Ever since I can remember, I’ve been scratching around the streambed, turning over rocks & studying the little bugs clambering around on their undersides. What first prompted me to go in search and identify the bugs found in the underwater nooks & crannies of the stream bottom; I can’t recall. I probably read about this, while I read my way through the extensive library at the Transvaal Fly Tiers Guild , which resulted in my fortunate appointment as the librarian. Over the years this little habit helped me form a pretty good understanding of the bugs that fish call food. At some stage, I also armed myself with a stomach pump. I liked the idea of proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the same bugs found on the rocks of the streambed were also found in the stomachs of the fish and therefore are most definitely fish food. You just can’t believe everything you read these days!
Anyway, these two activities combined eventually managed to place a few pieces of the puzzle regarding the relation between the activities of certain aquatic insects and the feeding behavior of fish in the same stream.
Fancy words for basically confessing that I became a hatch junkie.
Those, who like me, are slightly obsessed with fish food will know that studying aquatic bugs is not the same as, say, bird watching or game viewing. The same specie is a nymph/larva (the easiest form to ID) or a pupa or an emerger or an adult. And let’s not mention stillborns, cripples, duns, spinners & spent cripples! So maybe “studying” is too strong a word. Trying to make sense of it all is really what I’m attempting; in order to get a firm understanding of what’s happening on my streams. Trust me, I often completely mispronounce the basic Latin names and don’t talk of sub-imagos & imagos with my nose in the air. The point I’m trying to make is that some fish food is easy to imitate, while others, because of their fleeting form, are a real struggle.
And a caddis pupa is a tough nut to crack! Trying to imitate an image of a bug that is only around for the briefest of time is tough – especially when it is continuously transforming.
I cut my teeth as fly fisher by spending an awful lot of time on the Vaal River, where pollution created a caddis boom. This resulted in Caddis larvae imitations & Czech nymphs becoming very popular and could be found on most nymph rigs at any time during the main season. The success of these patterns have proved themselves to me over the years but I have always felt that we were lacking in our success prior and during the caddis hatches. It also made sense that throughout the warm months caddis pupae would be found in the drift much more than larvae, which live a secretive life under rocks on the stream bottom. And so my obsession with finding the ultimate pupa pattern started. My first breakthrough looong ago, came by joining the dots after reading back through my fishing diaries.
Caddis Hatch = Gold Ribbed Hares Ear…. butt ugly scruffy ones too! I must admit, I felt a bit let down because the fish had such bad taste. Too me, this fly looked nothing like the pupa. But from all the info I gathered where flyfishers tried to make sense of this fleeting bug, it seems the pattern ticked all the right boxes. Correct Size, stubby silhouette, dark thorax/light abdomen, some flash and built in movement. Recently , I got gratifying confirmation of the effectiveness of this pattern, during Hydropshycidae hatches, when it was listed in Schollmeyer & Leeson’s book “Flies for Western Super Hatches” – “This simple fly is an excellent producer and top choice….., it’s also quite effective just before and during a sparser Spotted Sedge (Hydropshycidae) hatch.”
GRHE variations still dupe loads of fish, especially during the early spring hatches.
My second breakthrough happened accidentally. I recall a day in 2002 where I had had fair success with a small caddis pattern that I tied using a yellow and orange flecked sili leg. I was quite taken with its effectiveness and when I lost it, I had to come up with the same pattern in an alternative material. The caddis body ended up being a twisted rope consisting of a strand of yellow craft fur and 2 stands of orange crystal flash. Besides the craft fur, I also discovered amber glass beads at the Oriental Plaza: and so the PLAZA PUPA was borne. This pattern was a revelation. It flat out caught fish… and at times lots of fish… especially during caddis hatches. Again it didn’t make sense to me – the color is all wrong for a pupa (it should be chartreuse). I tried to feed the fish much better colour variations than the original, bloody works of art but they weren’t interested.
The original pattern fished up such a storm that I published it in TCFF of Feb 2005. Over the years I noticed that the pattern fished hot or cold and that it was no great shakes on some smaller streams or different venues. I started moving onto more exiting materials in my search for the ultimate caddis pupa pattern and so the Original Plaza Pupa slowly faded into THING 1. But don’t let that fool you. I still have days (as recently as last week) where this pattern still flat out produces when no other fly comes close. I ran out of THING 1 during a particular dusk fishing mayhem session 2 months ago and almost ended up crying. The mystery continues…
After a few years and a couple of promising attempts along the way , THING 2 started to take shape. I finally came upon a caddis pupa pattern that really does the business during hatch times and for prospecting just about any time/anywhere during the caddis season. This pattern was influenced by tiers like Steve Thornton & Charlie Craven as can be seen from the pattern’s DNA. This pattern is my “precious”, so to speak. I guess because it is as pretty as it is effective – and this is a VERY effective fly. Very often I fish 2 of these exact patterns in my rig and sometimes even 3, with one being a bigger & heavier MC pupa – this is pretty much the indication of my confidence in this fly. For a number of years now I have kept my pattern closely guarded, while tweaking it and simply enjoying its success.
