Using Caddis as bait

The caddis fly larva is an ingenious waterliving grub that builds its own home—and carries it around. It is a deadly bait for many species, including trout and barbel

Although there is no such thing as a bait which never fails, it can safely be said that caddis (Trichoptera) rarely fails to engender an eager response from several species of fish. These include roach, dace, perch, trout, chub, and barbel— especially if the caddis is used for hookbait in the clean streams and rivers it inhabits. However, caddis is not a popular bait: in areas where caddis can be easily collected, few anglers will take the small trouble to gather and use them. Maggots are so much easier to obtain.


The egg which later becomes a caddis grub or larva, is laid by a female sedge fly. The fly—about one inch long, with a brown body and weak, fawn-coloured wings—crawls down a convenient reed stem into the shallows, and lays its eggs in batches beneath stones or sunken twigs. The eggs eventually hatch out, and tiny caddis larvae emerge. Those not immediately snapped up by minnows or even larger fish, on reaching maturity (about 34in in length) build a case in which to live, using small fragments of stone and gravel. There are dozens of types of caddis, and their choice of building materials varies, but often includes : fragments of bark, slivers of wood, and hollow reed-stems.

The hollow cases are wonderfully engineered. Each tiny component is ‘welded’ to its neighbour with silken, cobweb-like threads produced by the larva. One end of the hollow case is sealed, and the other is left open. The larva also lines the case with silk when the construction is complete, lying in the case with only its head protruding. If it wants to crawl along the river bed in search of food, it drags itself—plus case—by extending its front legs out of the open end of the case.

Where to find caddis

First find your caddis. With the aid of polarized sunglasses, look for the cases among the stones and the gravel in the shallows. Search beneath all submerged debris such as sunken branches, rocks, old tin cans—anywhere where the caddis in its case can hide away from marauding fish. Search carefully and slowly. Look at everything at least twice, because the caddis cases blend cleverly with the colour and texture of their surroundings.

As you collect them, ensure they stay fresh and alive for the day’s fishing by keeping them in fresh run-ning water: simply put them, in their cases, in an empty cocoa tin with tiny holes punched in its sides. Tightly secure the lid of the tin and place in a keepnet, underwater.

Caddis can be used for bait in a variety of ways. One method, eminently suitable for dace and roach fishing, is to remove the larva from its case by either gently squeezing the closed end of the case—which causes the larva to pop out head-first from the open end—or by winkling the larva out with a pin. The former is best, because it helps to ensure that the delicate larva is not damaged before use.

Caddis larvae are quite fragile and easily torn, so thin hooks are used—especially those used with casters. Use bronze hooks, because they match the colour of the back of the larva, and hooks between sizes No 14 and 18, according to the size of the larva.

Seek roach and dace in or near the faster water and trot the caddis downstream on float tackle. Remember that your bait is impaled only by its thin tail end, and that trailing weed can easily tear it from the hook. Guide the bait near the weedbeds, not through them. In fact, the technique of fishing caddis larva on float tackle for roach and dace is akin to using the more familiar maggot or caster—except that you must remember that the caddis larva is more fragile.

Fishing methods

When a fish is presented with a caddis larva sailing helplessly downstream, it bites swift and hard because such easy pickings are rare. Thus the angler must never let his attention wander. That float must be watched along every inch of its downstream journey so that when it suddenly disappears, the strike is immediate. Roach and dace are very skilled at taking the larva and spitting out the hook in a fraction of a second. On the other hand, the big-ger fish—chub, bream, and barbel —are not quite as fast as the roach and dace, and often simply ‘inhale’ the bait, hooking themselves.

Perch can act strangely. A perch will swim with the bait, nuzzle it, and make comical feinting lunges at it. It will then take the bait at one gulp and continue to swim down-stream at the same speed as the current with the hook deep in its throat. Only when the angler begins to retrieve his tackle does the perch make his presence felt.

A good ledger bait Caddis larvae are also good ledgering bait and it is good policy to use an Arlesey bomb, or a lozenge-shaped ledger weight, especially in fast-running water, because a round ledger weight will roll in the current and drag the hook, thus dislodging the larva.

Big coarse fish—big dace, roach, bream, chub, perch and barbel —often feed on caddis cases. Their technique is to pounce swiftly and take the whole case into the mouth. The case is crushed, the larva swallowed and the case fragments spat out. Trout also do this, which explains why dissected trout from caddis-populated waters inevitably have many fragments of stone and gravel in their stomachs.

With care, it is simple enough to impale a caddis case on a hook pro-vided the hook is made of thin wire and has an extremely sharp point. A size 8 will accommodate the majori-ty of cases. The hook point can be passed through the middle of the hollow case—in one side and out of the other, so that the bend of the hook is inside the case, with the point protruding.

However, fish are accustomed to seeing caddis cases lying still on the river bed, or at least moving quite slowly. Trotting a case in a fast streamy run is, therefore, not always successful. On the other hand, if the case is presented with static ledger tackle, or with a ‘lay-on’ float method, which ensures that the impaled cases lie prone on the bottom, the suspicions of the fish will not be aroused, and the case—and hook —will almost inevitably be taken, provided that the bait lies near the weed beds, not in them.

Deep water

Caddis—either in case or larvae form—are just as effective in deep water up to 14ft as they are in the shallow water from which they are readily obtained. The River Kennet, where caddis abound, is a good ex-ample of this. Here, where the water varies between two and 15ft deep, caddis will take fish in any part of the water. Anglers use caddis with float tackle when fishing in the shallows, as well as in other stret-ches where the very depth of the water makes float fishing difficult.

You can also catch surface-feeding fish with floating caddis if it is cor-rectly presented. To do this, use a long lightweight match rod for coarse angling and grease your line and the larva with mucilin to ensure that it floats. If fishing in running water, let the current take the floating bait and line downstream. Watch the bait very carefully, because a rising fish will take the bait very quickly indeed. Rising fish usually snap at the floating bait and then turn swiftly downstream, usually hooking themselves, so you’ll hardly need to strike. When a rise does occur, simply trap the line on your reel with fingertip pressure and the fish will hook itself during its downward turn.

When ledgering caddis the line should run down from the rod top, through the swivel eye in the weight, and terminate at a size 16 hook. A stopshot is pinched to the line about 12in above the hook but below the ledger weight. The caddis is then impaled securely and cast gently into an area usually inhabited by caddis and caddis-hunting fish. With the bale-arm of a fixed-spool reel in the retrieve position, reel in all slack line so that the line between rod top and stopshot is taut. The slightest bite will then make the rod top tremble—your signal for an immediate strike.

How to make artificial caddis

To make an artificial caddis case all you need is a few No 10 eyed hooks (long-shanked), medicine-bottle corks lin long, a tube of quick-drying adhesive and a handful of sand andor small-grained gravel.

With a file and sandpaper, reduce a cork to the size and shape of a caddis case. Then, using a sharp knife, cut it lengthwise, splitting it into halves. Sandwich the shank of the hook between the two halves and secure with the adhesive. When the adhesive is dry, coat the entire outside surface of the cork with adhesive and roll it in sand or gravel so that the cork becomes liberally coated. When the adhesive dries it will look just like a caddis case impaled lengthwise on a hook.