The Elk hair caddis is one of the oldest and most popular dry flies in fly fishing and is a popular choice to fish worldwide. The Elk hair caddis was created by Pennsylvania fly tier Al Troth in 1957.
Fly tying was very basic in those days, and the simplistic approach to the elk hair caddis fly has kept it a top choice for all these years and the fact that it catches loads of fish.
The most attractive aspect for me is that the elk hair caddis rides on the top part of the water film, with just the dry fly hook point submerged. This is great from a visual aspect and the fact that it can hold a small nymph up when fly-fished on a dry-dropper rig.
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Tying Elk Hair Caddis Fly
- Secure hook in the vise.
- Start with a good tying thread base.
- Tie in a single-sided hackle.
- Start a dubbing rope and wrap forward.
- Wrap hackle forward and tie off.
- Measure, stack, and tie in the elk hair.
- Secure hair and whip finish.
- Trim excess head fibers and bottom hackle fibers.
Elk Hair Caddis Materials Needed
- Hook: Mouche 8426 size 12-16, dry fly hook
- Tying Thread: Griffith Sheer 14/0, Brown or Black or White and color it with a marker.
- Body: Tan hairs ear dubbing.
- Hackle: Small #16 Brown / Tan Cookshill hackle.
- Wing: Good quality elk hair or good quality coastal deer hair.
How to Tie an Elk Hair Caddis Step-by-Step
Lock your hook in the vise, making sure it is secure and not too close to the tip of the jaws, as the hook may slip when you apply tension to it. I advocate using barbless hooks where possible to ease the removal and minimise the damage done to the fish.
Start the elk hair caddis fly by tying in a solid level thread base to work with. This is particularly important for the head of the elk hair caddis dry fly to prevent the elk hair from spinning on the hook shank.
Get a #16 hackle fiber; the general rule is to get a hackle fiber with feather fibers equal to or slightly longer than the hook gape size. Strip off one side of the feather and tie it on the tip side, at the back with the concave of the feather facing away for you. This small tip will ensure that the feathers naturally face backward when wrapped.
Make a slight body taper with a few thread wraps; this gives the fly a more lifelike silhouette.
Create a ‘dubbing rope’ by pinching your thread and rubbing your dubbing with a wet thumb and forefinger along it. Wrap the ‘dubbing rope’ forward, stopping 3 mm before hook eye.
Pinch hackle in fly tying hackle pliers and wrap forward, making sure not to trap any fibers. Tie off the hackle and give the fly a few tighter wraps. Cut off the bottom hackle fibers as close to the hook as possible. This will allow the elk hair caddis to ride hook point down in the topwater film. Again many instructions and videos show patterns with the bottom hackles left on. This is fine, but I would say it could lead to a few missed fish if the hook point is out of the water.
Cut your elk hair roughly the same thickness as the hook gape. This is a good indication of how thick the wing should be.
Knock the elk hair in a hair stacker to align the tips. Measure the length, so the tips just pass the abdomen in length.
Apply two loose wraps and then pull down on elk hair; this will prevent the elk hair from spinning and keep it on top of the hook shank. Add another two wraps to the existing two and then two more underneath the small head in front. This locks the elk hair in place. Trim off the excess head hairs neatly and whip finish.
I generally don’t apply head cement to my dry flies as I don’t want to add extra weight, especially on the smaller versions.
How to fish the Elk hair caddis
The caddis elk hair is tied to imitate the adult caddis fly. The Elk Hair Caddis is a classic dry fly and a true dry fly for trout. Your trout purists would say that the Elk hair caddis should only be fished as a single dry fly on a very fine, thin tippet.
While I agree with this method, and yes, it does produce some great takes, the caddis pattern can also be fished as a dry-dropper rig with great success. This is why fly fishing is such a great pastime; there are so many ways to apply the theories to catch fish.
A History Of The Elk Hair Caddis Fly
The Elk Hair Caddis has been around for over 60 years and is still one of the most popular dry flies for trout fishing today. Generations of fly fishermen have Al Troth, fly fishing pioneer, to thank for coming up with this fantastic fly pattern. It simply works wonders when it comes to trout and other species of fish.
Al Troth was inspired by some palmer flies and the hair wing of the Little Red Sedge Fly by G.E.M. Skues. He incorporated various elements of these flies to create the fly, aiming to imitate the Green Caddis.
Troth came up with a simple but effective fly, using a palmered hackle to bulk out the body of the fly and elk hair for added buoyancy. Elk’s hair is hollow, which makes it an effective material to use when fly tying dry flies. In fact, Troth had initially intended this pattern to be an emerger fly, but the elk hair made it ride high and float on the surface – and the rest is history!
Al Troth first sold his pattern from Bud Lilly’s Fly Shop in West Yellowstone. Although competition for dry flies was fierce at the time, the Caddis’ popularity took off, and it’s been a top choice for fishermen ever since.
Since the original caddis pattern was designed by Al Troth, many different variations have been created. With adaptations to the hackle, body, and wing colors, the caddis fly patterns can imitate a range of different caddis and stonefly species.
What Does The Elk Hair Caddis Fly Imitate?
The Elk Hair Caddis imitates adult caddisflies and smaller stoneflies. Depending on the colors and size used to tie this pattern, you can represent a range of these species. It creates a realistic silhouette that is almost guaranteed to draw trout to the surface to sip on these floating bugs.
Will It Work On Steelhead?
You’re not just limited to fly fishing caddis patterns for smaller trout and grayling. We love to use this fly for fly fishing steelhead and have had a lot of success.
For steelhead, you’ll need to make a few adaptions to the pattern. Go for a fly in sizes 6 – 10, using a medium-grade hackle for the legs and clipped elk hair wings. You can also choose to add a flash of translucent material under the wing for greater productivity.
You can also see our post on the best Steelhead flies if you want to know the best flies for steelhead
The Wrap Up
So there you have the complete guide to one of the top dry flies around, the Elk Hair Caddis. This must-have dry fly is a staple for anyone who loves trout, bass, grayling, and even steelhead. Now you’re all set to tie your own and get out on the water and give it a try!
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