Cicadas, Sawyer and the Clinic

by | Mar 10, 2021 | 5 comments

Sawyer and I were fishing the seventeen year Cicada hatch of 2008. It was a wonderfully consistent summer with cooler than average temperatures and higher than average river flows. Add with the occasional thunderstorm that tinted the water and kept trout active, and it was the perfect setup.

Day after day, my friend and I met early on the river to pick up where we’d left off the evening before. We learned that the big fish were in the prime lies — the deepest, greenest stuff under the waters of early summer. So we fished a mile of river each day together. And we skipped a lot of stretches that surely held trout, just because we’d found a water type where the biggest fish were playing.

Trout started around 9:00 every morning, and if we got a good cast in a great spot, big fish ate the fly. It’s the most predictable fishing I’ve ever had. And Sawyer and I were in a fisherman’s heaven, as we fished multiple fourteen-hour days, wearing ourselves out over a couple of weeks.

Sawyer, with another upper-teens trout. Photo from Steve Sawyer (2008)

Lots of smiles that summer. Photo by Steve Sawyer (2008)

With that much time on the river, there were moments for a good bank sit — at least once in a while. And on this gorgeous morning there’d been so much fish catching that our wet hands looked like dried prunes.

Sawyer walked ahead and found a seat on a washed-up sycamore in the rocky floodplain upstream. A few minutes later, I was within earshot as I waded through an ankle-deep riffle to scan the new level.

We exchanged stories, and I made a few casts to the inside seam. It was marginal water in these conditions but a good secondary spot nonetheless — definitely worth a few looks. The two trout that came on a half-dozen casts proved my instincts to be correct. Sawyer got a rise out of every eat. And I released each fish quickly, as I was eager to make the next cast.

My friend and I kept talking. And I moved toward the middle run, picking up at least four more trout, all bigger than the first two, but none in the upper teens — the size that had become standard fare for trout that were eating cicadas on top.

Photo by Steve Sawyer (2008)

Sawyer questioned and pointed to the shady green bank-bucket against a filled in undercut, and I nodded while assuring him that I was getting there. I worked toward it and caught another pair on the edge of the best water, but not quite into it yet. Sawyer was really having fun with things now, and we watched each drift together, with a fisherman’s expectation that only comes from fast action on a river. Another trout, and I knew that Sawyer could handle the anticipation no longer.

“Alright, here we go!” I said to my friend. Then I waded another few steps bankside, just within range of the perfect, limestone green bucket.

Nothing on the back end. Then nothing on the near side. Nothing on the first drift that began in the riffly head and dumped into the center of the bucket either. When that drift finished, neither of us spoke. The trout would eat — we knew it was a sure thing. And that drift was good enough to fish over and over again.

Two identical casts later, a twenty-inch wild brown trout swirled the fly. Its bulging back bubbled through the surface just enough to bump the Cicada off the surface. The fly made a short hop in response. And after weeks of watching this kind of performance from top-tier trout, I’d trained myself to stand still and hold on tight. I didn’t move the rod or the line. I didn’t move my hands, my head or my eyes. Then, just as the Cicada settled again, with its deer hair wing coming to rest and its rubber legs still quivering, the pool boss came to finish what he started. His big head engulfed the fly, and my patience finally released into a sharp hookset on 3X. The stout hook buried itself against the weight of a big trout. After a strong fight, the fish of the day slid into my hand. It was an even twenty inches, and its belly was bulging with the chunky forms of unlucky, two-inch-long Cicadas.

The big trout reveled in the bug event that summer, and I swear that sometimes, trout were playing with their food. I believe that trout tried to sink the Cicadas, and then take them as they drowned under the water. This started late in the event, weeks into the madness. And I think trout found it easier or they had more consistency with the big bugs by creating a surface swirl that at least partially submerged the Cicada. We saw this often enough to consider it intentional and not a mistake.

I held the fish and waded over to show Sawyer the prize. And while I approached, he kept saying, “That was a clinic!”

I smiled, and I soaked in one of the best moments I’ve ever had on a river. From start to finish, every cast in that level went where I directed it. And with each drift, I had supreme confidence that a trout would eat. Everywhere a trout should hold and take a fly, at least one did. And I caught the largest fish right where he was supposed to be.

Here’s a good look at the Size #6 pattern that produced better than all the other big and fancy stuff: Black foam, rust thread for the banding, deer hair, peacock dubbing and rubber legs. I learned this pattern from Doug Wennick.

I didn’t carry a camera back then. And while I still appreciate the purity of that approach, I do wish I had a record of those days with one of my best friends on the water. But I do have the memories. And I can still tell the stories. So too, Sawyer and I can make plans for 2025. Seventeen years should provide enough time for anyone to clear their schedule for a couple weeks. Right, buddy?

Fish hard, friends.

 

** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 700+ articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers.
Your support is greatly appreciated.

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

Aiden’s First Brown Trout

Aiden’s First Brown Trout

Hundreds of times Aiden has snagged the bottom, pulled the rod back, and either asked me if that was a fish or has told me flatly, “I think that was a fish.”  This time, he finally experienced the certainty that a couple of good head shakes from a trout will give you . . .

Waves and Water

Waves and Water

. . . But when all of that dries up, when the travel seems too long, when dawn comes too early and when chasing a bunch of foot-long trout seems like something you’ve already done, then what’s left — always — is the river . . .

The Foundation

The Foundation

There is tranquility and stillness here — a place to do nothing but think. And that alone is valuable. Because there aren’t many places like this left in the world . . .

Dog Days

Dog Days

Fishing the summer months is a protracted game of hide and seek, where more often, the angler loses. Every condition favors the trout.

It’s August, and we need rain again. The rivers have taken on a familiar, thirsty look — deep in the heart of summer. Water trickles through the pockets. It sinks into dry rocks like a sponge. We see the skeleton of an ecosystem. And the distilled, clear flow is low enough to reveal the watershed’s deepest secrets. Wading these wet trails requires composure and patience . . .

Feed ‘Em Fur

Feed ‘Em Fur

Every once in a while, the mainstay beadhead nymphs in my box see a drop in productivity. Sometimes, it takes hours or even days of denial for me to accept the message. First, I try going smaller, into the #18 and #20 range, focusing on black beads and duller finishes that have mixed, mostly subpar results. Then eventually, I flip over a leaf in my fly box, where, on the backside, I have rows of natural nymphs. They carry no bead and have minimal lead wraps on the shank for weight. These are subtle, unassuming flies, and their main attraction is an inherent motion, providing a lifelike representation of the leggy critters that trout eat.

The flies are fur nymphs. And they’re the perfect change up when trout are tired of your beadheads.

When trout are sick of seeing flashbacks, sparkly dubbing, gaudy colors or rubber legs, feed ‘em fur . . .

Lost Fishing Friends

Lost Fishing Friends

The lost friendship transforms a river bend — the one with the ancient and hollowed-out sycamore — into an active tombstone. The towering tree with the undercut bank becomes a place to remember shared moments of casting into cool waters, where the ghosts of laughter and fond companionship persists.

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

5 Comments

  1. Hi Dom,

    Does that cicada pattern use a regular length size 6 hook?

    Regards,

    Reply
    • Hi Tim.
      I actually use one that’s standard length and one that’s 2x long, like a 5262. Both #6.
      Make sense?
      Dom

      Reply
  2. Are you able to share the recipe? thank you, Brad

    Reply
    • Hi Brad. The recipe is listed underneath the last picture in the article. Cheers. Dom

      Reply
  3. Brood X of the 17 year cicadas this year. Eastern US. Enjoy!

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

Pin It on Pinterest