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3 Perfect Fly Ties For This Spring’s Cicada Swarmageddon

The Brood X cicada hatch is expected to begin in May. These 3 patterns will help you catch more fish once the onslaught begins.
The Brood X cicada hatch is expected to begin in May. These 3 patterns will help you catch more fish once the onslaught begins. (James DeMers/)

Beginning in May, the periodic cicada known as Brood X will descend upon large swathes of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, much to the delight anything that swims. The abundance of hefty, easy meals represented by this fat bug’s emergence means that trout, bass, carp, and more will be keenly attuned to the surface for several weeks following this behemoth’s arrival, and that’s where you’ll want to focus your fishing efforts.

When fishing any surface bug, there are a few important rules to keep in mind. The first is that less is more, less is more, less is more. The surface is where fish are at their most vulnerable, so it’s better to keep fly manipulation minimal, lest those piscine alarm bells start to ring. A good rule of thumb is to move your bug and wait for the rings to settle. Then drink a soda. Then eat a sandwich. Then pop or wiggle again. This is only a slight exaggeration.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the intensity of any manipulation should be a function of both depth of water and proximity of quarry. Shallow water calls for small pops, medium and deep water for medium pops. Additionally, a fish closing in on a surface bugs needs no further cajoling. The closer the fish gets to your bug, the less you should move it.

Bug patterns fall into two basic categories: heavy-bodied “louder” patterns and soft-landing “quiet” patterns. Below I’ve included two very basic styles—and one wildcard. Don’t worry about having exact materials—oftentimes it’s the substitute material that becomes a superstar. Even more importantly, don’t worry about tying perfect flies—I’d rather fish an ugly, buggy fly than a prim and proper specimen 8 days out of the week.

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Cicada No. 1

This first pattern is a classic black popper with a few cicada-specific adornments. It’ll land with moderate percussion on the water and produce some sonics while you’re working it, so think of this as your fly for dirty water, broken water, or water with some depth. It’s an ideal smallmouth fly. For troutier cicada, take a look at option #2.

