Hooking Up with Cicadas
Emerging every 17 years, one of the worlds largest group of cicadas, Brood X, is set to wake-up from their underground dens. Starting in April and going through June, when the ground temperatures reach roughly 65 degrees, cicadas will blanket the region with deafening sound and sight up and down the east coast. They come out of the ground, mate and then die while their offspring go back underground and wait another 17 years before emerging to repeat the process. Anglers and fish will be waiting for cicadas with baited breath. Cicadas provide a meaty snack that creates an invitation along the surface, often buzzing in circles to allow fish of every species to zero in.
A few billion will take to the air and some will inadvertently end up in the water. This creates a topwater feeding frenzy. During the last Brood X emergence 17 years ago, anglers noticed that fish keyed on anything that lingered on the surface as the cicada conditioned fish looked to the skies when eating. Around 2 inches in length, cicadas are not hard to find. They are all over trees and on the ground, making them easy to collect for bait. If they can’t be seen, noisy males can be heard and then located. As if the noise wasn’t enough, these insects are hard to miss with their orange wings, buggy red eyes and distinctive noisy mating calls. They are totally harmless to humans, and do not bite or sting t but for a fish, they provide a tasty meal.
Cicadas may enhance fishing in clear water scenarios where fish feed by sight, or in shallow water where they are close to the fish despite visibility. Fish will find them. Looking for birds diving on cicadas will reveal areas chummed with cicadas. These are the best places to fish as the buffet attracts fish.
As with other topwater lures and baits, low light, calm and clear water are the best conditions. Early morning and just before dusk are the best times. If using artificial topwaters, matching the hatch with cicada like patterns, black bodies with orange bellies and gold wings, will produce. But lures that create a disturbance work best. This includes small buzzbaits, poppers and prop baits. Topwater fishing provides more coverage than bottom baits. In addition, buzzing cicadas don’t move very far, remaining a visible noisy target for a longer period of time, pulling fish from a distance or to get the bigger more reluctant fish to finally emerge to silence the loud intruder.
Using cicadas as a live bait is highly productive for bass, bluegill, catfish, trout and even carp. Hooking the cicada under the thorax shell from the back of the insect towards the head will allow the size 6 bait keeper hook to be less snaggy and let the cicada buzz on the water letting out an ultrasonic ring. It's like a dinner bell. Fish move from quite a distance to smash cicadas trapped on the water’s surface.
Avoid sinkers, floats or other terminal tackle. However a float will enable longer casts in clearer water. Put a float on your line about 2 feet above the hook. Spinning reels make casting much easier. A medium action 6’6” rod will enable hooksets with a reeling set. A double rig with one hook tied directly to the line and then about 3 feet away to the end of the line tie another. Sometimes this will produce double hook ups. As for line, a strong monofilament 6-10 pound test will work, or a 10 pound braided line with a monofilament leader in the 6-10 pound range about 6 feet long. Fluorocarbon isn’t the best choice as it sinks and will pull cicadas below the surface, losing its buzzing action.
When fishing current, allow cicadas to rest in slack water and slowly drift to the edge where fish will target them before they leave. Cast into the wind or current, allowing the bait to be gently blown towards you to present the bait to more areas, and more fish.
After waiting patiently for 17 years, cicadas and anglers are ready for some action. This could be the best 3 or 4 weeks of fishing of the season and possibly a lifetime.
When you’re ready to fish with the cicadas, visit our Planning Resources page for information on fishing charters and guides, lodging options, marinas, retailers, and more. And if you’re up for a quick getaway, be sure to check out Visit Maryland’s deals page featuring Spring packages and deals.
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