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The sound builds slowly in early afternoon, decibel levels rising and fading in a never-ending sequence you recognize as cicadas. They emerge every 13 or 17 years, depending on species. It's very predictable and natural, like the moon and tides, but hatches some years are more epic than others and when the cycles overlap, the trees can be crawling with them. Birds, small mammals, snakes, and fish all benefit from the abundant prey. I had a female tabby that thought of them as a delicacy.

Cicada drawing

The great stoneflies of the Rockies, the mysterious Mormon cricket of the Southwest, juicy grasshoppers—these can all bring the wariest, largest, most coveted fish to the surface. But it is the cicada that bring the biggest of all. The tailwaters near my home aren't much affected by them. A brown gobbles one every now and then but for the most part it's usual tailwater fare: midges and scuds with an occasional mayfly hatch. The smaller spring creeks are lined with trees that should have the cicadas falling in the water like chum, trout lined up for easy pickings. But for some reason I often miss the trout-cicada interaction. That’s OK though, because I’m an unrepentant smallmouth fanatic.

When the water is comfortable to wet wade and the smallies are smashing topwaters, the fly of choice is a deer hair cicada bug. With a sample cicada found dead on a tree (the living version looking out of place near all the empty shucks of its kin), I tried to imitate the colors closely. Call it "dirty brownish-green with reddish-yellow tint to its wings." After spinning the deer hair, trimming, and considering all the craft-store goofiness, with glued on doll eyes, rubber legs and all, I admitted that color, size and durability were probably the keys. These are unsophisticated fish, so I needed an unsophisticated fly.

The summer the two emergences overlapped, I caught smallmouth after smallmouth, and took all too few pictures of the bigger ones. I fished my topwater cicada pattern to the almost total exclusion of anything else. Thinking of myself as an intuitive, insightful fisherman, I tried to concentrate on shady, tree-lined areas where the cicadas would fall into the water. They use the trees to shed their larval skin and become adults, make their siren mating call, breed, lay eggs, and die. I sat on gravel bars eating my lunches, cicadas calling in the background.

Summer came to its natural end. The first of September is dove season, and it distracted my short attention span for a couple of weeks. When I had a day to get back on a stream, I hurried to the access point and tied on the inevitable cicada bug. But they were gone. As I sat dove hunting, scratching the retrievers' ears, waiting for the doves to whiz by in their frustrating, kamikaze style, I never noticed the drone of the cicadas fading.

After hours without a topwater strike, I tried streamers and caught a few. But this was like a whiskey drinker living on light beer. No smashing strikes, no breathless, tense moments as the fish closes in on the fly, its wake like a torpedo. When the cicadas ended, the surface bite was off, period. And it would prove to be off for the rest of the year, through the winter, until the water warmed up the next spring.

I don't know what the big lesson learned from this was, if any at all. Maybe it's that I should enjoy fishing as it comes, good or bad, and don't get too frantic about it. When the fishing is that great, it makes up for the occasional slumps we all have. During the peak of the frenzy I experienced that summer, fish were caught and released so quickly that I look at a couple of the pictures taken and I don't even remember the experience. Like a production line, individual ones really didn't mean anything, even the big ones. When you forget anything about catching a 5 lb. smallmouth, something has gone very wrong.

As if Irony was a living, breathing entity, I was driving home from one of those frantic trips and something hit the windshield, hard. I thought it was a rock thrown from the treads of a truck ahead of me, the sound so loud I ducked instinctively. But when I got home and unloaded the truck, I noticed the remains of a cicada, smashed around the windshield wiper on the passenger side. A week later a small crack was visible.

When the crack widened and I brought it in to be replaced, the guy at the glass place asked how it happened. I told him about the cicada, and he said, "Yeah. Happens all the time."

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