Why the Mother’s Day caddis hatch isn’t just about one bug
Recently I had been hearing reports like I do every year that the caddis hatch was on at the Arkansas River, so I decided to go check it out for myself. I grabbed some fly rods, a friend, leftover pizza, and some beer and set off towards Canyon City. The famed “Mother’s Day” caddis hatch is an annual spectacle/fishing event that occurs on many rivers in Colorado but, most notably and in greatest numbers on the Arkansas River. Swarms of the bugs will hatch throughout the day slowly making their way up the river. And with them, swarms of anglers will head for the river, caddis patterns on the end of their line, ready to fool some trout.
When we pulled up to the river around 9:00am just above Texas Creek, I wasn’t surprised to find both those things off the bat. It was still early, so the bug activity wasn’t in full force just yet, but you could still see some sporadic caddis here and there. While rigging up, and having a morning beer to kickstart the day off right, a car pulled up next to us. The gentleman inside rolled down his window and proceeded to ask me about the spot we were at, which I had never fished before. He said he done a guide trip the day before and was told this was a good spot to try and venture on his own. However, after fishing earlier that morning for 30 minutes he had given up without a bite. So he asked, “what’s the trick to fishing the spot”? Well, having never seen it myself, I went over basic stuff about fishing lanes and weight and depth, as well as asked him some questions. One being, “what bugs were you throwing”? To which he replied, “caddis nymphs, they were crushing them yesterday”.
1) He did not hire a Minturn Anglers guide to take him fishing (major problem).
2) He was focusing on a single food source for the trout based on previous success.
Now, I am joking about the guide thing, but I did find and continue to find the second problem to be a reoccurring one when talking to people on the river. Hey, look, I’m just as guilty as the next guy at thinking a certain fly is the ticket when I have killed with it previously. I have days where a fly is so good to me that I’ll immediately tie it on first thing no matter the river or flows. And it usually takes an hour or two of bad fishing before my stubbornness subsides and I change things up. But learning and growing as an angler you come to understand things like, these fish have no idea about a Mother’s Day caddis hatch and could care less what they are expected to eat. Over the course of the day I heard quite a few broken record responses of, no fish rising to caddis, caddis aren’t working, a bunch of bugs but no fish eating them.
While some of these responses were true to our experience, we did eventually find fish eating on the surface, but only after a lot of hiking and almost going for a swim once or twice. We sat and watched these fish edged up near the bank for quite a while. They were rising and rising frequently, but not to the famed caddis. They were munching on some BWO’s, adults and emergers. Their rise forms were soft and subtle. If you watch caddis on the water, they often skitter and bounce all over the river like a pinball. When you watch a trout eat said caddis, the take is often explosive and aggressive to catch these bugs before they fly off. We rigged up a dry fly rod with a Mother’s Day caddis and a trailing BWO cripple. The result; 90 percent of the takes were on the blue wing. Same went for nymphing. I tried 3 or 4 different caddis patterns but caught the large majority of fish on a size 18 Crack Back Baetis. My friend got a take on a stimulator in the faster water and caught a fish on a size 16 Birds Nest. So, I’m not going to say the fish were making an effort to not eat caddis, they were just being lazy and opportunistic as trout so often are. By late afternoon, some clouds had rolled in and the caddis were getting super thick. However, the next spot we went to was the same story as before. There were very few rises and the trout that were rising were sporadic at best. So naturally at that point I was tired of being kicked around by the trout. It was time to throw some meat. The rest of the afternoon was filled with chucking and ducking followed by flashes and chasers. In the end I got a couple of fish to end up in my net with an Autumn Splendor hanging out of their mouth (a go to on the Ark for me).