Foam Cicadas, Beetles, and Silicon Smelt

lient Hugh Evans of Spokane, Washington, and I with a 10-pound Tongariro Brown taken on a brown beetle imitation and released. Foam cicadas, foam beetles and silicon smelt.
Client Hugh Evans of Spokane, Washington, and I with a 10-pound Tongariro Brown taken on a brown beetle imitation and released.

Foam Cicadas, Foam Beetles, and Other Plastic Fantastics

By Louie The Fish! a.k.a. Louie DeNolfo

A glance at the calendar shows it to be mid-December, and a glance out the window confirms that it must be summer as it is all green and flowery, but something is missing. By now we should be enjoying a daytime serenade from my favourite hatching bug, the Cicada. Where are they? Let’s tie some foam cicadas, beetles and silicon smelt.

Well hopefully it will soon happen and disinterested and fastidious wily old trout will be transformed into hell-bent leather gobblers!

Around here that could mean a feeding migration of lunker browns sneaking into the Tongariro from the cool depths of Lake Taupo to munch happily on the big black cicadas typical of the lower reaches and willowy stretches. On a good year, it is almost too easy to fool these lake-fat fish and good sport is had by all. Just over the hill Lake Otamangakau, renowned for its frustratingly difficult periods, comes alive when the smaller green and tan grass cicadas blow onto the water off the toi tois.

For those of us who struggle with reading glasses to tie on a size 16 midge, or squint in the half-light to find our barely visible Twilight Beauty, cicada season is a real relief. All cicada patterns are big buggers, usually sizes 8 to 10, easy to find in the box, tie on, and lob out somewhere in the general vicinity of that over-eager two-foot-long eating machine with his listening gear on red alert for the sound of your sloppily presented cicada plop. Hell, you can even get by with straight leaders and save heaps avoiding expensive tapered leaders.

Louie's Silicon Smelt.
Louie’s Silicon Smelt.

As soon as I hear enough of those chirps to indicate that trout are aware that cicadas have just come on the menu, I tie a foam cicada on first on any new water I am about to explore, be it lake, river or back-country stream. Dry flies are always easier to fish and heaps more fun; it is hard to beat the rush of watching your fly getting slurped by a long brown nose.

Foam Cicadas

We in Turangi have been experimenting with cicada flies for many years. Back in 1980 Lyn Lloyd, owner of a local fly shop, showed me a foam cicada he was using. It had Raffia wings which eventually got soggy, and fresh from the U.S.A. I had some cellophane packaging tape with fibreglass threads in it that I adopted to Lyn’s fly.

Combined with a deer hair head this proved to be the killer. I think it was the glint of sunshine off the wings that really set the old Otamangakau rainbows off, or maybe the fact that this fly floats so high, but I have used it ever since. As I have never found a satisfactory strapping tape in New Zealand, the US version being very transparent and the New Zealand tape being too opaque, almost white, about 5 years ago I switched to using ordinary Cellotape or the heavy-duty type, and placing a few fibres of deer hair between the two pieces of tape which form the wings, to simulate the wing veins.

Louie's cicada, foam body, Cellotape wings and deer hair head.
Louie’s cicada, foam body, Cellotape wings and deer hair head.

I start my cicada fly on a Kamasan 830 size 10, by wrapping the rear half of the shank with orange Glo-Bug yarn. I whittle the foam body with scissors so that it is flat on the bottom but tapered at both ends.

With a drop of super glue between the body and shank, a few loose turns tie the stern down. Stick tape with hairs on one side, and plain tape on the other, press together, tie off in front, and cut a wing shape with your scissors.

Spin on and trim deer hair for the head, leaving a few long hairs on either side of the fly. Shape the head so that it is kind of squarish in front. Oh, I forgot to tell you to colour the foam body before you add the wings with green or brown permanent marker pens, to suit your local cicada.

Foam Brown or Green Beetle

Another good, and very seeable, foam fly I use quite a bit around this neck of the woods is the foam brown or green beetle. On a size 12 or 14 Kamasan B-830 hook, again wrap the shank with orange Glo-Bug yarn after tying in a strip of foam about 1 inch long by about 3/16 to 1/4 inch square at the tail of the hook. Bring the foam over the top and tie it down carefully so as not to cut the foam with the tying thread. Add a brown hackle, and colour the foam with brown permanent markers, a bit of green Flashbou tied in first and later brought over the top of the foam body makes a dynamite green beetle.

These foam beetles float much higher than other versions, especially if light small hooks are used.

Flip-flop foam or the type used in camping mats is best, orange if you can find it. It was commonly used as an indicator material here until recently. It is soft and flexible, and even if cut square rounds itself out on the beetles to look very lifelike. See Beetles Brown, Green and Black with Martin Langlands.

Silicon Smelt

Another invention of mine, a bit less purist oriented, and very popular here on the North Island, is the Silicone Smelt. I got the inspiration for my version from local angler Murray Spaulding. Back about ten years ago he showed me how he had been smearing silicone window sealer on various smelt flies such as the Doll Fly to make it more smelt-like. These early versions were large, lumpy and crude, so after burning a bit of midnight oil, I came up with my easy standardised method, which I kept a deep, dark secret for many years.

But the cat is out of the bag and this is how you make them. Using a Kamasan B-830 or B-200 hook, tie in one flat piece of silver tinsel or pearl Flashabou as the tail, not longer than the hook shank, and cut to a point. Wrap the body with white acrylic yarn. I use ordinary white sewing cotton as the tying thread, and tying off leaves a white head, to which a black eye can be painted with marker pen or lacquer.

Variations include bodies of the luminous strip, Flashabou in various colours or over the back as in a doll fly, and blue Krystal Flash over the back being my favourite. I always put white yarn in mine as I feel white most simulates the whitebait smelt.

Having tied the fly itself, vaseline the hook bend in preparation for the silicon. prepare a working surface using a heavy plastic bag stretched over a board and vaselined lightly. The larger the surface the more flies you can create on your assembly line.

Squirt about 1 inch of silicone sealer onto the surface, and using a stiff bit of card trowel it into a long smear about Zin long, tapered thin toward one end. Stick down your fly onto this smear, tail toward the thin end, add silicone again on top and trowel again until smooth and bubble-free. Wait 8 hours, peel off and cut the smelt shape with scissors. Glitter can be added between silicone layers for special effects.

There are many uses for the Silicone Smelt whenever fish are feeding on whitebait. Here at the Tongariro Delta, used in tandem with the infamous Glo-Bug, it is deadly fished right on the bottom with a super fast sink shooting taper.

Combined with a weighted nymph and indicator rig it works wonders for dead drifting in the Tailrace canal or anywhere around smelting fish. Or just retrieve it as you would any wet fly. It even works harled.

I am sure the many crafty and enterprising anglers reading this, armed with any or all of the above, will come up with new and cunning uses for these plastic fantastic foam cicadas, foam beetles and silicon smelt.