Sunday, September 8, 2019

HumBug: Caddisflies and Fishing Flies

Posted By on Sun, Sep 8, 2019 at 11:19 AM

When I was a boy, my dad introduced me to the joys and frustrations of trout fishing. In his opinion the best bait were what he called "periwinkles," little bugs that cover themselves with twigs or stones and crawl around in creeks. Skip forward to 1981 and Gary LaFontaine, a noted writer, published a book that was a revelation in the world of fly fishermen. It was named simply Caddisflies. It extolled the virtues of the insect order trichoptera (meaning "hairy wing") and its hitherto underappreciated role in the lives of our freshwater fish.
click to enlarge A rather large adult specimen at a light trap. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A rather large adult specimen at a light trap.
Until his groundbreaking work, the main group of insects imitated by fly tyers was the Mayflies (ephemeroptera) known for their brief lives and showy "hatches" when the air can be filled with millions of them.

click to enlarge Telltale antennae. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Telltale antennae.
Caddisflies, it seemed, were the answer to those perfect fishing days when the trout should have been jumping at the chance to impale themselves on the fisherman's carefully tied concoctions of hook, feathers and hairs, but weren't.
click to enlarge This species adopts a hollow straw for its case - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • This species adopts a hollow straw for its case

Like most predators, trout are economists at heart. If there is a concentrated food source available, they will choose the easy meal. Among fishermen it is called selective feeding. When this is happening, the fish won't waste energy looking at anything else. Known to fishermen as “sedges,” as adults they resemble small, unlovely moths, were the key.
click to enlarge This large caddisfly larva incorporates redwood needles in its case. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • This large caddisfly larva incorporates redwood needles in its case.
As larva they can spend several years building and carrying around little stone houses, putting away fat reserves for the big day when they break free of the water's surface and fly to meet a mate. As they abandon the security and camouflage of their cases on the stream bottom to graduate to adulthood, they ascend to the water's surface. During this brief transit they are an easily seen, vulnerable, tasty meal. All this action had been taking place beneath the surface as it had for millions of years, away from the eyes of fly fishermen.
click to enlarge As river water levels recede, larva can be left stranded and searching for water, leaving tracks. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • As river water levels recede, larva can be left stranded and searching for water, leaving tracks.
As I watched a hatch of thousands of mayflies at the stream's edge some dark small mothlike creatures unobtrusively danced over the surface of the water out near the middle of the stream. After dozens of exposures, I managed to get one photo of a dark winged specimen with very long antennae, a feature of some caddisfly species.
click to enlarge A tiny caddis with long antennae. Fabric from an old white sheet gives an idea of scale. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A tiny caddis with long antennae. Fabric from an old white sheet gives an idea of scale.
Here is an article about an artist who introduced some Periwinkles to bling. 
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