Pro Tips: Skate Your Way to More Trout

Written by: Brian McGeehan, Montana Angler Fly Fishing


Caddisfly hatches can be thick, but some of the best fishing occurs when the bugs return to lay eggs.
Photos courtesy of Montana Angler Fly Fishing

When we are first learning to fly fish, the concept of the dead drift is constantly reinforced. Many beginners are taught that trout won’t eat a fly unless it has zero drag on it and is drifting along perfectly with the current. Fortunately, not all insects just float motionless along on the current, and trout will actually eat flies that are deliberately dragged and twitched. Fly action can actually provoke more strikes under the right circumstances.


As an added bonus, low light brings out some bigger trout.

Skating caddisfly patterns can make for some really exciting fishing. To “skate” a fly, you drag it around on the surface, creating a little wake. Natural caddisflies delicately skitter and bounce around on the surface while trying to break through the surface to dive down and lay eggs. These insects typically hatch mid morning to mid afternoon, when water temperatures rise past a certain point. Their emergence is fairly fast, pupae make a mad-dash for the surface, shed their pupal shuck, and fly away fairly quickly. They’ll typically spend a few days around the bushes along the river, and after mating, they will return to the water to lay eggs in the evenings. This skating caddis technique typically works best during the last hours of daylight during the summer.


Skating works best in the last hours of the day, so it pays to be near the river at night.

To skate a caddis pattern, use a short line and hold the rod high. Cast across the current and slightly downstream (in the vicinity of splashy rising trout hopefully). As the fly drags across the current, gently shake the elevated rod tip, giving the fly a slightly erratic skittering motion. The takes are generally quick and aggressive. The fish only get a quick shot at their meal, so they often will come cartwheeling completely out of the water while chasing egg-laying caddis. The trout may react better to a different swing speed, as well. If there are fish actively rising around you, but they’re not interested in your offering, try making the fly move across the surface faster or slower.

Certain flies excel at skating, as they tend to stay on the surface while they’re under tension. Flies that are heavily hackled and incorporate foam work very well for skating. Elk-hair wings are very buoyant and durable, and the spun-deer-hair body on the Goddard caddis makes it very buoyant, even after it has caught a number of fish. It also helps to grease up your leader and fly, since you want everything riding high on the surface of the water. Since this technique is most effective late in the day, when visibility may be a little low, flies that have a bit of neon colored yarn incorporated in them can make them easier to track. Below are a few of our favorite caddis patterns for skating.

Brian McGeehan is owner and outfitter of Montana Angler Fly Fishing, an Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Expedition in Bozeman, Montana.

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