The great stoneflies of the Rockies, the mysterious Mormon cricket of the Southwest, juicy grasshoppers—these can all bring the wariest, largest, most coveted fish to the surface. But it is the cicada that bring the biggest of all. The tailwaters near my home aren’t much affected by them. A brown gobbles one every now and then but for the most part it’s usual tailwater fare: midges and scuds with an occasional mayfly hatch. The smaller spring creeks are lined with trees that should have the cicadas falling in the water like chum, trout lined up for easy pickings. But for some reason I often miss the trout-cicada interaction. That’s OK though, because I’m an unrepentant smallmouth fanatic.
When the water is comfortable to wet wade and the smallies are smashing topwaters, the fly of choice is a deer hair cicada bug. With a sample cicada found dead on a tree (the living version looking out of place near all the empty shucks of its kin), I tried to imitate the colors closely. Call it “dirty brownish-green with reddish-yellow tint to its wings.” After spinning the deer hair, trimming, and considering all the craft-store goofiness, with glued on doll eyes, rubber legs and all, I admitted that color, size and durability were probably the keys. These are unsophisticated fish, so I needed an unsophisticated fly.
The summer the two emergences overlapped, I caught smallmouth after smallmouth, and took all too few pictures of the bigger ones. I fished my topwater cicada pattern to the almost total exclusion of anything else. Thinking of myself as an intuitive, insightful fisherman, I tried to concentrate on shady, tree-lined areas where the cicadas would fall into the water. They use the trees to shed their larval skin and become adults, make their siren mating call, breed, lay eggs, and die. I sat on gravel bars eating my lunches, cicadas calling in the background.
Summer came to its natural end. The first of September is dove season, and it distracted my short attention span for a couple of weeks. When I had a day to get back on a stream, I hurried to the access point and tied on the inevitable cicada bug. But they were gone. As I sat dove hunting, scratching the retrievers’ ears, waiting for the doves to whiz by in their frustrating, kamikaze style, I never noticed the drone of the cicadas fading.
After hours without a topwater strike, I tried streamers and caught a few. But this was like a whiskey drinker living on light beer. No smashing strikes, no breathless, tense moments as the fish closes in on the fly, its wake like a torpedo. When the cicadas ended, the surface bite was off, period. And it would prove to be off for the rest of the year, through the winter, until the water warmed up the next spring.