Waiting for the Cicada Hatch

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Most of the savvy local fly anglers I know are on high alert.

Fly shop phones are ringing. Fishing buddies are organized into call lists. Everyone has their ears up, listening for that buzz. Except for me, of course. I’m deaf as a post and I hear that sound all the time. It’s 2017, and it doesn’t take a math scientist to figure out what that means. Our last 17 year cicada hatch was in 2000, so it’s time to spin up some foam monsters.

Any angler who has fished a good 17 year cicada hatch is not likely to forget it. It’s the kind of experience that leaves you wondering about everything you thought you knew about fish. If you haven’t fished it, you’ve likely heard the stories. The best one I’ve heard involved huge striped bass sipping dry flies. That sort of thing will change a person.

If you’ve chased this hatch before, you probably also know about disappointment. Maybe you drove 400 miles for a hatch that never happened, or maybe you’ve seen the cicadas on the water and fish ignored them. I’ve done both, and with the chance coming only every 17 years, that’s pretty heartbreaking.

A couple of years ago, after spinning up a mound of cicada patterns for a hatch that was supposed to happen several states away, and didn’t, I got sick of waiting. I decided to fish those flies anyway, right here at home, in the absence of any hatch.

Guess what? It worked.

As fly anglers we get so wrapped up in the way things are supposed to happen that we forget to use our brains. How long does a trout live? Six, maybe seven years? So how do the trout scientists know about a recouping 17 year hatch? From the meticulous notes of their grandfathers?

What I’ve found is that fishing these big buggy flies in the summer, especially on medium size streams and small rivers, works like a charm. I’ve caught some absolute slabs who couldn’t resist a big foam cicada floating overhead. I’m sure there are some purist out there who will dance like Yosemite Sam when they read this, but in my experience it works.

You probably won’t catch a lot of fish on cicadas during an epic mayfly hatch. Then again, you might. Fish do weird things. But on days when there’s not a defining hatch a cicada makes a lot of sense. It might be just the thing to catch the eye of a big boy who isn’t going to move for a caddis fly.

It looks like this year might be a good year for cicadas. Next year too, and the year after. What are you waiting for?

My favorite cicada pattern is the Sick Ada. It’s buggy, tough and easy to tie. Here’s a video.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “Waiting for the Cicada Hatch

  1. Many years ago a buddy and I caught the cicada “super hatch” on the Green River in Utah. It was an amazing experience, never to be forgotten and, perhaps, never to be repeated.

    After returning home, we had a lot of extra cicada flies that sat in an unused box. One day we were casting to rising fish on a small lake. They were sipping something very tiny. I tried every size 26 emerger I had. My buddy, who knows nothing about insects, tied on a big, ugly cicada. Pretty dumb idea since these fish had never seen a cicada. Guess what? The fish went nuts and we have repeated this experience on rivers, lakes, and small streams from Alaska to Patagonia. The ultimate “unmatch the hatch!”

  2. Pingback: 5 Hatches You Must Fish Before You Die - Flylords Mag

  3. Just a thought. I have not fly fished since the 70’s but recently purchased a mint automatic Fly Reel at an Antique Shop in Leadville, CO. Near-NIB with paperwork. Marlin. For Nostalgic reasons actually.
    But it made me think about the manual left vs right retrieve issue.

    As a righty, whether spin-casting or Fly Fishing, I always pulled the fish in with my right arm, and reeled-in the line with my left hand. My Dad taught me this because you’d lose the fish (Florida Fresh-water) if you tried to reel-in dead weight against the drag.

    I don’t remember doing different in Bryson City either, both with spin-casting and fly.

    Help me see where we went wrong.

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