I have long been fascinated by Dicosmoecus, which bears the common name the Giant Orange Sedge or, more simply, the October Caddis. After way too many years of fishing October Caddis fly patterns on the upper Sacramento, McCloud, Pit, Trinity, Rubicon, Middle Fork of the American, and North Fork of the Yuba rivers (and numerous backcountry creeks and streams), and after much tinkering and experimentation, I have settled on five flies that I believe represent well the various life-cycle stages of this marvelous insect. For a brief, but longer nontechnical, practical, guide’s-view discussion of this aquatic bug, see my Web site at http://www.billcarnazzo.com/entomology. My purpose here is just to pass along my ideas on fly design along with a few tips on fishing October Caddis imitations.
The Larva Stage: Bill’s Stick Caddis
The Stick Caddis pattern is a go-to staple in my fly box. It was born many years ago on what began as a very frustrating, cold, drizzly fall day at Convict Flat on the North Yuba River, one of my favorite streams. Unable to entice but a few dinks to my nymphs, I began turning over rocks to look for bugs, I noticed some large, grayish-brown caddis cases among the rocks. Removing and opening a few of the cases, I found larvae colored a creamy orange. Having nothing specific in my fly boxes to imitate the cased beast, I buzz cut a brown/olive Woolly Bugger and slid it through some likely looking pockets. The fishing improved somewhat, so I decided to do some tinkering at the vise that evening. The resulting crude imitation fooled a few fish during the ensuing weeks, and suspecting that I might be onto something, I let the creative process take over.
The current versions of the fly (there are several) reflect a long history of tweaks and improvements. While trout key more on October Caddis larvae in the fall, the Stick Caddis can be fished year-round because the insects are available to the fish all year, albeit in smaller sizes than in the fall. In the August 2006 issue of California Fly Fisher, Andy Burk featured Bill’s Stick Caddis in his regular “At the Vise” column. Your local fly shop can obtain this and some of my other flies from Spirit River, Inc., and Targus.
The Stick Caddis is relatively simple to tie, but does require at least intermediate skills. The materials listed are for the dark brown version, but I also tie it in a gray version, as well as in a deep olive color. The gray version is tied in the same manner as the brown, except that the “sticks” are mostly trimmed back to the body to make the stubs look like small brown rocks. The larvae build their cases from whatever materials are found in and around the stream. If conifers line the banks, for example, the cases will be made up of bits of bark and conifer needles. If streamside vegetation is sparse, there may be a few sticks, but the case will be mostly rocks. If vegetation is nonexistent, the case will be tiny rocks of various colors and sizes.
I believe that the success of the Stick Caddis depends on the collar — creamy yellow, except in the fall, when I use creamy orange. When the insect is dislodged from the rocks and is trying to reattach itself, its black head and a bit of its abdomen protrude from the front of its case. The collar is suggestive of that bit of the abdomen. This feature appears to be a strike trigger.
In September 2004, I was fishing the Truckee with a group of friends. Because the Truckee is a stream where there is little or no streamside vegetation, except perhaps grasses, I chose to use the gray version. I was astounded by the results right from the first cast, which produced a brown trout 25 inches in length. In all, the fly produced 10 more fish over 18 inches that day — which is an unbelievable day on a puzzling river that has skunked me more times than I care to admit.
One of my favorite versions is the Fall Phase. Although I use the Stick Caddis in one form or another all year long (even for winter steelies on certain rivers), the Fall Phase Stick Caddis is reserved for the magic months of late September, October, and November, when the October Caddis hatch is in full swing. Those who have fished the fly can attest to the fact that it is deadly when fished properly — meaning fished (as Andy Burk would say) as a “rock roller” right on the bottom. I often combine this fly with a pupa or an emerger in the rigging. The Fall Phase fly is tied with a pale orange collar and a silver-lined orange or root-beer-colored glass bead.
Bill’s October Caddis Series Over too many years of fishing October Caddis hatches on streams such as the Upper Sacramento, McCloud, Pit, Trinity, and North Yuba Rivers, I have come up with a series of five flies that are representative of the various life cycle stages of this marvelous insect. Look for an article on these five patterns in the October, 2009 issue of California Fly Fisher.