Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Jun 16, 2014

The cold clear water of the Shenandoah Valley's Dry River enveloped my waders from the knees down as I eyed the riffle upstream of my position. There was no hatch or surface activity visible, but on this brook trout stream the lie I was after looked to be a good bet. The little 3 weight glass rod flexed well into the cork as I put 20 feet of double-taper line in the air, then dropped the little #16 Elk-Hair Caddis within inches of my target. The diminutive offering danced in the riffle for a mere 3 feet before it was taken in an aggressive roll accompanied by a small tail-slap as if to say "it's mine!" The take left me with the impression that it was not the only fish in the lie that was after my fly. The 8 inch fish fought like twice his size, a credit to its Char lineage and I enjoyed the battle which was perfectly suited for the rod in hand. Easing it toward the gravel tail-out where I stood it came to hand calmly. The distinctive vermillion back shrouding haloed red and blue markings were beautiful in the spring sun as I popped the fly from the corner of its mouth and watched with satisfaction as it darted form my hand, lost again to the streams bottom. Brook trout always seem to make me smile.

After a quick check of the fly fly for any possible damage I rinsed it in the stream and pinched it dry before putting it back in the air to further dry with a few false casts. As I eased back into position to check on whether he had a few more of his kin hiding out in the riffle I thought about the fly itself. Having had the good fortune to fish across the country in the waters that trout call home, one thing has always remained a constant; each-and-every water carries a Caddis hatch. And to narrow it down even further, each-and-every water carries some form of a "Tan" caddis hatch. It may vary in size from the size 20 micro-caddis on Pennsylvania's Tulpehocken Creek, to the lumbering size 10 tan-winged caddis on waters of Washington States Olympic peninsula. But the one constant is they can all be effectively fished with similar tan, down-winged caddis pattern with a body shade that is at least close to the streams naturals.

As a result like many others I tend to default to a like pattern when first hitting a particular stream, whether it's familiar water or a first time visit. Whenever there is an absence of hatch activity but a desire to fish the surface it is the most logical choice. Fish see caddis and fish remember caddis. They have saved the day even when there has been an abundance of mayfly activity, but no willingness to rise and take anything in my box. Despite the present mayflies they will step to the side and grab that Caddis pattern in reflex as it drifts by. Once again an experience reinforced as my fly made it a scant foot once more before being slapped at once and then heartily taken on the second rise by a near mint version of the 1st fish. You just can't help but love the Caddis.

While any stream that holds caddis will also fish well with caddis larva and a myriad of bead-head patterns, my first choice with replicas of the diminutive moth-like critter is the dry fly. The traditional Elk-Hair Caddis or EHC has accounted for more fish than I can possibly count. It works. Very little else is needed to describe its merits. Add to that a plethora of existing patterns from the well-known CDC and Elk to the Fluttering Caddis, Tent-wing Caddis and simple CDC Caddis. They all catch fish by adequately imitating the little tan-winged caddis. My personal favorite these days on my eastern waters is the Penns Grannom. A turkey tail fiber bodied version of a CDC and Elk and a Fluttering Caddis. It does very well for me, and is most often the first pattern I tie on. It floats well, is durable and fish like it.

There are times, as I stand rigging for a day on the water, that I find myself tying on a Caddis and stop myself. It almost feels like cheating. I "know" a caddis pattern will pull up fish. Maybe I should dig a little deeper into the well and try to crack the code-of-the-day for what the fish are truly feeding on. Many times I choose that route and find rising trout willing to take my example of the hatch they are eating, and other times will find me ending the day with a caddis pattern on my tippet. These days the other aspect of a little tan caddis pattern is that in low light it's easy to see which is a testament to aging eyes as much as anything else. It is simply far easier to track in riffles than a size-22 Blue-winged Olive pattern. I reckon it is what it is.

A few holes further down the stream I watched as the sun began to dip below the treetops. It cast an orange glow across the stream and suddenly even the chirping birds were silent. It was that moment, on a warm spring day, when the transition from birds and wildlife would soon be replaced by crickets and peepers. The brief period of relative silence that comes and goes without notice unless you are paying attention. Tonight it signaled that this would be my last pool. I waded out slowly, more for casting room than position. Not a dimple was on the surface. My line could be heard in the air as I worked out line, and as the fly settled on the water it formed a lonely singular ring on the surface. For a moment it did not seem to move in the slower flow of water. And then, as if in no hurry, a head arose and opened showing a bright white mouth and a speckled dorsal fin appeared in the location that my fly had occupied. A lift of the rod kicked things into motion with the thrashing of a large struggling fish as it stayed on the surface. A violent struggle in protest of the little tan caddis fly set firmly in the corner of a jaw.

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