Mother's Day Caddis Hatch
The famed “Mothers Day Caddis” is just around the corner. This is an event that many fly fishermen wait for all year. For many, it rivals the salmon fly hatch and can most certainly be just as unpredictable. When it does go off though, it can make for some of the best dry fly fishing of the entire year with caddis so thick that it can look like it is snowing and bugs, at times, blanketing the river.
There are a few different ways to fish this hatch. The most obvious and fun way is with a single dry fly. Elk hair Caddis, Goddard Caddis and X-Caddis are some of our favorite dries to fish when fish are actively rising and eating on the surface. If there are lots of bugs on the water, we like to use one that is sometimes a little larger or a little different color than that naturals so our fly stands out in the sea of live insects. In this situation, competition on the water can be your biggest problem for not catching fish. Also, look for a single fish and try and cast your fly so it floats directly into that fish’s feeding lane. With lots of available food on the surface, most fish won’t move far out of their way to eat a bug.
Sometimes, you may see fish that look like they are rising, but you only notice their noses or backs coming out of the water. These fish are often eating just below the surface of the water and won’t always commit to an adult insect above it. This is a great time to tie on a caddis pupa or emerger, and fish it behind your dry fly. We like to use 12-16’ of tippet from the dry fly to the second fly which gives them plenty of separation to work independently. We call this the “dry/dropper rig.” The dry dropper rig can be one of the most effective ways to fish the hatch because it allows you to have both surface and subsurface bug activity covered. If the fish eats the dry, you see and it set, but if the fish eats the emerger, you’ll see the dry fly sink like a strike indicator and you’ll know to set the hook.
The Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch, like many hatches, can be frustrating at times. Sometimes you feel like your doing everything right and the fish still won’t eat any of your flies. There are several things that could be happening here. While it might sound strange, there are times during the hatch that the fish just aren’t eating. When these bugs first show up, many fish eat them in big numbers and for lack of a better term, they get full. Fish digest food rather slowly and if they have just eaten lots of bugs, it may take them a day or two to be hungry again. This can certainly be the case if the bugs have been out for a few days.
Secondly, while you are fishing and sometimes struggling to keep those pesky fluttering insects out of your nose, if the bugs are in the air and not on the surface of the water, how are the fish supposed to know there is a hatch? We actually hear this quite often that there were plenty of bugs but no fish eating them. Timing is actually very important during this hatch as your best fishing is going to be both while the bugs are actually hatching out of the water or when they return to the water to lay their eggs and die. In fact, its not commonly known, but the bugs you actually see on the surface of the water have either struggled to hatch completely and are dying on the surface, or they have laid their eggs and fallen back to the river to die. Patience and timing are your friends during this hatch.
Another thing not to forget is that fish are still looking for other food as well. Fishing a crayfish or worm with a caddis pupa can be the ticket if the conditions aren’t great for dry fly fishing. This is a great way to still be productive in between finding rising fish.
An unfortunate circumstance of the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch is that while this brings on some of our first great fishing of the year, it also brings on warmer weather which can in turn lead to changing water conditions. As the weather warms up it can cause the rivers to get some color in them, and if it stays warm, they can completely blow out. This is usually due to snow melt and smaller creeks rising and getting muddy. On freestone rivers like the Yellowstone and the Gallatin this can make the water dirty and unfishable. Tail Water Rivers like the Madison can often see some color as well but because they are dam controlled, they can offer cleaner water longer. If the water the water becomes dirty or off color, fishing close to the bank will typically be your best bet. Fish will be hugging the banks in shallow water looking for food which can be ideal for the wading angler.
If you hit it on the right day, the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch can be phenomenal. Even if the fishing isn’t stellar, it’s certainly worth seeing the sheer amount of insect life on or near the water all at once. It’s one of our first and most prolific hatches of the year and a great thing to experience as a fly fisherman in southwest Montana… And the best thing to keep in mind, Caddis don’t bite!
Stop by the shop or give us a call to stay updated on this incredible event!