I think it would be fair to say that the average UK fly angler has a pretty decent knowledge of the life cycle stages and various species of our native upwinged flies (or ephemeroptera if you want to be clever about it). Ask any keen river fisher and I’m sure he will be able to tell you all about the mayflies, dark olives, iron blues and pale wateries which inhabit his particular water – how large they are, what colour, how many tails on so on. If he’s a bit of a nerd, he may even begin to talk of costal projections to hindwings, intercalary veins and other such weird stuff.
The thing is, the graceful, delicate upwinged fly has become something of a symbol of British fly fishing – to the extent that some river anglers end up having a slight mental block towards the many other groups of insect available to our trout and grayling (how often do you see a fellow angler using midge imitations on your local river for example?).
Caddis flies (trichoptera) are one of the groups which have been so neglected over the years. Until recently, surprisingly little was known about the many species of British caddis and the details of their life cycles. I am as guilty as anyone – keen to make sure I achieve three equally spaced tails on my blue-winged olive dun, yet my caddis imitations are just a shaggy brown mess!
One or two well known UK angler-entomologists are striving to put this right, to increase our awareness and understanding of this group of insects. Oliver Edwards is one, always at the cutting edge of imitative fly tying. Another is the angling writer and England international, Stuart Crofts.
Stuart is currently conducting a long term study of British caddis and is extremely enthusiastic about the subject. A number of anglers up and down the country are helping him with this by sending in samples of any caddis flies they manage to collect whilst out fishing. This allows Stuart to build up a picture of the distribution of each species and their emergence times at different locations and so on, thus building up a greater understanding of the insects in general. I think this can only be of benefit to us fly fishers.
If you are interested in assisting Stuart and learning more about the caddis on your local waters, a link to his website is available opposite (all information on collection and preservation is provided, along with sample tubes), and for anyone interested in further study of their river’s entomology, a range of sampling gear – kick sample nets, jars, tubes etc – is available to buy at very reasonable prices.