By Brandon Dwyer
Autumn in WestSlope country is a bit duplicitous. On one hand it is simply glorious. Ochre colored leaves pepper still green lawns, the air has that fall “smell” and “feel”, there is football on television 5 days a week, we have started using our ovens again after giving them the summer off. Snow capped peaks once again trace the mountain skyline, shocking varieties of pumpkin spiced offerings are loaded on retail shelves, and as anglers we are reaching for our Gore-Tex when packing for the day. On the other hand, it is the sunset of the seasons, and winter is often impatient. The bounty of color, radiance, and harvest are all too soon faded into the flat sunlight of winter, leafless tree skeletons sifting the stinging wind, retail mercenaries hounding us for our holiday dollars, the snowline is at your doorstep, and the water… is sleeping…frozen.
But before all of that happens, our local free stone rivers are ready to give you one last “kiss” good night in the form of a great big clumsy caddis fly. The October Caddis is the last of the large insects to hatch from our local free stone rivers and are found in most (if not all) freestones in WestSlope country. They are proportioned similarly to our summer caddis though they rarely hatch in the large numbers you see from their smaller summer cousins. But what they lack in numbers they make up for in size. Instead of knotting on a size 14 or size 16 like you would for summer caddis, for the big Octobers you may be able to get away with flies as big as a #8!!! (though 10-12 is more typical) And they are often a beautiful orange/yellow hue.
As another bonus, when laying their eggs, the October Caddis can be seen skittering quickly across the water’s surface often doing so in very fishy looking water, which makes them a favorite food for trout looking to add some easy calories before winter. As a result, most October Caddis dry fly patterns are high floating, and typically employ materials and construction techniques that allow them to be skated or swung on the surface. When fishing an October Caddis dry fly for the first time in a fishy looking spot at the head of a riffle, begin by fishing it on a dead drift as many neutral fish may still react well to that presentation (especially early or late in the day) and if a cast or two through that area yields no results try giving the fly a little movement. First by a few short fast twitches of the rod tip or strips through the guides, then increase the speed or distance of the strip letting the fish tell you what they want. As you move past the riffle area and into the run and most certainly the tail out, sometimes a classic down and across swing (with a few twitches) is deadly effective, and other times the fish will want the fly skating back downstream (though a dead drift can still be effective). Keep experimenting and keep believing, because when a cranky brown trout decides to annihilate your fly as it dances and slides through a glassy tail out, the visual is something that will keep your autumn memories glowing all winter long.
For local October Caddis information seek the professionals at our wonderful local fly shops or see what they have to say about them online. (see below)
Life Cycle - https://www.missoulianangler.com/october-caddis/
How to tie - https://kingfisherflyshop.com/blog/fly-tying-loopy-october-caddis/
What to have ready - https://grizzlyhackle.com/fall-fly-fishing-in-missoula-montana/
When & where to go - https://blackfootriver.com/fishing-report/