As we all know, this year's runoff is now on the decline, and with each passing day Colorado's rivers and streams are coming down to more normal levels. If you missed some of the high water action that’s too bad – there were some gorgeous fish to be had! If you are ever in doubt about water temperature and levels, be sure to check out the flows for the river you are considering—you’ll probably find a lot of useful information about historical and current data as well as trends. This is most critical when fishing tailwaters as they can release water and the flows can be very different from what you expect on any given day. As always, Cutthroat Anglers has the most up to date reports, including what hatches are on and the best way to be successful on the river.
If you have spent any time on Colorado's rivers in the summer, you most likely have seen the light, fluttering wings that tell you the caddis hatch is on. The Arkansas, Eagle, Colorado, and Blue rivers all have amazing caddis hatches, but imitating these flies can bring you success pretty much anywhere. The legendary elk hair caddis has been the dry fly of choice for fisherman since time immemorial and you can never go wrong tying one on the end of your line in the summer months. Nymphing is effective, streamers can be exhilarating, but nothing beats a fooled fish on a delicately placed dry fly.
How to Fish with a Caddis Fly
The first thing about fishing with a caddis, or any dry fly, is to learn how to make do when there are no visible flies. You may make it out to your favorite spot and not see any, but fear not, caddis imitations may still be deadly. Try a pheasant tail nymph if you think you’re a bit early, or a caddis emerger if you see activity but no actual caddis flies on the surface. You may be a bit early, but you better believe those fish could still be devouring caddis as they start their life cycle underwater. Make sure you have a few of every caddis in their various life cycles and stop by the shop for information on which pattern is most effective.
To properly fish a caddis as a dry fly is simple really: go where the action is. You should definitely try any good water in the seams of riffles or deeper pockets as well, but your best chance on a dry is where fish are actively feeding. Apply a good dab of fly floatant to make sure your presentation is good and the fly sits on top of the water. Lead the fish a good amount so as not to frighten them and give them a good chance of seeing it. If you cast right on top of them, there is a good chance the fish won’t even see it or spook.
Now is the time to retire your 2x or 3x streamer tippet and go smaller. Bright days and thick tippets don’t go well together and a delicate approach is necessary. If the fish are ignoring your caddis, try a size bigger OR smaller; it could be that you aren’t precisely matching the hatch to suit a picky trout or you need something a little larger to entice a strike. Consider a darker or lighter fly as well, so be sure to have a few variations on hand. If you float right over obviously feeding trout more than a few times, it’s time for a changeup.
These rules not only apply to caddis flies but also to every possible dry fly that lives in these waters. There are fantastic Salmon fly, Mayfly, Green Drake, Trico, and Damselfly hatches that occur throughout the summer. It's important to always have a few of each dry fly on hand in case you happen upon one of these exciting natural events. The rules are the same: delicacy, presentation, and patience. As always, if you are having a slow day and not sure if the fish are feeding on top or below, try on a handy hopper dropper combination to maximize your chances at hooking up with a nice fish.
Timing the Hatch
Not even the best biologist or fisherman can predict exactly when the really big caddis fly hatches will occur. The perfect combination of temperature, streamflow, sediment conditions, and daylight all combine to bring that perfect hatch on the river. The really spectacular hatches may only happen a few times a year, but through it all, mini hatches and micro-events are always an option to the fisherman who goes out on the river regularly. The caddis show up at a different time every year. The best I can offer to help you to time it right is to tell you to do your homework. Stop in or call (970.262.2878) our shop, Cutthroat Anglers, on your way out to the river to see if something is going on or if they think the hatch is imminent.
Summertime in the Rockies for the avid fly-fisherman is an event no one will easily forget. Warm weather, soft breezes, plenty of sunshine and rising trout all make this time of year the absolute best for trout in the Rockies. Bring a picnic, bring your family, and revel in the cool, clear water and strong trout that have been feeding on caddis, mayflies, and stoneflies for as long as there have been rivers in the west. These rivers are in absolutely perfect condition for the next few months; come visit us at Cutthroat Anglers and see why the rivers in Summit County and surrounding areas are some of the best in the world. We hope to see you in the shop and as always - tight lines.