Salomone: Mother’s Day, the caddis hatch everyone loves, is here |

Salomone: Mother’s Day, the caddis hatch everyone loves, is here

When the right conditions arrive, so do the bugs — in large numbers

Michael Salomone
Vail Valley Anglers staff member JP Modderno holds a brown trout.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

While walking along the river with my wife and dogs recently, a caddis appeared from the bushes. The flying insect bounced through the air, settling on my shirt. I had to pause and look around. There they were, hovering above the creekside bushes in the afternoon sunlight.

The calendar said it was early, but the river told a different tale. Mother’s Day caddis had arrived.

In fly-fishing shops and across magazine pages, storied hatches on famous waters have enticed anglers for years. Here in Colorado, the salmonfly hatch on the Gunnison River garners that acclaim. The green drake hatch on the Roaring Fork River is another enticing event anglers relish.

Closer to home, on the Eagle River, is a caddis hatch that rivals the bug’s emergence on the Arkansas River. The Arkansas is a much larger watershed than the Eagle River and gathers the admiration of more anglers. Still, the Mother’s Day caddis hatch on the Eagle River is what dreams are made of.

When the conditions align, the bugs emerge in epic proportions. Water temperature is a key factor in getting the wings on the bugs, but the presence of nymphs transitioning into the pupae stage has the river fishing incredibly well. Mother’s Day is just the beginning of it all.

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The USGS river gauge shows that by 3-3:30 p.m. the Eagle River temperature has warmed to the 50-degree mark, scattering caddis pupae into the currents. The river is up and running rough in many areas, pushing trout into the margins. When the 52-degree mark is hit, the bugs are very active in the water. At 54 degrees, the hatch is on.

Vail Valley Anglers guide Andy Otter Smith.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

Seams, foam lines, current change indicators — structure that creates consistent food gathering produces reliably. Trout are trying to gain sustenance to weather the high water we will be experiencing. The snowpack this year will have our rivers full of run-off water for weeks.

An attractive factor of the Mother’s Day caddis hatch is the longevity of the emergence. The bugs are suspended in a transition stage, the pupae stage, for many days. Nymphing can lead to some impressive numbers of fish being caught. Soft Hackle Hare’s Ear and Pheasant Tail nymphs breathe in the water like an emerging pupae. The soft hackle fibers flex and pulse and excel when the current pulls the fly tight downstream.

Because the bugs are suspended in the pupae stage, the Mother’s Day caddis hatch often lasts quite a while.
Brown with caddis

Give your drift the time to rise at the end. Pausing to allow the fly to bounce and skitter for a moment can lead to aggressive slashing strikes. Large swirls, big boils or splashy smacks all signal a trout keyed in on caddis. Trout eating the prevalent Blue Wing Olives sip the small mayflies like red wine. Caddis eaters slam the bug like a shot of tequila.

Off-colored water gives anglers an edge. The color allows anglers to beef up tippet size while still remaining undetected. Heavier tippet aids in fighting the fish in strong currents. A broad-tailed rainbow will test the strength of your knots in high water. Keeping the fish out of the main current of the river is the task of the wading angler. Pulling the fish into the current to come downriver as you continue the float is the goal of the float fisher. Either way, you better have confidence in your knots.

Flies for the hatch are simple: elk hair caddis. The old-school bug of choice for fly fishers on the Eagle River is a bushy elk hair caddis. The bug floats well, giving a significant target for trout and angler to see. It performs when drowned and floating just under the surface, and when fished in tandem— with another dry fly or an emerger caddis— forms a deadly team.

As for flies, buy extra. Fish, logs and trees with fingers that grab at your backcast all reach out and steal your flies. Anglers will inevitably go through more flies than they anticipate during a heated hatch. Even flies that survive an attack get slimed beyond effectiveness and need replacing. The teeth of trout tear at the feathers, hair and thread of your caddis. A couple good fish and your fly could be in tatters. Check your fly occasionally. From a distance, you won’t detect the unraveling, but the trout will.

Mother’s Day is the beginning of it all. The hatch will be here for weeks. Nymphing or with dry flies, the caddis hatch on the Eagle River reaches epic proportions.

Maybe the most important thing to remember: don’t forget to call your mom before heading out to fish on Sunday.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

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