The Only Two Caddis Pupa Patterns I Really Need to Carry

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LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupa strikes again. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Caddisflies, who doesn’t love them? I can assure you trout sure do.

Tying a caddisfly imitation on, is usually not a bad move on any trout water you visit. Globally, there’s thousands of different species of caddisflies, and that fact alone, one could argue caddisflies are the most abundant and popular aquatic insects found in trout water. If I remember correctly, my first trout landed on a dry fly was with an Elk Hair Caddis. That was a long time ago, back when I knew nothing about fishing caddis pupa patterns and how important they were. I’ve since, with the help of the great Gary LaFontaine, author of the famous book, “Caddisflies”, deepened my knowledge of this aquatic insect, and I’ve built a whole new appreciation and respect for the importance they have in a trout’s diet. Year-round, but particularly during the spring, early summer and fall, fly anglers should be well stocked up on caddisfly pupa fly patterns.

It’s safe to say the most effective way to catch the trout during a caddisfly hatch is to fish caddis pupa imitations. I’ve got many different caddisfly pupa patterns in my fly box, but over the years, LaFontaine’s deep sparkle pupa and emergent sparkle pupa have caught me more fish than all the other pupa patterns combined. These patterns should be in every trout anglers fly box. Gary LaFontaine did an excellent job of researching and studying the characteristics, underwater look and behavior of emerging caddis pupa. He used aquariums with living caddisfly specimens, and spent countless hours scuba diving on rivers during caddisfly hatches to gain accurate insight of what the trout see during a caddisfly hatch. He then took the research and data he collected and hand picked fly tying materials that he could use to design and tie accurate caddisfly patterns for each life-stage of the aquatic insect. This was an astonishing feat that took Gary LaFonataine twenty years to compile and complete. We all owe him a great deal of gratitude and thanks for all his hard work. Without his contributions who knows where we’d be today in understanding the life-cyle of caddisflies and going about imitating them.

Fly Patterns: 1. LaFontaine’s Deep Sparkle Pupa  2. LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupa
Comments: Caddis pupa can be tied or purchased in several different colors variations with or without beads.

There are lots of anglers that opt for strictly fishing adult caddisfly patterns during a hatch, but most of the time that’s because they don’t understand the life-cyle of the caddisfly, nor can they decipher which stage of the hatch their witnessing. When the fish are keying in on the adults on the surface you can have great success, but the fact is, trout concentrate their efforts feeding on the pupa stage of the caddisfly the most, and pupa imitations can catch fish throughout the entire hatch. The reason for this is because the pupal stage is one of the most vulnerable and helpless stages of the caddisflies life-cylce and it’s one of the easiest times for trout to feed on them. Furthermore, their emergence period puts them in front of trout longer than any other stage in their life-cyle. Emerging caddis pupa often drift for long distances below the surface as they make their way ascending to the surface, split open their shuck, and struggle to get air-born. Anglers wanting to maximize their catch rate during a caddisfly hatch need to first determine what stage of the hatch the caddisflies are in when their on the water fishing. At the beginning, during the first stages of the hatch, there will be far more emerging caddis pupa along the bottom of the stream than there will be adults on the surface, and the majority of the trout will be positioned deep in the water column picking them off, one by one.  At this stage anglers should be dead-drifting patterns like LaFontaine’s deep pupa on a nymph rig close to the bottom to keep their fly in the target zone. As the hatch intensifies and more caddisflies make their way and congregate closer to the surface, the trout will follow them by relocating higher up in the water column so they can continue feeding on the highest density of drifting insects. At this stage of the hatch, anglers should switch to emerging patterns like LaFontaine’s sparkle caddis emerging pupa and dead-drift their fly higher in the water column. Either shortern the depth of your nymph rig or fish an adult caddisfly (dry), with an emerging sparkle pupa tied on a long dropper (36″). Swinging or twitching your caddis pupa at the end of your drift will do a great job of imitating the caddisflies at this stage of the hatch. For the most part though, you still want to have your flies dead-drifting most of the drift.

Just the other day guiding a client we were slap in the middle of a caddisfly hatch. The hatch had already been going on for a couple hours but the trout still weren’t taking adults on the surface. You could watch the dancing and hopping adults fly away untouched, but we kept seeing splashy rises. Anglers that witness this situation should be tipped off that the trout are taking emerging pupas. The water was clear and we could actually see several trout. I had my client position upstream of the trout make an upstream cast inline with the trout’s feeding lane, and throw a couple minds. Just when the fly began entering the trout’s field of view, I had him stop following his rod tip with his indicator so his flies would rise up in the water column to mimic an emerging pupa. The strategy worked wonderfully and we landed several nice rainbows this way. Its not always this easy to take fish on caddisfly pupa. At times it can be one of the most difficult life-cycle stage of the caddisfly to interpret and dial in on. Some days the trout will win, other days the angler. Your first step towards victory though starts by making the decision to fish caddis pupa imitations.

