The Elk Hair Caddis: Don't Leave Home Without It
Thread: MFC 8/0 UTC 70, Color to compliment body
Rib: Fine gold wire
Body: Dry fly quality dubbing such as Frog’s Hair, Ice Dub, UV2 Fine & Dry or Antron
Hackle: Dry fly quality neck or saddle, color to compliment body
Wing: Elk Hair
Designed by the late Al Troth, the Elk Hair Caddis is a dry fly every fly fisher should have in their fly box, both lake or stream. Consisting of only four materials; a wire rib, dubbed body, palmered hackle and elk hair wing the Elk Hair Caddis or EHC is both imitator and attractor rolled into one. Its overall buggy appearance suggests not only caddis but other insects too.
The EHC has a broad and loyal following across North America and has spawned a number of variations. By adding a body and under wing of cul de canard (CDC) the CDC and Elk was born. Legendary fly fisher and fly designer Rene Harrop added a split tail, concentrated the hackle to the mid portion of the shank to create his Hairwing Dun after modifying and trimming an Elk Hair Caddis to match a tricky mayfly hatch. If you omit the body hackle, add a trailing shuck and substitute a deer hair wing you have Craig Mathew’s X Wing Caddis. The combinations and permutations of the basic Elk Hair Caddis seem endless.
Although a wire rib may seem to add unnecessary weight to a dry fly, on the Elk Hair caddis it enhances durability by reinforcing the hackle. Tying in the ribbing is the first step in building an EHC. After the rib is in place form the body. Next, tie in a dry fly quality neck or saddle hackle in front of the body. I prefer saddle hackles as their long lengths and supple stems are easier to manage. Wrap the hackle back over the body using open even turns. With the hackle at the rear of the body attach a pair of hackle pliers to the tip to serve as a weight. Let the hackle pliers hang, holding the hackle temporarily in place. Using open even turns, wind and weave the wire rib forward, zigzagging it through the hackle fibers to secure the hackle stem along the body. Once the ribbing is tied off trim the excess hackle at the rear of the fly.
This hackling style builds a fly capable of repeated abuse. To break and unravel the hackle a trout has to sever the hackle stem between each rib. This technique works well on other palmered patterns such as the Woolly Worm and its marabou tailed cousin the Woolly Bugger. I recommend using this technique on any fly featuring a palmered hackle.
A variety of materials make excellent EHC bodies. I favor water resistant synthetic dubbing blends such as Antron, Frog’s Hair, Diamond Dub, Ice Dub and Fine and Dry to name a few. CDC feathers also create buoyant bodies. To form a CDC body tie in the feather flat on top of the shank at the mid-point. Pull on the CDC feather until the tip almost slips out from underneath the tying thread. The pulling action tucks and gathers most of the CDC fibers under the thread. Secure the CDC feather back to the bend. Attach a pair of hackle fibers to the butt of the CDC feather and begin twisting the feather into a tight rope. Avoid twisting the CDC too much at first or you might break the feather. Wind the partially twisted feather forward to begin forming the body. After a few wraps twist the feather tight and finish winding forward to complete the body. Towards the end of the body you might have a few stray CDC fibers sticking out. These can be left in placed or trimmed at your discretion.
As the pattern’s namesake would suggest, Elk Hair is the most common EHC wing material. Deer hair is an excellent substitute and for many caddis species better approximates their natural color. Elk hair does offer improved visibility in most instances. The choice is yours.
The wing is intended to be sparse to suggest the fluttering wings of a natural caddis, too much elk or deer hair results in a wing that is difficult to lock in place. A bulky wing absorbs thread tension so it can’t transfer to the shank and ensure a firm tie in. After stacking the wing material to even the tips bind the wing in place using two to three wraps. The tips of the wing should extend back to the rear of the hook bend. After the initial tie in, work the tying thread slowly forward through the wing butts two to three times to further secure the wing. The wing butts should flare after each wrap. Gather and lift the butts. Build a neat head in front of the wing butts and whip finish. Trim the butts even with the hook eye to create the EHC’s distinctive signature head.
The EHC is simple to tie, buoyant and most important of all catches fish. Most fish an EHC dead drift to suggest a caddis adult. But there are other presentation options. Raising and lowering the rod during the drift skitters and dances the fly across the surface representing a fluttering adult. At the end of the drift let the fly swing under tension so it drags under the water. Many river dwelling caddis species dive beneath the surface to deposit their eggs along the bottom rubble. A submerged EHC does an excellent job representing this behavior.