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The Elk-hair Caddis Step-by-Step:
Let’s face it. Mayflies are the entomological royalty of the fly fishing kingdom. Anglers and tyers have fawned over them since the days of Walton. And with good reason. The image of these delicate, upwinged beauties emerging en masse, fluttering above the water and drifting down to delicately sipping trout is the idealized vision of the sport we all hold so dear. It is the romanticized version of our sport summed up in a single infinite instance. One we all wish to live and relive as often as we can.
Yet, all too often, it is not this idealized vision that saves us from the dreaded skunk as the hours pass on our favorite trout stream. Instead, it is the sporadic emergence of the mayflies inconspicuous down-winged cousin, the caddis, that saves our day. And faced with that sporadic emergence, there is no better imitation than Al Troth’s classic Elk-hair Caddis.
An accident by Troth’s own admission (the fly was meant to sink), this simple pattern floats like a cork and produces the world over. Tied from size 6 to size 18, in a variety of colors, this fly has a place in every cold water fly box (and perhaps some warm water boxes as well.
|Standard Dry Fly (#20-6)||70 Denier (Colored to Match)||Gold Ultrawire (XS or S)|
|Dubbing (Green Hare’s Ear shown)||Elk Hair (Natural or Blond)||Brown (slightly oversized)|
Step-by-Step Tying Instructions:
(Mobile Viewers: Click images to enlarge)
Tips and Tricks
- Trial and Error – While this pattern seems fairly straight forward, be prepared for some mishaps when tying in your elk hair wing. The quality/type of elk hair, size of bundle selected, how you synch your thread and even proximity to the eye will effect how your wing turns out. Plan on some trial and error when you first attempt this fly, and go in expecting to tie multiple copies each sitting until you feel comfortable with your process.
- More than a Caddis mimic– In their book “The Ultimate Fly-fishing Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains,” authors Don Kirk and Greg Ward argue that a Blond Elk-hair Caddis tied in various sizes and body colors is the only dry fly you’ll ever need. How can this be, you ask? Well…their reasoning is actually quite simple. The only portion of the fly readily visible to the trout is section that sits in or below the surface film. In this case, the dubbed body. Following this line of thought, they posit that a properly sized and colored Elk-hair Caddis dry can sufficiently mimic not only caddisflies, but mayflies, stoneflies and terrestrials as well. As for the Blond wing? Well, the authors suggest this color is the easiest for their eyes to track in the water.
- Dead Drift – While this pattern seems like an ideal pattern to skate or skitter across the surface, Al Troth is quite insistent this pattern is at its best when dead drifted. Discussing the Pattern in Lefty Kreh’s “The Professionals’ Favorite Flies,” Troth insists that the fly should be fished as if “it was not attached to a leader.” In his experience, skittering the fly will only result in catching small fish.
Proof of Concept
While the Elk-hair Caddis has brought its fair share of trout (and even some warmwater species) to my net, one fish in particular stands out above the rest. It was the summer of 2018, and I found myself exploring the Blue River a few miles from Silverthorne on the first day of a five day trip to Colorado. It was my first time truly trout fishing in a number of years, and I’d have been in well over my head were it not for the recommendations of a knowledgeable Orvis employee back in Baton Rouge.
Failing to entice a few fish early with nymph rigs, I had begun to lose faith when small tan caddis began to flutter above the river. Swapping to #14 Elk-hair Caddis, I immediately missed a few small fish. Crossing at a shallow run, I came upon a channel cut off from the main river. There, cruising in the middle, was a single large trout delicately sipping caddis that touched down on the surface.
Hoping to avoid the beast’s view, I lay on my stomach along the rocks and watched for rises. Timing my cast for where I assumed the trout was headed, I flipped the small caddis into the pool and watched as it slowly drifted down. To my surprise and excitement, the fly disappeared (replaced by a tell tale ripple) and I set the hook.
The fish that eventually came to net was by far my largest of the trip, and one I will always remember.