Do We Wait ‘Til It Dies? Caddis Scrabble

Zebra Caddis Fly

“Do we have to wait until it dies?” asked my husband, watching a struggling caddis fly cover the Scrabble square he wanted to use.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “They’re landing and taking off again.”

Lured by lantern light against the dark woods and even darker river, at least four types of furiously just-hatched caddis changed the game.

“New rules,” Bob said. “No letter can go down on a square occupied by a caddis.”

West Branch of the Penobscot River

“You’re on,” I said, and of course that made the evening so much better. As if anything could top a campsite by the West Branch of Penobscot River with the noise of rapids and owls in our ears, a river-cooled bottle of wine, and proof the river was so clean and vital, caddis were falling over themselves to hatch and start the next generation.

This winter researching my next novel, I spent some time on caddis flies, thinking about what one might say—if it could talk. I found a video of one making his way from larval stage to pupal stage under the guidance of an artist who had a great idea.

What happens when you give a caddis pupa silver, gold, and jewels to play with …

Check out the video and see the caddis as artist.

And here’s the caddis conversation from my novel DEADLY TURN (due out this fall). The narrator Patton and the game warden Moz are using masks to see a stream under water.


I pulled off my boots and T-shirt, tightened my pony tail, hitched up my shorts, and waded after Moz. No ripples parted the water as he waded, not even when he lowered his mask and slid down to float on the surface. I slid my feet over pebbles, imitating his stealth moves. An unseen current tugged my legs, but I lowered my mask, sank to a floating position, and anchored my hands below in stream gravel.

We were floating on the thin film that divides the fish world from the human world. I could feel hot air on my rear end, but every other part of me was cool. Hairs on my arms floated like tiny filaments seeking microscopic food. Rotating my head only slightly, I could breathe and then return to the wet, green world. The water was so clear I could see every grain of sand and cloud shapes as they shadowed rocks and drifted on.

In slow motion, Moz turned over rocks, lifting tiny things into the current. Soon they were bumping off my mask and I could recognize them. When I smiled, escaping air bubbles bounced the stonefly larvae toward shore. Their shelled segments arched in the effort to find new rock homes for their waving legs.

Something glittered and I held out a finger to snag it. Not much bigger than an inch, a future caddis fly had woven a hard pupa case around his larval self. This one must have been an artist because it had chosen tiny pebbles with bright mica flakes and glued them together to make a private cave. The creature inside waited to hatch out as a winged insect and feed fish—if it lived. Caddis have short lives. The stream’s current rotated the pupa into my open hand. Tiny wings vibrated inside. Time. Is it time?

I turned the pupa toward the end that looked like it could open. For what?

Time to become what I am supposed to be.

A different kind of bug?

My wings are pushing against the wall. I ache.

Someday you’ll fly. I imagine it will feel great. Pick a windy day. Fish have a hard time feeding when the water ripples.

Maybe your hard shell will fall off one day. You know? The secret one?

I tucked the pupa next to a protective rock, thinking it sounded like the therapist I’d seen since my divorce.

For years I’d casted artificial dry flies into ponds, and streams, and rivers, but never seen how real insects lure real trout. Apparently, my head needed to be underwater.

Two brook trout glided from rocks near shore, darting after the floating larvae, rolling their white bellies over to signal the chase. Slowly Moz reached for his net. I didn’t actually see how he caught both trout in one swipe, but as we stood, they thrashed in his net.

I sputtered water. “Is that legal? The net trick?”

Moz lifted the trout so late-day sun caught red spots pulsing along their flanks. “I am fishing with flies and avoiding live bait, We sound legal.”


I send Danny’s Maine Guide Fly Shop flies into the headwaters of the Kennebec River. And we always return the fish, alive, to their homes. Thank you, Danny!

Want to learn more? My favorite place to browse, the Maine Guide Fly Shop, has a fabulous “Hatches and Hints” page. The counter always has dishes of dependable flies, and their stable of fishing guides is the best. (Please never ask for fly shop expertise without buying something; that’s not ethical or helpful.)

In March we explored western North Carolina and linked up with a guide from Fly Fishing the Smokies. This page has great caddis life history. If you go, ask for guide Kyle. (We turned over rocks to visit caddis.)

Helping teach Shannon LeRoy’s AMC class. I’m red shirt, in the back, second from left.

Fly Fishing Women? The Maine AMC offers a women’s class in the perfect learning environment: inspired teachers, rustic camps, mellow ponds, and a trout stream to tie it all together.

And on FB, find the Maine Women’s Fly Fishers


Sandy’s novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and she’s been a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on the video trailer and Sandy’s website.  The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” will be published in 2019.









About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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4 Responses to Do We Wait ‘Til It Dies? Caddis Scrabble

  1. Love this post and what great photos!

  2. This is such a cool post – poetic and fascinating. Thanks for helping to get my day off to a good start, Sandy.

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Oh Thanks, Brenda! It was a fun one to write into the book and pretty amazing to research. (Bug making a gold case…really!)

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