The only out-of-the-ordinary components you’ll need for this fly is a bit of red or orange foam and a pair of tweezers—if you choose the optional step of adding eyes. Here I’ve got a 1/8-inch foam cylinder cut to bits, but you can do the same by trimming a small circle of out sheet foam. Only got white foam? Get a marker and color your eyes up.
The only out-of-the-ordinary components you’ll need for this fly is a bit of red or orange foam and a pair of tweezers—if you choose the optional step of adding eyes. Here I’ve got a 1/8-inch foam cylinder cut to bits, but you can do the same by trimming a small circle of out sheet foam. Only got white foam? Get a marker and color your eyes up. (Dave Karczynski/)Place a size 10 Tiemco 8089 (or other cicada-sized, wide-gapped hook) in your vise, get a thread base going, and tie in a short, thick clump of marabou in at the hook bend. In terms of silhouette, the marabou will continue the taper produced by the foam popper head, but the real reason it’s here is to ensure the fly has some passive movement while you’re dead drifting it. Because you’ll be doing a lot of dead drifting with cicada patterns. Don’t think of this fly as a “popper” so much as a “sitter”.
Place a size 10 Tiemco 8089 (or other cicada-sized, wide-gapped hook) in your vise, get a thread base going, and tie in a short, thick clump of marabou in at the hook bend. In terms of silhouette, the marabou will continue the taper produced by the foam popper head, but the real reason it’s here is to ensure the fly has some passive movement while you’re dead drifting it. Because you’ll be doing a lot of dead drifting with cicada patterns. Don’t think of this fly as a “popper” so much as a “sitter”. (Dave Karczynski/)This is the first of several optional steps. I like a bit of wound saddle hackle here to suggest legs and convey a general sense of bugginess.
This is the first of several optional steps. I like a bit of wound saddle hackle here to suggest legs and convey a general sense of bugginess. (Dave Karczynski/)Now it’s time to junk up the hook shank a bit to give the glue something to grab onto. Here I’ve cross-hatched some wire and dubbed a bit of scrap marabou around the hook shank, but really any scraps that add texture will work. Whip finish and cut your thread as you prepare to glue on the popper head.
Now it’s time to junk up the hook shank a bit to give the glue something to grab onto. Here I’ve cross-hatched some wire and dubbed a bit of scrap marabou around the hook shank, but really any scraps that add texture will work. Whip finish and cut your thread as you prepare to glue on the popper head. (Dave Karczynski/)Put a nice goop of super glue (I like Loctite “Liquid Control” Super Glue but any waterproof super glue will do) around the front of the hook shank, then push the popper head onto the shank butt-first till it’s snug against the hackle. Depending on the popper head you’re using, you may need to prepare the head by stabbing it through with a bodkin. I’m using a medium Rainy’s popper head here, but just about any black foam popper head will do.
Put a nice goop of super glue (I like Loctite “Liquid Control” Super Glue but any waterproof super glue will do) around the front of the hook shank, then push the popper head onto the shank butt-first till it’s snug against the hackle. Depending on the popper head you’re using, you may need to prepare the head by stabbing it through with a bodkin. I’m using a medium Rainy’s popper head here, but just about any black foam popper head will do. (Dave Karczynski/)Time for eyes! Do you need eyes? No, you don’t, but they are fun to apply and make the fly come alive. Don’t even try using your fingers for these, however. Instead, pick them with a pair of tweezers, dab them into a puddle of glue, and make sure you get your placement right the first time.
Time for eyes! Do you need eyes? No, you don’t, but they are fun to apply and make the fly come alive. Don’t even try using your fingers for these, however. Instead, pick them with a pair of tweezers, dab them into a puddle of glue, and make sure you get your placement right the first time. (Dave Karczynski/)Now it’s time for legs. Do cicadas have long orange legs? No, they do not. They also don’t have big hooks jutting out of their abdomen. The legs will add more passive moment to this impressionistic bug. If you’ve got a tool for legs (I love my Zuddy’s Leg Puller), great. If not, you can use a razor to cut a shallow trench across the bellow of the popper, floss your legs into the groove, and seal the wound with glue.
Now it’s time for legs. Do cicadas have long orange legs? No, they do not. They also don’t have big hooks jutting out of their abdomen. The legs will add more passive moment to this impressionistic bug. If you’ve got a tool for legs (I love my Zuddy’s Leg Puller), great. If not, you can use a razor to cut a shallow trench across the bellow of the popper, floss your legs into the groove, and seal the wound with glue. (Dave Karczynski/)And there you have it—you’re done! This fly is ready to fish. Right now. But if you’re the type you can’t leave well enough alone…
And there you have it—you’re done! This fly is ready to fish. Right now. But if you’re the type you can’t leave well enough alone… (Dave Karczynski/)You can add a Krystal Flash wing (gray, pearl, purple of blue all work fine) tied in with orange thread wrapped around the popper head itself. Drop extra glue at the connections for reinforcement. This bug’s ready to hunt and then some.
You can add a Krystal Flash wing (gray, pearl, purple of blue all work fine) tied in with orange thread wrapped around the popper head itself. Drop extra glue at the connections for reinforcement. This bug’s ready to hunt and then some. (Dave Karczynski/)

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Cicada No. 2

For very shallow, very clear, or very still water, try out this lighter, quieter, subtler pattern. Also, if you’re targeting trout, this will be a more effective option than the popper.

