The October Caddis (Anderson’s Bird of Prey Pupa)
After taking a timeout from our monthly fly tying nights it will be great to get back to the vise to work on adding some new creations to our fly boxes. We certainly had more than our share of scorching hot days this summer. As the days get shorter and the sun moves across the sky in arcs that become progressively lower each day, the temperature will be dropping to more comfortable levels for both fish and flyfishers. As the waters cool down the fish will be sensing the change in the seasons, modifying their feeding preferences to match the continually changing insect hatches.
On many of our rivers and streams caddis flies provide an important part of the trout’s diet. The different caddis species tend to become smaller in size as the summer progresses culminating in sizes 16 and 18 on many waters. That is until fall when the October Caddis hatches. There is no mistaking what you are looking at when you see a large bug, almost the size of a golden stone, with a characteristic caddis-type fluttering flight in September and October. It has got to be the October Caddis (also called Fall Caddis or Orange Sedge). In the western United States you can expect to find October Caddis on most freestone rivers and streams and also some tailwater rivers.
Adult October Caddis
I came across a timely article by Don Roberts in the September/October issue of the Northwest Fly Fishing Magazine. Roberts refers to noted flyfisher and author Gary Lafontaine who was once asked about what insects provide the best opportunity to catch big trout. His response included three bugs: the October Caddis, the Salmon Fly, and the Hexagenia mayfly. And in LaFontaine’s opinion the October Caddis “is the most important of the three — and the contest is not even close.” I’m sure that could be arguable, but it makes you think that the October Caddis should at least be given a close look by flyfishers.
Judging from recent reports it seems that this year’s caddis hatches have seen a pleasant return to decent levels on the Deschutes. One can only hope that will continue into the fall months and the arrival of the October Caddis. Don’t expect a snowstorm type hatch like you sometimes see with their smaller cousins, but what the October Caddis lacks in numbers it makes up for in physical size. Who doesn’t like plopping some really big bugs onto the water after flipping those little #18 caddis that you struggle to see in the last light of the day’s fishing?
Caddis flies undergo a life cycle called a complete metamorphosis of four stages— from egg, to larva, to pupa, and then adult. It is possible to catch trout on October Caddis larva patterns in the months leading up to the hatch of the adults. The larva build cases, usually made of an assortment of pebbles. Beginning in February the larvae will be available to trout until they begin to pupate in mid-August. One of the more effective October Caddis larva patterns is the Cased Caddis, originated by John Hazel back in 1978.
October Caddis larva in its case
Hazel’s Cased Caddis pattern
The larvae can also be found in the water without their cases, as they frequently emerge to build new cases as they grow.
October Caddis larva outside its case
October Caddis larva pattern
After pupating, October caddis usually begin hatching in mid-September, and adult flies will continue to be available to trout through the end of October. A good imitation for the adults is a size 6-8 Stimulator or Sofa Pillow type fly tied with a pale orange or yellow body with brownish wings and hackle.
A typical adult October Caddis pattern
In order to cover all of your bases a well-equipped flyfisher should have fly patterns to cover the larva, pupa, and adult stages of the insect. But the question becomes to which stage of the life cycle of the October Caddis should you focus your attention. According to author Roberts, the pupa is the stage of the life cycle when the October Caddis is most vulnerable to hungry trout. While fish do take the larva in or out of their stony cases, and random adults are taken as they touch down on the water’s surface, it is the pupa stage that is when the insect is most preferred by fish. It seems to be difficult for trout to pass up what Roberts describes as “a nice squishy parcel of protein”.
Anderson’s Bird of Prey October Caddis Pupa
October Caddis pupa natural
I can personally attest to his opinion about the importance of the pupa stage of the October Caddis. I recall a fall day on the Deschutes when there were adult October Caddis naturals on the bushes and water in the evening but they, along with my adult imitation, were being ignored by the trout I was targeting. I was puzzled about why fish were passing up such a big meal. I had no success until I tried nymphing with a pupa pattern, and the trout certainly found it to their liking.
A fine pupa imitation of the October Caddis Pupa is Anderson’s Bird of Prey tied in a size 6 or 8. If you are going to fish it alone keep it along the bottom near the bank using your usual nymphing techniques. Another good option to increase your chances of success is to fish the Anderson’s Bird of Prey as a dropper beneath an adult imitation. You can try adding a slight twitch or strip to your presentation to briefly skate the adult and at the same time cause the pupa to rise in the water column. And don’t forget, if you are fishing on the Deschutes this is also the time of year that steelhead, hopefully, will be around. So rig your gear appropriately!
Our next Fly Tying Night will be Wednesday, September 26 at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn. We will be tying up some Anderson’s Bird of Prey flies that should be just in time for the October Caddis hatch. We will be starting at 6 pm sharp. Hope you can join us!