LIVINGSTON — May is a month when trout gorge.
Following a long winter of fairly skimpy food, the emergence of the prolific Mother's Day caddis provides an opportunity for gluttony.
Fly anglers rejoice.
"It's a hatch that a lot of people can fish fairly easily, and it lasts quite a while — everyone can get in on it," explained Glen Gallatine, of The Tackle Shop in Ennis. "The fish are hungry at this time of the year and feed aggressively."
The Mother's Day caddis, also known as the grannom caddis, is so named because it typically appears around Mother's Day, which (take note sons and daughters) is Sunday.
There's a disagreement about when the caddis begin hatching. Some say it's related to water temperature — 50 to 55 degrees. Others say the Yellowstone River hatch always occurs around April 28, give or take about three days.
The caddis are plentiful because as larvae they bunch up in the water. When the caddis shed their larval shuck to become adults, they pop to the water's surface. The flotilla of caddis soon storm the beach. There are so many bugs on the bank that it looks like the rocks, trees and ground are shuddering.
The hatch comes when rivers are most unpredictable. Nice spring days can trigger snowmelt and runoff, dirtying up the water and making fly anglers' offerings harder for fish to find.
It is because of this unpredictability that Will Lassiter, of Dan Bailey's Fly Shop in Livingston, said the hatch is difficult for out-of-staters to fish. This is not something most anglers can book a year in advance. It's too haphazard. Locals, therefore, have a better chance of running to the river on short notice.
But even local anglers need good streamside information on where the bugs are hatching.
Sylvester Nemes, an 81-year-old fly fisherman, noted author of six angling books and a Bozeman resident, awaits a telephone call from one of his three or four well-placed river-watching informants.
"When it comes, you're anxious to get on it," he said. That is partly because it's one of the first big hatches — some would say the biggest — of the early season.
But it's also a favorite because it's so simple to fish, Nemes said.
Since Nemes is an authority on soft-hackled flies, that is what he fishes during the Mother's Day hatch. His favorite is, not so coincidentally, his soft hackle Mother's Day caddis pattern.
"It's been a killer for a long time," he said. "And you don't have to use it only during the hatch. It works quite well after the hatch."
To tie Nemes' soft hackle pattern, take a piece of peacock feather, called a herl, and wrap it around the back of the hook. Up front is a dark head made of mole hair (Nemes gets his mole hair from England). A gray partridge feather — the soft hackle — imitates the bug's wings.
To make the soft hackle look like a real emerging caddis, Nemes casts across the river and fishes the pattern downstream, letting it drift up to the surface at the end of the fly line's swing through the water.
For fishing line, Nemes uses a 4-pound tippet at the end of a 9-foot leader. He has an old 4-weight, 8 1/2-foot Winston fiberglass rod he likes to use.
One reason Nemes likes the soft hackle is that the fish generally hook themselves — there's no setting the hook.
Fishing dry flies, on the other hand, requires an angler to set the hook when the fish gobbles up the feathered offering. Distinguishing an imitation fly amid a crowd of real bugs can be difficult in the swarm of a hatch. But for Gallentine, that's part of the fun.
"I like to be in the middle of the hatch where you can't breathe," he said. "I just hope for the best."
Gallentine fishes a dry fly pattern like the dark-bodied elk hair caddis. Sometimes he'll tie a nymph like a pheasant tail or beadhead prince to the back of the dry fly, known as a dropper.
Anglers who time it right, and have lots of free time or vacation, can fish the hatch across several rivers, or up and down the same river.
Lassiter said the Big Hole, near Butte, often sees some of the earliest hatches. On the Yellowstone River, the hatch usually starts upstream and works downstream as far as Big Timber. The lower Madison typically sees one of the earlier hatches. The lower Madison has the added advantage of being below a dam, limiting water discoloration from runoff. Anglers also find the hatch on the Missouri River below Holter Dam, Rock Creek near Missoula, the Firehole in Yellowstone National Park and on rivers in other states such as California, Utah and Colorado.
Lassiter said the sudden appearance of the huge caddis fly hatch can quickly change a river's character.
"It definitely gets everyone out fishing," he said. "One day, there's nobody on the river, and the next day every boat ramp is full."
Brett French can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 657-1387.
Joke of the day Every angler is telling the same joke lately. As Mother's Day caddis swarm so thick that they crawl under your glasses, up your arms and down the back of your neck, anglers ask each other: "Hey, I lost an elk hair caddis somewhere. If you find it will you let me know?"
The joke is absurd because an elk hair caddis — feathers and fur tied on a hook to imitate the Mother's Day caddis — could never be distinguished from the thousands of real bugs swarming ashore.
Want to know more? For samples of Sylvester Nemes' soft-hackle flies, log on to Umpqua Feather Merchants at www.umpqua.com/flygallery.htm
For Dan Bailey's selection of flies for the Mother's Day hatch, log on to www.dan-bailey.com/FlyPatternPages/Caddis/Patterns_Caddis.htm
Nemes' books can be found online or in Billings at Rainbow Run fly shop.