Prepare for this pattern by cutting a longish paddle shape in a piece of 2mm black foam. For reference, I’ve got this piece of foam laying alongside a standard spool of thread. As you can see, it’s about a thread spool-and-a-half long. While that’s longer than a cicada, remember that you’ll be doubling part of the foam over to form the head of this bug. Your final pattern will be shorter, in other words.
Prepare for this pattern by cutting a longish paddle shape in a piece of 2mm black foam. For reference, I’ve got this piece of foam laying alongside a standard spool of thread. As you can see, it’s about a thread spool-and-a-half long. While that’s longer than a cicada, remember that you’ll be doubling part of the foam over to form the head of this bug. Your final pattern will be shorter, in other words. (Dave Karczynski/)

For this pattern I like a Daiichi 2461, size 4. It’s just the right size and comprised of light wire that will help this land softly. That said, any 3XL, size 4 hook will do.

Begin by laying a thread base and lash the narrow end of the foam to the hook right at the bend. The foam will pinch and curve and that’s ok. It will also want to rotate, and that’s not ok. To prevent this rotation, hit this and all subsequent tie-in points with a dab of super glue.

Next lay a base of orange chenille, orange yarn, or orange dubbing around the hook shank. Wind up almost to the eye, then back the thread off about a quarter of an inch.
Next lay a base of orange chenille, orange yarn, or orange dubbing around the hook shank. Wind up almost to the eye, then back the thread off about a quarter of an inch. (Dave Karczynski/)Lay the foam forward and lash it once more to the hook. Hit it with super glue again here.
Lay the foam forward and lash it once more to the hook. Hit it with super glue again here. (Dave Karczynski/)Tie in a clump of EP fibers to imitate the wing and aid in visibility.
Tie in a clump of EP fibers to imitate the wing and aid in visibility. (Dave Karczynski/)Now double the remainder foam back over itself and tie it in directly in line with the previous tie-in point.
Now double the remainder foam back over itself and tie it in directly in line with the previous tie-in point. (Dave Karczynski/)Still at the same time in point, add rubber legs, whip finish, and reinforce with super glue as desired.
Still at the same time in point, add rubber legs, whip finish, and reinforce with super glue as desired. (Dave Karczynski/)A look at the underside.
A look at the underside. (Dave Karczynski/)For fishing stained water, you can add some glitz with a sparkly chenille, and/or Krystal Flash for the wing.
For fishing stained water, you can add some glitz with a sparkly chenille, and/or Krystal Flash for the wing. (Dave Karczynski/)

Cicada No.3

While the two previous patterns will cover most if not all of your bass and trout cicada bases, I’ll also share a chop-shop style bug that lends itself to considerable experimentation. If you hate spinning deer hair, this style also gives you the opportunity to play with different color combinations, though of course the final product will be less elegant.

To prepare for the chop-shop cicada, grab a handful of orange and black popper heads of the same size. Start your experimenting by cutting your black popper head into thirds and your orange head into thinner slices. If you’re using a free razor, be exceedingly careful.
To prepare for the chop-shop cicada, grab a handful of orange and black popper heads of the same size. Start your experimenting by cutting your black popper head into thirds and your orange head into thinner slices. If you’re using a free razor, be exceedingly careful. (James DeMers/)Take the rear-most piece of foam from the black head and slide it onto a hook that’s been prepped with a thread base and glue.
Take the rear-most piece of foam from the black head and slide it onto a hook that’s been prepped with a thread base and glue. (James DeMers/)Next, slide on your smallest, thinnest slice of orange foam. Glue it to the black foam behind it—not the hook shank.
Next, slide on your smallest, thinnest slice of orange foam. Glue it to the black foam behind it—not the hook shank. (James DeMers/)To create the illusion of legs, wrap some saddle hackle or schlappen around the hook shank. Whip finish, tie off, and prepare to add the next segment.
To create the illusion of legs, wrap some saddle hackle or schlappen around the hook shank. Whip finish, tie off, and prepare to add the next segment. (James DeMers/)Repeat the process until the hook is full. Add eyes if you’re feeling crafty.
Repeat the process until the hook is full. Add eyes if you’re feeling crafty. (James DeMers/)Experiment with other chop-shop variations.
Experiment with other chop-shop variations. (James DeMers/)

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