down-Valley but it is still fishing well in the margins. Casting into the bankside pockets created by submerged boulders and riverbank rocks pulls hungry brown and rainbow trout from their vantage position.
Massive amounts of caddis are swarming around boulders causing splashy, eruptive strikes right along the waterline. High floating caddis pattern dry flies in size 12-16 can still fill the net with regularity. Above Wolcott, the water is running much clearer but still with an increased pace and volume.
Wade carefully to prevent an accidental dunking. The volume and power the Eagle possesses when it is running high can dislodge rocks, float large debris and push firmly anchored boots. Many anglers choose not to wear a wading belt. This is a big mistake given the force the river is showing. A wading belt can turn a slip in the water into a laughing moment but the angler with no belt can turn into a life threatening situation. Falls are more easily dealt with when a wading belt is involved — wear it.
Float fishermen should be wearing their life vests when angling. Anyone complaining about the difficulty of wearing a PFD when float fishing is someone I don’t want in my boat during high water. The Eagle River hides numerous boulders just under the surface.
Fly choices cover the stages of the caddis insect. I’m a fan of Gary LaFontaine and his caddis pioneering advice. He developed presentations, flies and techniques all around the caddis.
For a larva pattern a green larva nymph is very easy to create and easier to recognize. LaFontaine’s Sparkle Pupa nymph is a great emerger that fishes well deep and on the swing.
An emerger pattern capitalizes on the weak stage in the caddis bug’s life. Caddis do actively swim for the surface. Waiting for your nymphs to rise at the end of your drift can solicit a strike.
The ever popular Prince nymph is an iconic, old-school pattern that should be in every fly box. The X-caddis is an active emerger fly that imitates a trailing shuck, upright wings and defined body. It is a perfect trailing fly for fishing dry dropper, only the dropper is close to the surface or riding on top. The classic Elk Hair caddis can be fished dry or drowned effectively. But hands down, a Puterbaugh’s Foam-Bodied caddis is my number one dry fly for fishing the Eagle River.
The Mother’s Day caddis hatch — recognized worldwide by anglers as one of the great opportunities for incomparable success. And a half dozen flies to make use of any stage of the hatch and angler encounters. Go ahead and get out there.
Your mom wants you to.