I’ll be following up this post down the road with the next stages of the hatch. We still haven’t talked about fishing this hatch when trout are taking adults, targeting egg laying caddis or spent caddis. Entire books have been written on fishing the Caddisfly hatch. For now, just go tie up or purchase some of LaFontaine’s pupa patterns. They’re on fire for me right now.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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37 thoughts on “The Only Two Caddis Pupa Patterns I Really Need to Carry

  1. What sizes are common? Colors depend on location? Do the colors change during different times of the year?

    Tying this fly and getting it evenly “full” is not something that I’ve mastered… yet. Any tips?

    • Dean,

      Popular caddis pupa sizes are from size 18-14 for the most part. You want to match the colors with the species and color of the natural. If you are having problems getting a full body with the antron yarn, you need to use more material.


  2. I’ve actually had good luck swinging a soft hackle imitation of a caddis emerger during a full on caddis hatch. It took some patience to learn not to yank the imitation out of their mouth, but once I mastered that little trick, it’s been a great technique for me.

    Thanks for these other suggestions on how to fish pupa as the hatch progresses.

    • Another thing LaFontaine did was showed the importance of Antron or other tri-lobal material. Those that don’t believe the material makes any difference have not witnessed the difference. I have seen trout staged in lanes refusing everything drifted perfectly by them only to move feet once a fly tied with Antron hit the water!

    • Mike,

      Thanks for the heads up on letting us know the patter works good by you. That information is always very helpful for people traveling on fishing road trips. We appreciate you input and following the blog.


  3. When tying this don’t use to much material, when you tye in the antron, tye it a bit long then take your dubbin needle and pull the antron back towards the bend this will give you that full/bobble look, hope this helps

  4. On Gary’s home water, the Clark Fork at Deer Lodge, I have had some amazing fishing using the deep sparkle pupa, the emergent sparkle pupa and elk hair caddis – fishing the whole cycle in an hour as the hatch progressed and the browns switched what they were taking. Simply amazing how LaFontaine nailed the patterns and how to fish them.

  5. Gary also developed the diving caddis, which is an adult returning to the river to lay eggs by diving or crawling into the water. The fly is vulnerable to the trout as it enters the water, drifts after egg-laying, or tries to fly off. This is often mistaken for emergence, and hence the use of pupa patterns. But fishing the diving female, with the green eggsac during the hydropsyche and glossosoma emergences so overwhelming common in the Rockies, way outfishes pupas or adults. Gary’s pattern is: antron (icedub works as well) body spot-dubbed, into a green eggsac on the tip, then body spot-dubbed olive or dark brown or tan, then a tuft of mottled partridge or whatever as underwing, then overwing of clear antron (for water-bubble sparkle, topped with brown rooster hackle(I use mottled partridge.). Weighted around the head with bead or wire, gives it a down-head attitude imitative of the natural “diving”.

  6. Gary is a friend I dearly miss, hard to believe it’s almost 14 years since he left this life behind. Back in the late 90’s Gary had DuPont make up four colors of Sparkle Yarn for him. The carton that it came in was the biggest cardboard box I’ve ever seen, it nearly filled the one car garage he had it stored in. I think he was a bit over whelmed at the actual amount of yarn he had purchased. When I expressed interest in buying some of the yarn,he said fine but you have to take whole spools of each color. Thus I still have rather large amounts of each color. I am looking to share this with anyone who is interested.

    • Hey Bruce, Louis’ email is actually, not ‘hookupa’. He usually includes it in the sign off on each article, so I’m sure it was a typo. If the offer still stands, I would also love to have a sample of the yarn. Gary’s caddis patterns are awesome up here in Maine, especially in bright green, tan, and orange. Tying them with the real stuff would be awesome. I’ll shoot you an email pending your reply here.

  7. I have fished the emerging sparkle pupa all over northern Spain.I cant think of a more versatile fly nor one that would give me better results during a caddis eclosion.I buy my yarn from The Book Mailer.Good fishing

  8. I just returned from the West Walker River in Calif.,spotted a nice pool seeing nice size Rainbows like you mentioned splashing and sipping……saw maybe 3-4 adult caddis flying around, nothing too exciting, so I tied on the emergent sparkle pupa olive and BANG!! Caught 5 or 6 within 20 minutes, I cast across upstream let it drift a bit then short strips and nailed em! Man, that was fun…… I missed probably 5 due to the fact that I tried to set the hook to quick, but I learned soon to wait a second as they slammed it and they usually hook themselves.

    Great article 🙂

  9. If the offer is still available, we at the Kentcukiana Fly Tyers would like to have some for our fly tying class. We fish the Smokies quite a lot and have read his books with great joy.

    • Dan , you should have the antron by now and hope you all enjoy tying up Garys caddis patterns and any other patterns you can come up with.

  10. Hi Bruce
    Great reading your article.Caddis is a great pattern here in Central pa.
    I would love to have some of Gary’s original Antron material. Would make a great addition to my material.
    Thanks for sharing.Brian Royer
    Tight lines!

  11. I would suggest one more pattern that has increased my catch rate and is very effective:
    Sharks Caddis Pupa (google it)

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