The Big Caddis

Fly fishing took a bit of a backseat in 2017 due to all the time involved in moving and getting established in Laramie. No surprise there, really. And we spent a lot of our free time just exploring the area with the kiddos – it’s been so much fun showing my wife and girls around the areas where I grew up. A lot of old memories relived. Worms and bobbers have also made a resurgence in my life, now that I’m often fishing with a two-year-old. How priorities change.

My oldest catching her first fish at Huck Finn Pond in Laramie.

But I still got the itch to cast a fly rod, and the Laramie Plains Lakes were often my saving grace. I fondly remember fishing these lakes when just a little boy armed with a Zebco 33 and casting Renegades and Hornbergs behind a clear bubble, wet wading in shorts and old tennis shoes. This was back before that Christmas when my dad graced me with my first fly rod (an 8-foot Pflueger 5 weight) at the age of eleven. I love fishing the North Platte and the Laramie and the countless streams and creeks in the high country, but the Plains Lakes will always hold a special place in my heart. And the fact that I can leave my front door and be at one of these lakes in under half an hour is a convenience I’ve never appreciated so much, especially when a few hours after work may be the only time free time I have to slip away.

Growing up in Laramie, my stillwater fly box was simply fundamental. Olive beadhead Woolly Buggers were a staple, especially in spring after ice out before the hatches really started coming off. Throw in some scuds, assorted little nymphs (heavy on the Hare’s Ears and Pheasant Tails), damselfly nymphs, some parachute Adams and Dark Cahill’s to cover the callibaetis (not that I knew that was the name of those little gray mayflies back then), some very simple olive wet flies I called Green Things, Renegades and Gray/Black QTs (Renegades with grizzly or black hackle), Elk Hair Caddis, Hornbergs, and Muddler Minnows. The Muddlers were for the high point in summer fishing on the Plains Lakes: when The Caddis were hatching.

Caddis generally start coming off on the Plains Lakes in May and can last well into September, with an assortment of species present. But the big caddis are the high point, generally peaking in late June and early July. I’d guess now that they’re Traveling Sedge, or some very similar species. Growing up they had lots of names depending on who you talked to… millers, giant caddis, western caddis, gray caddis, speckled caddis, big caddis, and so on. When someone asked, “are the caddis hatching?” they were generally referring to The Caddis. Easily an inch long, it seemed like you could see them motoring around on the lake from a half mile away when the wind was calm (rare around here, but it happens!). The hatches generally start up in late afternoon and really get with it as the sun is setting over the Snowy Range to the west. And the fish take notice. And some of those fish are big. The last hour of light is the golden hour, and even when it gets too dark to see your fly and your brain starts telling you it’s about time to give it up for the night, you can still hear those explosive takes on the water around you.

A good late-night brown.

The Muddler was always my go to pattern for representing these big caddis, where floatability and a big wake were the key ingredients. Generally a size 8, but sometimes a 6 or even a 4, heavy on the deer hair for buoyancy. With my return to the Plains Lakes in June this summer, I scrounged up what turned out to be a meager supply of suitable Muddlers, admonishing myself for letting my supply get so low over the years. Along with some CDC & Elk to cover the smaller caddis, they did the trick. But my first night out, with ten more years of fly tying experience behind me, ideas for improvements began churning in my mind. I’ll always have confidence in a Muddler Minnow under just about any circumstance, but there had to be something that floated a little higher, was a little quicker to tie, and wouldn’t result in a mess of hair trimmings in my parents’ dining room. Because it became obvious I’d need to do some tying soon.

Awesome spots on this brown. My faithful poodle Leo watches on.

The problem was that nearly all of my fly tying supplies were still buried somewhere in the nine shrink-wrapped pallets sitting in my parents’ garage. I’d already had to temporarily repurpose the chest pack for my binoculars as a chest pack for fishing. Though I’d had the foresight to keep my vise, the essential tools, and a few fundamental supplies (including a few Whiting saddles) to cure the tying itch during the move, it became obvious the supplies I had handy were not going to be up to sufficient. I hated buying supplies I already had, but knew it could be another month or two until I could again dig into my hoard of supplies, and waiting two months was not an option. Begrudgingly I threw down money at the local fly shop for some deer and elk hair, knowing somewhere I had what felt like half a hide of each squirreled away (hunting has multiple rewards). Add in some CDC, tinsel, hooks and a few other odds and ends, and I was off and running.

Sitting at my folks’ kitchen table after the girls were asleep for the night. I experimented with this and that, and what became my staple for the rest of the summer caddis hatch was beautifully simple and effective. Nothing revolutionary. Just a big CDC caddis. Dai-Riki 320 size 8 hook, gold tinsel body, four CDC feathers as a down wing, and front collar of golden badger or speckled badger hackle. I’m a big fan of Trouthunter CDC for these big buoyant wings, in natural tan and dyed caddis dun colors. I don’t know that color is that important – profile, buoyancy and wake are likely the important part – but I’m the type of guy who likes having a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t work out. The finished fly is roughly half again as long as the actual caddis, but an oversized fly has never been an issue for me during this hatch and only helps to (so I believe) make the fly more visible in the almost guaranteed wind chop on the water. It’s all about the chug-chug-chug wake.

Plains CDC Caddis: gold tinsel body, tan CDC wing (4-6 feathers), and badger hackle.

The big fly floats like a cork, even being stripped over and through rough water, and an amadou patch and some Frog’s Fanny keep it riding high after multiple fish. Plus it’s so quick to tie I could afford to switch out flies as needed if the one tied on was losing its buoyancy.

When some of those trout attack those big caddis, it sounds like someone dropped a bowling ball in the lake. June can’t come again fast enough.

A caddis munching rainbow.
A beautifully still evening at the lake.

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