Searing daytime temperatures often render a river lifeless at this time of year. During lazy summer afternoons, little stirs at the surface. Come evening time however, as trout home in on the caddis carnival, the river erupts into life. And, these aren’t your usual gentle rises either. They’re those frenzied splashy affairs that quicken the pulse of even seasoned rods. Emerging sedges scurrying for bankside foliage do so hurriedly, meaning trout need to be quick out of the blocks too.
When resting, sedge fold their wings neatly along their backs, forming a ridge tent shape. Beginners sometimes confuse them with moths; the difference is that sedge have tiny hairs covering their wings, whereas moth wings are coated with scales that tend to rub when held in the hand. We commonly refer to the order Trichoptera as “sedges” or “caddis” and I’m happy with either term. After hatching from the egg, caddis have three stages within their lifecycle that warrant our attentions—the larva stage, pupa stage, and finally the winged adults.
Throughout winter and spring, sedge larvae (cased caddis) develop in purpose-built shelters. These protective cases are formed from pebbles, small sticks, reed stems, and other vegetation. Caseless caddis too can be found lurking beneath rocks or in crevices. Only too aware of these protein-packed goodies, trout often predate heavily on them during early season. As the season progresses, caddis larvae mature to eventually pupate within their case. In contrast, armed with hair-fringed paddles, sedge pupae are far more animated, making for the surface with an impressive turn of speed. Many species emerge in open water, obviously then this journey exposes them to trout and for my money provides us with the cream of fishing on sultry summer evenings.
If you arrive early and things happen to be in full swing, all is well and good as we can look to surface flies for sport. More often the water looks dead, especially during a prevailing heatwave when any decent action will be restricted to last knockings. Now, it’s worth fishing a couple of pupa patterns at depth. Two weighted pupa imitations positioned 3-4 feet apart on an overall leader of 12 feet should suffice. To achieve a little extra depth, execute a line mend in an upstream direction. Remember that continually pulling the line is going to lift our flies from their desired path. Allow plenty of pauses then between pulls, literally fishing the flies sink and draw style. For me it’s a figure-of-eight retrieve and following a short burst of say 4-6 turns of the hand, rest to let the flies settle. Although not your classic sedge fishing, it often bags you a trout or two—this little ploy instills confidence before the anticipated main event.
As bankside shadows lengthen, fluttering sedges begin to appear, hopefully along with healthy rise forms erupting at the surface. It’s easy to think fish are targeting adult sedges, though at this early stage they’re more likely to be homing in on ascending pupae. As trout do this at speed, having intercepted an unfortunate pupa they continue along their path of travel, frequently breaking surface or causing a commotion in spectacular fashion. Look to shorten up that leader with 10ft the absolute maximum length. Un-weighted flies presented high in the water are our objective, so select scruffy, busy looking patterns. Apart from possessing appeal, their greater surface area holds them in the zone for longer.
Trout preying on emerging caddis pupae usually pounce on them quickly. Many times I’ve seen fish come hurtling out of the water just as the flies alight, so be prepared. Start the retrieve almost instantly and again it’s a short figure-of-eight burst, interspersed with plenty of pauses. With explosive rise forms and bulging fish, holding the rod tip well clear of the surface offers some form of tippet protection against savage takes. Equally, consider stepping up in tippet strength with 6lb. (4x) Superstrong being quite useful. The confusion of rises can make targeting individual trout difficult, so place a cast in the general area. For the best of both worlds, attach pupa patterns on droppers with a larger, buoyant dry on the point to help suspend them.
In a bid to find cover, winged adults buzz across the surface, often leaving a distinct ‘V’ wake trailing behind. Such a commotion acts like a dinner bell to waiting trout. Hackled dry flies treated with floatant and slowly worked through the surface create the desired effect. Sometimes, it’s vital to impart disturbance into our flies; this is best done by increasing their physical size, especially at night, as fish tend to be braver under darkness. On occasions, I’ve found success using size 8 palmered sedges. Unlike the trickle hatches that can last from late afternoon and into the evening, sedge action tends to be intense and short lived. In my neck of the woods you’re looking at a window of maybe an hour with anything more considered a bonus. With this, it’s worth setting up a spare rod in case of tangles or at the very least, carry some pre-tied leaders.
As the curtain eventually comes down, fish may turn their attentions to stillborn or feeble adult sedges, often calling for a static dry fly. Trout mopping up stillborns and the like generally do so in a subtle manner. Smaller, slimmer imitations are more in keeping with naturals now. Sedges are quite delicate flies that are easily copied on size 14-16 hooks using CDC fibres or the fine tips of elk hock, with a hackle-less elk hair caddis being a particular favourite. Staring into the gloom makes fly location tricky; try crouching low and looking across the surface rather than on to it. Hopefully, you’ll begin to pick out those telltale signs as the surface film rocks every so often. This is single fly territory, when the most gentle of sipping rises often belies the size of your adversary. On tightening, the water explodes into life as you lean into something more substantial than you bargained for!