Don’t overlook shrimp fly patterns

Of all the many patterns in my many fly boxes, I would have to say the Chan’s Caddis Pupae pattern is probably the one I use the most

Over the years I have acquired dozens of fly boxes filled with countless fly patterns that have been tied to represent everything from small baitfish, to insects in all their life cycle stages, as well as any number of other fish food sources such as leeches, salmon eggs and shrimp. All have worked at various times and places on all sorts of fish species from trout and steelhead to salmon, not to mention carp, pike and sturgeon.

Of all the many patterns in my many fly boxes, I would have to say the Chan’s Caddis Pupae pattern is probably the one I use the most. I have caught (and released) more fish using that one pattern than any other. Maybe more than all others combined.

The one fly I probably do not use all that often, or at least not as often as I possibly should, would have to be my shrimp patterns. The thing is I have caught plenty of fish on shrimp patterns so I don’t really know why I tend to overlook them.

Trout like to eat shrimp. Also, trout in lakes where there are healthy shrimp populations tend to be fairly plump for their length and, if you like to eat some of the fish you catch, you will notice that fish which have been feeding on shrimp seem to taste better. This is especially true in early spring and late fall. Trout are often dependent on shrimp for their calorie intake in the spring, prior to chironomid hatches coming off, and in the fall, when most insect hatches are all but over.

Freshwater shrimp or scuds, as they are sometimes referred to, are actually crustaceans. They can range considerably in size and colour according to the nutrient levels and chemical composition of the water in which they live. Shrimp require high levels of calcium to form their hard plastic-like shell. Generally, productive lakes are also calcium-rich waters and consequently tend to support large numbers of shrimp as well as healthy insect populations. Shrimp seldom venture far from the shelter of the sub-aquatic flora growing on the shoals and along the drop-off of many, if not most of our Interior lakes.

Gammarus shrimp are the most common species of shrimp in B.C.’s lakes and are the most commonly imitated by flyers. There are literally hundreds of different shrimp patterns tied with a multitude of materials in light to almost transparent shades of green, grey, yellow, tan, pink, and orange on hook sizes ranging from #8’s to as small as #16’s and #18’s. Most naturals are closer to a size #12 hook. Many shrimp patterns are lake specific. One of my favourite patterns is a pale olive pregnant shrimp. Fish are essentially visual feeders and I think the bright orange egg sack underneath along the abdomen gives the fish something to hone in on.

It is important to work a shrimp pattern close to the bottom, in amongst the real thing. A floating line with a long leader can be very effective. Depending on the depth, a 10 to 12-foot leader with appropriate tippet is usually sufficient. I use a floating line with a 9.5-foot clear intermediate sinking tip, to which I added a slightly shorter eight-foot fluorocarbon leader and a couple of feet of regular monofilament tippet. The sinking tip and fluorocarbon leader material is almost invisible in the water and gets the fly down quickly into the feeding zone of the fish.

Although shrimp can swim relatively fast for their size, they only swim in short bursts. They swim in an elongated position and curl when resting. Many newer shrimp patterns are tied on curved shank ‘shrimp’ hooks while other more traditional patterns are tied on standard straight shank hooks. Hook style and type of retrieve should work together. A slow retrieve of approximately six to eight inch strips, with a pause between pulls and interspersed with occasional quick pulls, will simulate the swimming motion of the natural shrimp in the water.

Simply stated, shrimp patterns should not be overlooked because freshwater shrimp are seldom overlooked by feeding trout.