by Mick Hall
Caddis larva come in two forms, those that build portable homes (Stick Caddis) and free living. All caddis larva have a hardened section near and including the head, whilst the bodies are soft and range in colour from off white through to a dirty yellow and some have green bodies in a variety of shades. They also have a set of claws at the end of their bodies. Stick or case caddis use these claws to cling onto the inside of their portable case.
Caddis can be found in all sorts of water from fast flowing streams to marshlands and lakes of all kinds. The case caddis that build their homes from leaves, sticks, reeds or spun silk are generally found in slow moving waters or more dominantly in still waters. Those that use sand or very small stones are normally found in streams.
The importance of caddis as a food form cannot be underestimated; early research into favoured food forms by A Dunbavin Butcher M.Sc. showed in his rare booklet, The Freshwater Fish of Victoria and Their Food, 1950 that Caddis represented around 60% of the food source for Blackfish, 20% for Redfin, 40% for Rainbow Trout and around 30% for Brown Trout.
Interesting stuff but at a guess in some waters these figures would be higher for the crafty old brown trout. Either way, knowing what exists in your favourite waters is a long way to being successful on a regular basis.
Stick caddis come in a range of sizes from around 10mm up to 20mm and they also have a range of preferred material that they build their cases out of. This is where you need to get down and have a look. Even standing knee deep and just looking into the water around weed beds will tell you a lot. Just let the water settle and you will see them slowly swimming around. Over time you will establish which are the best size to use and the best colour for the peeping head; some prefer cream to chartreuse, others green but my all round preference is chartreuse.
If you can catch a stick caddis and give it a little squeeze, the animal will be pushed out and it should be noted that because the grubs hold on to their case with those claws of theirs, they will most probably die from this exercise. So the best thing to do is give it a good squash but don’t waste it, eat it.
It was on this water that I witnessed Malcolm Crosse take and release two nice Browns
using his Simple Caddis
Fishing with Stick Caddis imitations has been around for a long time. The great Dick Wigram led the field during his day, closely followed by J M Gillies but the pattern that stood out for better than thirty years was Wigram’s version; it also created many mutations. I am not sure if these two flies were tied by Dick but the bodies are definitely tied after his design.
The great Dick Wigram wrote a very informative piece on stick caddis in his last book, “The Uncertain Trout”, published in 1951.
His studies included an autopsy taken over the season 1945-46 and the stomach contents were recorded from at least one fish on any one fishing day over that eight month period and it shows:
September: Meander River – Male 2lb., 31 caddis and two frogs
October: North Esk River – Male 1 1/2 pounds, 106 caddis
November: South Esk River – Female 2 1/4 pounds, 27 caddis, 1 stone fly
December: Lake River – Female 2 1/4 pounds, 90 caddis, 1 dragonfly, 5 mayfly
January: Meander River – Female 2 pounds, 31 caddis, 14 beetles, 2 mayfly
February: Macquarie River – Female 3 pounds, 130 caddis, 1 dragonfly larva, 4 grasshoppers
March: Brumby’s Creek – Male 1 pound, 9 caddis, 3 mayfly, 5 beetles
April: Lake River – Female 2 1/4 pounds, 37 caddis, 4 beetles, 1 shrimp
This in its own right shows the importance of the stick caddis as a major food source. Although Wigram does not state that the caddis flies were adult flying insects or part of, one is led to assume the discussion is all about stick caddis . It should also be noted that, apart from the Snowflake Caddis, Wigram rarely talks in depth in any of his works about adult flying Caddis.
In this work he also details the dressing for his Stick Caddis, as seen on page 36, and I quote: “There are many methods by which a reasonable copy of the Caddis case or stick can be made, but I have found that the following is the most effective: Hook, No. 1 or 2 (new scale), long shank. The body is made as follows:- Fasten to the hook with black tying silk a piece of the centre quill from the thick end of a rooster’s neck feather – allowing a quarter of an inch to extend past the bend of the hook, and leaving one-eighth of an inch clear at the eye. Tie in at eye a short length of raffia dyed brownish olive green. Build up the body with this raffia, thicker at the eye end of the hook, and covering also the protruding piece of quill. Finish raffia at eye and cut off waste. Tie in one turn of a short dark brown or black hackle and form a good sized head with the black tying silk. The whole fly from eye to tail end should be just under three quarters of an inch long.”
Note: Wigram in his original pattern did not allow for the colour of the grubs body to show, which I am told he did in later versions. It is obvious that the casing represents a tip of a reed which is commonly used by Caddis grubs where available.
The Peeping Stick Caddis as adapted b Mick Hall
The best pattern I have seen in a very long time was first shown to me many years ago by a chap who called into Hook Up in Ferntree Gully and naturally, it caught my eye. You know, I can see this guy’s face but I fear his name is lost to me and for that I do apologise. Using a strand of peacock stem for the body was new and very innovative; I was truly impressed. The pattern is a follows.
Hook: Mustad Signature R72
Body: Stripped peacock stem wound over dubbing any colour and finally dyed with a dark green marking pen with dark brown over
Head/legs: Peacock Herl
Grub: Chartreuse synthetic knitting yarn and burnt at the end to create the grub’s head.
Note: On the original as shown to me, the Peacock stem had been dyed to a similar colour as shown. It was the use of this case material that caught my attention. The peeping head had been around for some time but I must reiterate, this was new and very creative.
Hook: Mustad Signature R72
Body: Uni-Flex White and treated with marking pens as described above
Head/Legs: Peacock Herl
Grub: Chartreuse synthetic yarn and treated as above.
Note: Uni-Flex is also known as Flex Floss and a heap of other names.
Some species of Stick Caddis actually build their case from self generated silk; these guys are very common and a favourite food source.
Did you know, we even have aquatic Caterpillars!!!