PUBLISHED: 11:36 AM on Tuesday, November 1, 2005
The Elk Hair Caddis

This past summer my buddy and I were having sporadic luck on some of our favorite grayling water on the Naknek River near King Salmon. We were doing okay, even though the grayling really hadn't committed to any of our mayfly patterns. Rummaging through my fly box I noticed that I had inadvertently put a terrestrial pattern in with my mayflies. It was a small Letort Hopper and, for a lark, I tied it on. I immediately started landing some respectable grayling. On closer inspection I realized that these hoppers - tied at such small sizes - looked a lot like simple caddis patterns. After inevitably snapping my tippet on a nice fish, I switched to an Elk Hair Caddis and continued to get rises on practically every cast. Fly fishing legend Al Troth designed this impressionistic caddis pattern, which can be tied in a variety of body and hackle color combinations, i.e., tan, ginger, black, brown, orange, grizzly, yellow and cream. One of my favorites is a brown body with grizzly hackle. Let's build one.

I'm using a #12 long-shank hook, which is a good all-around size for trout and grayling. Tie in a dry-fly quality hackle in at the tail. Measure it just like you would for a collar. Dub your thread with brown fur or poly. I try and match thread to body color, so I'm using a 6/0 brown thread for this pattern.

Starting at the tail, spiral your dubbed thread up toward the eye, overlapping at times to create a slight taper - thinner at the tail and slightly fatter at what would be the bug's abdomen. Leave a little extra space at the head. You'll thank me later when it comes time to tie in the bulky elk hair.

Take your hackle pliers and begin to carefully wind the hackle over the dubbed body, letting the feather stem sink right into the fur. This is called "palmering." Since this pattern doesn't use a hackle collar, it's important to make several tight wraps, which will help keep your fly riding high on the water.

We're going to tie in an elk hair wing in the next step, but before we do, take your scissors and trim off the top portion of your palmered hackle. Be careful not to trim too close to the body, otherwise you might accidentally cut into the dubbing or cut the hackle stem.

Cut out a clump of elk hair (maybe a quarter of an inch in diameter) and even the ends with a hair stacker. Pull out the fuzzy stuff and any unruly hairs, and then lay the wing across the shank. Hold onto the elk hair as you take a couple of pretty stiff turns with your thread just behind the eye. Like deer hair, the elk will flare out from the thread pressure.

Flaring is good, because it will help us form a buggy-looking head. Trim the excess butt ends until you're happy with the size, and then make several turns of thread under the head. That's where you'll apply a whip finish and head cement. If it's easier, whip finish first, then trim the head, whichever makes you happy.

A quick word about hackle: Veteran fly tiers know what a pain it is to work with cheap hackle. If you're just getting into tying, take my word for it and spend the extra money on the good stuff. Those longer, slender feathers with their stiff fibers will make palmering much less of a chore. Your fly will not only look better, but it will perform as designed - riding high and dry on the water until dunked by a really big fish. I know the price of high-quality hackle will shock you. Just pay the man and worry about your daughter's teeth next year. Happy tying! Comments?