One night during my sophomore year of college, a drunk Swedish exchange student sunk into my couch and began telling tales of the old country. Midsommar’s Eve is a special event in June, Henrick said, when all able-bodied citizens eat and drink till they can’t. He reminisced about his first Midsommar’s kiss, first Midsommar’s beer, first Midsommar’s sex.
Starting around the summer solstice, an equally magical event takes place in Northeastern America. After a long winter, zebra caddis leave their overcoats on the stream bottom, rise to the surface, and engage in a ritual of riotous lovemaking—minus the empty Svedka bottles.
“They’re an evening hatch,” says Dan Legere, owner of the Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville. “You go to the river in the morning and the alders are just covered with them.”
Zebra caddis are localized to just a few areas. Smaller populations exist as far south as the lower Delaware in New York, but the marquee hatches are in New Hampshire and Maine, where they’re known colloquially as “alderflies” (though they’re actually a species of caddis, not Sialidae). Steve Angers of New Hampshire’s North Country Angler fishes the hatch on the Androscoggin River and its tributaries. “They come off in clouds,” he says. “All the big trout on the bottom of the river come up to eat. It’s the last big feeding event before summer kicks in and the bugs get small.”
If an angler timed it right, he or she could follow the entomological festivities from the Androscoggin to the many waterways of Maine, where brookies and landlocked Atlantic salmon key in on zebra caddis. Rather than marking the beginning of small bug season, the hatch in central Maine comes off later in the summer, usually toward the end of July. “What’s nice about the zebra caddis is that it’s a big bug,” says Legere, highlighting a welcome change of pace for anglers tired of tying 18s and 20s to their ever-shrinking tippet.
Legere also recommends taking a break from salmonids and heading to a warmwater bass pond when the hatch is thick. Though I had never heard of a hatch for bass, Legere assured me that it’s legit. “You cast it out, let it sit for a second, and then you give it one good long strip,” Legere says. “So you motorboat it, you know? You make a ‘V,’ and then let it sit—that’s what gets their attention.”
There isn’t a well-known zebra caddis-specific pattern, but Legere likes tying a little dubbing and a piece of lacquer-stiffened mottled turkey feather onto a size 10 or 12 hook. Down on the Androscoggin, Angers says the fish are more selective. “At the beginning of the hatch they’ll hit just about any caddis pattern, but as it goes on, you need an exact imitation. You need the big antennae coming off of it, or forget it.”
If you’re in that area this summer, keep your eyes out for the rowdy zebra caddis, tie some microfibbets to your standard EHC, and join the celebration. Skål!