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.
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.
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.
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.
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.