Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Incredible inchworms: Every trout living in forested streams wants one

If you can apply thread to a hook, you’ll have no trouble tying an inchworm imitation, the writer says. A piece of chartreuse ultra chenille connected to a hook, leaving a bit of hanging tail is enough of a fake. (Photo Vic Attardo)

By Vic Attardo
Contributing Writer

I bet it’s been 30 years but I haven’t forgotten this one trout on Kettle Creek and its stunning aerial performance. 

When this all happened I was above Cross Fork wading through a particularly forested section of Kettle. Coming down to the bank I had spotted a couple of inchworms hanging from the hardwood trees. 

Once in the water, I thought, “What the heck?” and tied on a rather unique imitation of an inchworm – florescent chartreuse like the color road crews wear. 

It so happened that on an early cast I draped the 5X tippet over the tip of a branch hanging about 10 inches above the surface. Bad cast. 

I was looking at the swaying fly, wondering what I might do to advance its freedom when a perfectly wonderful rainbow trout with a red stripe wide as a piano key launched itself completely out of the water, latched onto the dangling fake and SNAP.

Fly and fish gone. 

I was awestruck.

Though I played in that stretch for an hour, I never saw that rainbow again. Yet it taught me the value of an inchworm imitation, and I’ve since caught oodles of trout on my rubber inchworm fly.

I doubt there’s a Pennsylvania angler who isn’t familiar with inchworms; still let me review. They are NOT what their name says they are. They are not worms at all, they’re caterpillars. Actually inchworms are the larva stage of the Geometridae family of moths.

As for length, they’re about 2.5 centimeters long, a few decimal points short of an inch, but who’s counting? Also they’re thinner than a blade of grass, more like the blade at the tip. 

In color, they’re bright green, close to chartreuse, with a hint of olive brown under their translucent skin. And depending on the species, they get more colorful with long lateral white or black stripes. And I’ve seen all-brown inch worms as well.

Other than size and color, one really distinguishing trait is their form of locomotion. As they crawl they raise the center of their bodies in a loop or bend. Moving their front and back legs, the loop flattens and their hind legs catch up to their head. Fact is, they get their name not from their supposed size but from the way they “inch” along.

But inchworms have another method of getting around, apparently familiar to my Kettle Creek rainbow. When motivated, inchworms form a single strand of silk from which they’ll hang and then they hitch a ride on the wind. 

Folks walking in the woods probably see more of this posture than they do inchworms looping about.

Inchworms of various species are most active throughout the warmer months, but even without multitudes, inchworms are interesting to trout (and panfish).

If you can apply thread to a hook, you’ll have no trouble tying an inchworm imitation. A piece of chartreuse ultra chenille connected to a hook, leaving a bit of hanging tail is enough of a fake.

But I have something better. Instead of chenille, I use a single rubber strand cut from a bass spinnerbait, or I get a narrow sheet of spinnerbait material and cut out thin strands.

Using a heavy wet fly hook and olive brown thread, I connect the strand at the hook bend, then I lift the strand up and away, continuing to wrapping the thread on the bare hook, then pulling the strand back over to reconnect it just behind the hook eye with the strand lying flat on the shank.

Or for realism I give it a little hump over the shank (or I wrap the strand around the hookshank – see photo).

Sometimes I trim the strand at the hook eye and sometimes I leave a little hanging over, which unfortunately is annoying when tying the fly to the tippet.  

However, at the bend I definitely leave a floppy loose bit of the strand out and over. I also use ice chenille to make a eye-catching mimic. Chenille doesn’t have any inherent movement, my rubber fly with loose ends certainly does.

It would be fun if I could recreate a hanging Kettle Creek inchworm and watch trout jump for it like trained dolphins for fish, but it would probably result in more snaps.

However, since this is an unweighted fly it doesn’t drag deep and I like it best when it’s no more than a foot or so below the surface. Any number of times I’ve caught some nice trout just as the rubber fly landed in the water. 

I also use this fake as part of a two-fly rig, either a dropper below a hopper or two small nymphs connected by the hook bend. 

Since this chartreuse fly is so bright, it’s fun to cast it across a stream at a short distance, watch the fly start to wiggle and drift, then have it disappear into the white maw of an attacking fish.

Though the numbers of Gemetridae moths definitely have their peaks and valleys from spring through fall, some of these caterpillars are always about, especially along heavily forested streams, and trout never tire of them. 

During the upcoming October caddis hatches, use one about 4 inches below a fluffy, orange X-wing caddis or an Irresistible on 5X tippet.

You’re gonna score.

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