June 17, 2008
Fish Often Go Buggy for Cicadas
By John McCoy
The recent cicada emergence in parts of West Virginia has triggered a feeding frenzy for fish.
With zillions of big, clumsy chunks of protein splashing to the water's surface, it doesn't take even the dumbest fish long to figure out that the critters are good to eat.
Matt Yeager, the superintendent at Beech Fork State Park, said that even carp and catfish have gotten in on the act. "It's the darnedest thing," he said. "A cicada will fall to the water, and WHOOSH! A carp comes up and takes it like a trout taking a mayfly."
On the WVAngler.com Web site, some of the chatter in recent weeks has dealt with how trout fishermen might capitalize on the emergence.
I've fished a cicada hatch only once - in 1991, on the world- famous Green River downstream of Utah's Flaming Gorge Dam. The bugs were flying all over the place, and the trout indeed were taking them.
I had purchased several cicada patterns at a Salt Lake City fly shop before heading to the river, so I was prepared to "match the hatch." I wasn't prepared, however, for how persnickety the Green's angler-educated trout would be toward the big, black-bodied flies.
In riffles and rapids, they took the cicadas eagerly. I took three nice fish, including a 20-inch rainbow-cutthroat hybrid, in the first stretch of riffles we encountered.
The river's pools were another matter. The water on the Green is so clear that you can easily see fish holding on the bottom 8 to 10 feet under the drift boat. Those fish would detach from the bottom, rise majestically to the surface, place their noses almost against the cicada patterns, and sink slowly back to the bottom without taking.
Time after time, I watched enormous trout approach within millimeters of my flies only to spurn them.
The kid rowing the boat - I hesitate to actually call him a "guide" - just looked at me and shrugged. "I can take you to the fish, but I can't make them take the fly," he said.
A few casts later, after a particularly huge brown trout snubbed the cicada pattern, I saw it swerve suddenly to the side and eat something small and submerged.
I reeled in my line and clinch-knotted an 18-inch length of 6X tippet to the bend of the cicada pattern's hook. On the other end of the tippet, I tied a tiny No. 22 Brassie nymph. The kid looked at me as if I were crazy.
He whooped and hollered, though, when the next cast hooked a fat 15-inch rainbow. The fish didn't take the cicada. It came up and looked at it, but it didn't take. On its way back to the bottom, it spotted the little Brassie and took it eagerly. Bingo! The strategy worked like gangbusters the rest of the day.
A tight work schedule hasn't yet allowed me to fish during the current emergence. Fortunately for me and other anglers, cicadas hatch in 15 separate "broods" that vary from year to year and place to place. This year's hatch is Brood XIV.
The next major emergence, Brood V, hatches throughout West Virginia's western and central counties in 2016. After that, it will be another four years before Brood IX emerges in the state's southeastern counties.
The wait should be worth it. Brood V's hatch will occur along almost the entire length of the Elk River, from its source in Randolph County to its mouth in Charleston. Brood IX's emergence will include almost all of the New River. The smallmouth fishing ought to be fantastic.
It's something to look forward to. Cicadas may be big and ugly, but fish love 'em!
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