This is the first time that I publish the pattern. The pattern really had a change of dress from the original, to the point where it is not recognizable. I kept the name, PLAZA PUPA, because a lot of the materials in this pattern are still sourced at haberdashery shops in the Oriental Plaza. I love browsing through the materials, beads and other items in these shops. Needless to say, you get some strange looks when you’re standing holding bridal materials up to the light with a strangely excited expression on your face!
Besides the glass beads, which I have a weakness for, this pattern incorporates two really cool materials which I dug up in these shops – namely urethane beading cord & bridal organza. The pattern really has a lot going on, which is pretty much what happens when caddis pupa emerge. And I’ve stuck every bit of anatomy & possible trigger into this one.
It’s what Gierach refers to as a fly with eyeballs & elbows. In general its considered overkill, but in this case it increased the patterns effectiveness … or my confidence. The fly looks like a lot of work, but in fact its a simple tie with basic steps. I developed the pattern while closely observing pupae at the same time. This led me to the following conclusions:
- A scud hook is not necessary, as the pupa’s are not curved. It’s the rear teardrop shape of the abdomen that creates this impression. Tying on a straight shank hook creates a better profiled pattern with a lot of hook gape.
- The most effective color contrast is a VERY bright abdomen and a dull colored thorax – that is probably why Gary la Fontain’s Sparkle Pupa was such a hit.
- A captured pupa might look like it has a standard nymph shape, but the footprints that the shucks leave, indicates a stubby silhouette. Again the reason for the Sparkle Pupa’s success.
- Wing buds on pupae are as important as wing cases on mayflies. It is definitely an extra trigger, but if you dismiss them it’s not the end of the world.
I imitate 3 caddis pupa species:
- Macrostemum Capense #12 hook with light green/amber abdomen & pale yellow wing buds.
2. Hydroshycidae: # 16 with chartreuse abdomen & brown wing buds – most prolific
3. Hydroshycidae # 16 with yellow abdomen & brown wing buds. After fishing my pattern hard for 2 seasons, I came to the conclusion that the “caddis green” dressing of THING 2 can cover both of the smaller species equally effectively. But then there’s THING 1. – what more can I say.
On the river systems that I spent most of my time, caddis are extremely important, with caddis PUPA imitations, one of the most effective flies from spring to late summer. As such I use the bigger Pupa imitation a lot as an effective control fly in my nymph rig and the smaller pupa as a dropper pattern. Because I employ various nymphing techniques, like indicator nymphing, dry & dropper and direct line Euro nymphing, I tie the pattern with various weights using glass beads & tungsten from 2 – 3.5 mm. I also tie the pattern unweighted for subsurface drift and swinging during emergence. I like to use Gamakatsu S10 2S & jig hooks (Hanak & Dohiku) for this pattern.
If you’re dialed in, a caddis hatch can be an all action affair. It is during the very heavy Spring and late Autumn hatches, when the fish become selective, that the effectiveness of this pattern becomes evident. Prior and during the hatches my preferred, and lazy way, is to fish the pattern as a dropper, tied with a 2 – 3 mm tungsten bead, under a caddis dry fly. I’ll often employ a second glass beaded pupa as a dropper in the rig. Starting deep at 2 – 4 feet below the dry and fish shallower as the hatch progresses. Things are often not so straight forward and this calls for active nymphing using the same rig and employing lifts or, even better, using long leader direct line tactics. Don’t be afraid to swing the flies at the end of the drift. The fish sure have an affinity for pupae with bold takes, and the yellows can sometimes deliver smashing takes as they chase after the pupa.
PLAZA PUPA RECIPE (for small yellow/chatreuse Hydroshycidae)
HOOK : #16 1x short hook. Gamakatsu S10 2S or #16 jig hook
THREAD: Nano Thread
ABDOMEN UNDERBODY: Caddis Green Ice Dub
ABDOMEN OVERBODY: 0.6 mm clear urethane stretch cord
WINGBUDS: brown Flexifloss
ATTENAE & VEIL: fibres from golden/amber Bridal Organza
THORAX: brown CDC Dubbing
BEAD: brown 15/0 glass or copper tungsten 2 – 2.5mm
Great article. And appreciate you sharing your knowledge.
Thanks for sharing, I tied up a few and fished them dry and dropper style on the Vaal the other weekend, I fished slightly slower water to rising fish, my most memorable fishing on the Vaal to date…