Neil Travis - May 19, 2014

When I started seriously fly fishing spring was mayfly time, with the Hendrickson hatch being the first real hatch of the season. In fact, caddis flies never even registered on my fly fishing radar screen on the rivers that I fished in the Michigan. We were aware of caddis flies but they were never the main attraction. We used large Griffith Gnat type patterns to imitate the fluttering, egg laying caddis and occasionally we used a down-winged pattern, but caddis hatches were never high on our list. All that changed when I moved to Montana.

It did not take long for me to discover that caddis flies were an important fly in the waters around my Montana home. Throughout the winter month's fish would rise to midges and small black stoneflies but the first big hatch of the season was the Mother's Day caddis hatch. When I first moved to Montana in 1974 everyone in this area waited for this hatch to start on the lower Madison River. In later years this hatch developed into a major hatch on the Yellowstone River but in those early days the Madison was place to be when the hatch started.

The tricky thing about the Mother's Day caddis hatch in our area is timing. This hatch can start in early April during years when we have had a mild winter and most anglers hope that it starts earlier rather than later. During the years when winter hangs on until early May the hatch is delayed and when the weather warms up there is a rush to get in a day or two of fishing before the spring run-off wipes out the angling opportunities.

The other problem with the Mother's Day caddis hatch is the intensity. For several years in the early part of this century the hatch was so intense on the Yellowstone that the fish quickly became stuffed. You could stand next to the river and see thousands of flies on the water and not see a single fish rise. One afternoon I went to an area on the stream where there is a large back eddy where I had had good success in previous years. When I got to the water the entire surface of the eddy was covered with spent caddis flies. The surface of the water was literally black with spent caddis flies but there were no visible fish feeding on this smorgasbord. Caddis pupa, emergers, and soft hackles did not produce a single take, just too many flies.

The key to success is to find the head of the hatch but sometimes it blows out over the entire river in a couple days. If you can find the head of the hatch you will normally find trout that are willing to take your flies, especially if you are using a two fly cast with a dry caddis imitation trailing an emerging pupa or soft hackle.

One of my favorite places to fish using a caddis imitation early in the year is a back eddy, especially one that has foam floating on the surface. These back eddies are like big lazy Susan's and the fish will stack up beneath the surface and leisurely pick from the smorgasbord floating overhead. The foam tends to trap emerging insects and this provides a perfect setup for good fishing. One such place is at the mouth of a small stream where it enters the Yellowstone. The river makes a turn at this spot and there is a very deep hole where the small stream enters the main river. During the winter and early spring months a large back eddy forms at this spot and the trout stack up here encouraged by the deeper water and the steady supply of food floating directly above. When the caddis start to hatch, providing that the runoff has not started and the water is relatively clear, there is a steady supply of emerging caddis pupa that are sucked into the back eddy as they float downstream from the heavy ripple that is upstream making for an ideal setup for the fly fishing angler. There is a gravel bar that extends out from the bank and it's possible to walk down to the water and never put on a pair of waders. From this vantage point I can cover the entire back eddy and when conditions are right I can almost constantly be casting to trout that are visibly rising. For early season fishing this is as good as it gets.

Unfortunately, the Mother's Day caddis hatch is often a short-lived affair, as far as the angler is concerned. Some years it comes early; in late April and the angler can count on several days of fishing before the runoff wipes out the angling opportunities. During those years when the winter-like weather persists until early May the fishable hatch is normally very short. The weather turns warm; the caddis start to hatch and the river turns chocolate brown and its game over.

Like many fly fishing adventures the Mother's Day caddis hatch can be a crap shoot. When the dice roll your way the fishing can be spectacular but you can also throw snake-eyes. Whichever way the dice fall chasing the Mother's Day caddis hatch after a long winter is good for the soul. Hope you get out this spring and try your hand at the roll of the dice.

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