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Salomone: The little black caddis

The small, dark bug's spring emergence signals the true beginning of the dry-fly season

Michael Salomone
When little black caddis begin to emerge, you know the true dry-fly season has begun.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

One of the advantages of living on the bank of the Eagle River is a connection to the insects that fill the bellies of trout. Only recently have I started to see caddis flying haphazardly over the still winter-stripped willows. Grass is greening quickly and the river swells with mocha-colored water everyday below Wolcott. The conditions are aligning for a little black caddis emergence and the beginning of our true dry-fly fishing.

The little black caddis emerges in late spring. The small, dark bugs fill the riverside debris with a hoard of mating adults. The Eagle River is well known for its caddis population. Once the little blacks start, the other bugs are soon to follow.

The little black caddis is a case-building caddis. The small, tube-like protrusions attached to river strata along the banks in relatively shallow water are evidence of caddis in the early stages — the larva stage. The bugs live for about a year in the cases they construct for their home. The cases are often dislodged, purposely or inadvertently, making a cased-caddis nymph a decent choice for bouncing along the river bottom.



By ‘purposely,’ I mean the caddis can detach and free float to relocate, or the caddis can tether themselves to the rock in a self belay. The same silk the caddis forms to make their case is used to move and still remain attached to the rock by a thread. This is a slightly more controlled means of locomotion compared to free floating at the mercy of current.

For early-season success, the Pheasant Tail nymph or Hare’s Ear nymph is a good choice.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

The overwhelming presence of caddis in the larva stage changing into the pupae phase makes fishing a nymph key for subsurface success. A black or chocolate-colored Pheasant Tail nymph or Hare’s Ear nymph gets the job done early in the season. As the summer progresses, trout will become increasingly critical of the bugs they eat, but for now, these old-school nymphs get the job done as long as the nymph is small — size 18 being ideal.

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Once the hatch begins the insects will emerge along the riverside and occupy space on boulders to dry, collect and begin mating. Unlike the Blue Wing Olives, the first caddis of the year exist as adults for a few weeks compared to a few days.

Cooler temperatures cause the little blacks to emerge in a passive, languid state, floating on the surface or gathering warmth on boulders or debris. It will take the heat of the sun to get the insects moving. Once they do, mating activity consumes all of their time.

Caddis shown mating on a rod.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

The females are slightly larger than the males. A size 18 mimics the small males, whereas the females are more of a size 16; even a 14 works well when fished actively. By ‘actively,’ I mean the bug has some motion imparted to the fly by the angler. A twitch, skitter or pause in the drift gives life to the fly that a purely dead-drifted bug doesn’t possess.



The action given to flies mimics the variety of motion females exhibit. After mating, the females can disperse their eggs in many ways. Some will skitter along the surface, dropping eggs into the water. Others will dive under the surface and lay eggs on objects.

The amount of activity a female displays gives an advantage to the angler. Anglers can fish a caddis with less attention to perfect drifts. Movement in your flies can trigger trout to eat. Purposely imparting motion into a dry fly may seem counterintuitive to some anglers but the results support the intentions.

A close up of a cut-bow caught by the author.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

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