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Cicadas expected to be fish ‘filet mignon’ in southeastern Pennsylvania next month

ERIE, PA. — Anglers are expecting a fisherman’s paradise toward the end of May in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Brood X cicadas are expected to emerge after a 17-year slumber and the high-protein insects are delicious food for a variety of fish.

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Eric Hussar of Lewisburg, a commissioner with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, is looking forward to the cicada hatch. He said you can catch trout and bass with these insects. “Any type of predatory fish will eat them,” Hussar said, recalling the last time he fished during an emergence of cicadas.

“It’s like a steak to these fish. Like a big filet mignon. It’s a pretty incredible sight to see,” he said.

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Hussar said during the peak there will be insects on the ground and in the trees and some will fall into the water. “It’s like a protein bar” for fish, he said.

Carroll County Times outdoors columnist Bill May took this carp, and a bunch more, from a Prettyboy Reservoir ramp using spinning tackle and a Tiny Torpedo during cicada season in 2004.
Carroll County Times outdoors columnist Bill May took this carp, and a bunch more, from a Prettyboy Reservoir ramp using spinning tackle and a Tiny Torpedo during cicada season in 2004. (Bill May Photo)

He said sport shops that cater to fly fishermen should soon have a variety of imitation cicadas that anglers should be stocking up on in anticipation of the hatch. “It’s a unique experience. ... You don’t see this that often.”

Hussar said the cicada flies should be fished similar to popper lures used on top of the water for bass.

For equipment, Hussar suggests 4, 5 or 6 weight fly rods with a heavy tippet. He said to drift your cicada fly where you see fish rising or where you think there will be fish in the water.

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“Just give it a twitch,” he said about moving the fly along the water. “They’ll be chomping on them.”

Hussar enjoys fly fishing on the Susquehanna while riding in a kayak to reach different parts of the river. He said the cicada hatch will be a good changeup from the flies that you see every year. “We’re looking forward to it,” he said about the several-weekslong emergence.

“What makes this amazing is that fish are a master of efficiency,” George Daniel said about fish enjoying the plenitude of bugs that will be available during this hatch. Daniel is the lead instructor of the fly-fishing program at Penn State University and is a guide. He is a former member of the Team USA fly-fishing team.

Studio picture of cicada fishing hooks.
Studio picture of cicada fishing hooks. (LLOYD FOX / Baltimore Sun)

One of his favorite fish to catch is carp, and during this emergence carp will rise to catch the bugs. “Just because [of] how much protein is on the surface” [of the water], carp and catfish will rise to feed on them, Daniel said. “It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime fishing opportunity. Not only for trout but anything that eats what’s in the water.”

He said the fish can’t get enough of these insects, and it can be some of the easiest and best times to catch a variety of fish.

Daniel suggests keeping fly patterns pretty simple and ones that are easy to replace. He also suggests anglers fish a little below the surface when fishing pressure increases. He believes a partially submerged fly can be one of the most productive ways to fish.

Daniel has recorded a video on YouTube that reveals his best three “must have” fly patterns for Brood X.

When will the emergence actually happen? Daniel said it depends on a lot of different factors including how soon the ground warms up. “Just be able to leave on a whim and be prepared,” he said about planning a trip.

Daniel said an emergence like the one predicted will make anglers who are in their 40s or 60s want to live another 17 years for the next cicadas to emerge.

A cicada resting on a hosta leaf in 2007 in Elmhurst, Illinois.
A cicada resting on a hosta leaf in 2007 in Elmhurst, Illinois. (Mario Petitti / Chicago Tribune)

“In all honesty, this hatch could be amazing,” Daniel said, while noting that cicadas emerge in different parts of the country and there are anglers who follow the hatch’s location each year because the fishing is so good.

Ross Purnell, editor and publisher of Fly Fisherman magazine based in Harrisburg, said Daniel is a master fly fisher and to follow his advice. Purnell also said flies made by Blane Chocklett are great cicada imitations to use during the emergence.

Purnell said fly fishermen are interested in following hatches and it’s the same with cicadas. The excitement about this event is that “the fish become gluttons and get stuffed on these things.”

Purnell said anglers should be thinking about larger fish such as largemouth and smallmouth bass and older trout and carp that are used to foraging for food sources.

He said the timing will be right when you hear the cicadas “roaring in the trees.”

Purnell expects the good fishing to last until July and anglers shouldn’t get too excited about when you first start seeing cicadas. “You need to give it a few weeks. The best fishing is when [cicadas] are mating and start to die.”

He points out to fish near heavily forested areas with slower-moving bodies of water that will keep the cicadas floating longer than faster currents. “The longer they are able to float, the better chance fish have to find them,” he said.

The bugs have been lurking beneath the surface since 2004, feeding on sap from the roots of plants, according to Michael J. Raupp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, in an interview with USA Today.

Once they’re mature, the “big brood” will emerge in 15 states where they’ll spend two to four weeks in late May and early June “courting, mating, flying, driving people crazy, being eaten by everything,” including humans like Raupp.

The adult cicadas will lay their eggs in trees, and the eggs will hatch four to six weeks later in more than a dozen states. The offspring will head back underground until 2038. They’ll also be making quite a bit of noise. According to Raupp, cicadas can emit sounds between 80 and 100 decibels, equivalent to a low-flying airplane or a lawn mower.

Periodical cicadas emerge in huge groups called broods. Twelve broods of cicadas emerge every seven years, and three broods emerge every 13 years, Raupp said.

Two broods appear to have gone extinct, including Brood XI, which was last observed in Connecticut in 1954. Almost every year somewhere in the country, a periodical brood will emerge.

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