Updated: Nov 7, 2022
Entomologists and anglers across a big swath of the central-eastern U.S. are eagerly anticipating and unique event that will be starting soon. This is the emergence of the “17 Year Locust”, which are actually a species of cicada, that was last seen in 2004. Brood X, is one of 15 periodical cicada broods that appear in the eastern U.S. These occur at both 13 and 17-year intervals. The Great Eastern Brood and has the greatest range and highest concentration of the 17-year species, and is hatching this year.
Cicadas hatch annually across North America and are recognized by their shrill mating call heard from trees on a hot, humid summer day. They are large bugs (2.50 in./6.35 cm) and olive or olive with black color. Even without seeing these insects on the water- cicada imitations still take fish. This is likely due to instinctive behavior that carries from early life stages when juvenile fish feed primarily on insects. A giant insect on the water can certainly entice a mature, predatory fish to feed.
The emergence of the periodic broods takes this feeding to a whole different level. Anglers who focus on the periodic cicadas say that this provides “some of the best fly fishing on planet earth”. To better understand how to take advantage of this opportunity, let’s take look at the emergence process of these insects in a bit more detail.
Brood X is expected to hatch in parts of 18 states and possibly a few in southern Ontario. Most of this will happen in the month of May, but may occur in late April is some areas. A quick search online will give a number of sources that will be tracking the emergence. One of the most popular sites is www.cicadamania.com.
Once the ground reaches a sustained temperature of 64 degrees F at a depth of 8 inches, the Brood X nymphs will begin to emerge from the ground. They will climb the nearest vertical surface and shed their exoskeleton. The wings will inflate and the adult skin will harden. The periodic adults will have a black with orange coloration to them. In addition to being a different color, they are smaller than the annual cicadas. What makes this hatch so special is the sheer amount of biomass as millions of cicadas are emerging.
Locally, this becomes an important food source for both animals and fish. It usually takes about two weeks before fish key in on the bugs, so you the opportunity to locate an area with an emergence and map out a strategy. There are different strategies on how to fish the emergence, so we will look at different schools of thought.
As far as basic gear goes, use at least a 7-wt. fast-action rod. You can bump up to an 8-wt. if larger fish like carp and stripers are expected. The leader needs to have a stiff, large diameter butt section to turn over the large, air-resistant flies used. Bass or Saltwater leaders tapered to 12 lb. to 16 lb. at the tippet will get the job done. This is matched to an aggressive-taper floating line like the new SA Bass Bug Taper or Titan Long. Bottom line- you need to be able to turn the fly over and making it hit the surface hard can help attract attentions and trigger strikes. This is also a situation where you want a reel with ample backing and a good drag as you may hook the fish of a lifetime.
Lake can fish best for the periodic emergence. The increased amount of food dropping on the water will bring most all fish to the surface and there is minimal current to carry it away. Instead, wind can help to concentrate cicadas in a specific area and create a “buffet line” for feeding fish. In some area schools of fish can cruise along sipping cicadas like fussy brown trout. Gulpers on steroids is a good description.
For the most part, this is boat fishing and will be shoreline oriented as cicadas drop from the trees. You may have the opportunity to sight fish or you can slowly work your way along a tree-lined shoreline dropping your fly every 20 feet or so and letting it set for at least 10 seconds. The fly can be twitched a bit, but an active retrieve is not necessary. Often the fly hitting the water is all that is needed to trigger a take.
Action during this cicada hatch can rival the famous western Salmon Fly hatches and the Palolo Worm of the Keys. He knows anglers that actually track the periodic cicada hatches and travel to fish them. Fishing Brood X may actually be your “dream trip” and this could be close to home.
Other anglers focus on trout in moving water for the cicada hatch. Again, this is not a finesse game and you need a line and leader that will turn over these larger patterns. The leader here is an important part of the equipment. Even though you are targeting trout, be sure to use a bass-style leader with a stiff butt section. The large, air-resistant flies will twist traditional trout leaders.
On moving water, don’t be overly concerned with a long, natural float. You can twitch the fly a bit to imitate the bug struggling on the surface. Use of a powerful leader, aggressive line taper, and forceful cast helps create the illusion of a fallen cicada.
One extra trick is to use a sunken cicada pattern later in the hatch as the fish get more pressured and used to seeing floating patterns. Larger, wiser fish are less likely to rise and more likely to take the sunken fly. This is also a good way to fish broken, choppy water where cicadas naturally begin to sink.
There are numerous fly patterns for the hatch. Early in the hatch most anything close in size and color can work. Flymen Fishing Companies Double Barrel Poppers in black are a good choice. Michigan guide, Matt Zudweg, has a pattern based on these and also sells pre-made wings to make your own (www.boneyardflygear.com).
Farther along in the hatch, fish may get more selective and realistic patterns will produce better. A quick on-line search will show an extensive lineup of patterns from recognized names. Blane Chocklett, Dave Whitlock, Harrison Steeves, and Steve Yewchuck as well as a host of other tiers have realistic patterns. Most fly suppliers have cicada patterns or you will be able to find plenty of tutorials showing how to tie them yourself. Having several variations will help you have consistent success on picky fish.
Be sure to add George Daniel’s Sunken Cicada in the mix as this is one you may not find readily available in most fly shops. This is a fairly simple pattern to tie and you should probably have a couple of them no matter where you are chasing Brood X.
Hook: 2xl nymph or streamer, size 4
Thread: Uni, UTC, or Veevus fluorescent orange- 6/0, 70D
Back and top of head: Black Furry Foam
Body and bottom of head: Orange chenille
Legs: Orange Centipede Legs
Wings: Pearl Polar Flash or similar material with orange Krystal Flash mixed in
Cicadas are always a target for fish when they are present. The periodic hatches take things to a whole new level and are eagerly anticipated by anglers “in the know”. The Brood X emergence will cover a large portion of the eastern U.S. and beyond. They are expected to make an appearance in the following states: Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Most hatching is expected to start in May- happening later as you move north, with the peak expected the last two weeks of May. However, the cool, wet weather being experienced in some areas appears to be delaying things. There are a number of online sources to help keep track of the emergence. The website www.cicadamania.com gives complete info on the insects.
Where it occurs, the emergence will bring the largest fish in a given body of water- stream, river, and lake, to the surface in a feeding frenzy. Fly anglers should be prepared to take advantage of this opportunity. A little research and preparation could bring some of the best fly fishing that can be experienced anywhere. Are you prepared top experience Brood X?