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One of my go-to dry fly patterns is the CDC & Elk. Learning to tie this fly will form the basis of many CDC-based dry flies you’ll encounter. It will also introduce the technique of tying in fine deer hair wings. Although this may seem simple, it can be quite complicated if approached incorrectly.
I have been experimenting and researching different methods to tie the most effective CDC & Elk patterns for some time. As the saying goes: “There are many ways to skin a cat”. The method described below delivers a very good caddisfly imitation and is very fast to tie.
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Quick Look: CDC & Elk
- Difficulty Level: Medium
- Tying Time: 5 minutes
- Materials: Hook, thread, Cul de Canard (CDC) feathers, short deer hair, head cement, and dubbing wax.
- Hook Size: 12 – 18
What Is a CDC & Elk?
The CDC & Elk fly pattern imitates an adult caddisfly. The color and size of the fly can be varied to mimic specific species.
The CDC & Elk is a variation of the popular Elk Hair Caddis fly. I believe that the addition of the CDC to this fly elevated its effectiveness. CDC moves in a much more natural way.
Being quite a water-resistant material, CDC floats better than hackle. It also traps micro air bubbles creating a magnificent footprint on the water’s surface.
How To Fish A CDC & Elk
Due to the excellent buoyancy of the CDC & Elk, it’s a good dry fly to use in a dry-dropper rig. It is attached to the tag-end of a surgeon’s knot and a nymph is suspended about 2 feet below.
It’s a good choice to switch over to a CDC & Elk in highly turbulent water. The large profile of the fly and it’s waterproof characteristics make it easy to track the fly.
Materials You’ll Need To Tie A CDC & Elk
Here’s a list of all the materials you’ll need to tie a CDC & Elk:
A dry fly hook with a short shank and wide hook gape is perfect for the CDC & Elk. I prefer having barbless hooks in my fly box as they seem to offer good hook penetration into the fish’s mouth. It also avoids headaches when flies get stuck in the fly fishing net or your fly vest.
Hook models that I recommend are:
- Hanak H130BL
- TMC 103BL
- TMC 100SP-BL (if you’re looking for something slightly stronger)
- Fulling Mill Ultimate Dry
- Partridge Patriot Standard Dry SLD2
When choosing a thread for the CDC & Elk (and many other dry flies) it needs to have a thin diameter. Anything ranging from 14/0 to 18/0 will be fine. You will be able to get away with using 70 Denier, especially on larger flies, but it will complicate things when tying small.
To reduce overall bulk in the fly, choose a thread that can lay flat. My two favorite threads for dry flies are:
Cul de Canard
CDC, or Cul de Canard, is a duck feather located around the bird’s preen gland. This gland excretes an oil that coats and seals the feathers. For this reason, the feathers are very buoyant as they don’t absorb any water. They also trap small air bubbles, giving a lifelike appearance to dry flies and nymphs.
CDC makes for an excellent dry fly material and can be used on most sections of the fly. This includes the abdomen, thorax, and wing. In fact, there are many realistic patterns that only make use of CDC.
Build up a collection of colors over time, starting white and grey (dun). As with all fly tying material, it’s of utmost importance to buy quality CDC feathers. You’re looking for long, full feathers with long fibers. Good brands include Trout Hunter and Petitjean.
Recommended CDC Feathers:
→ Canard Oiler Puffs Master Pack 1-4 Colors
Although the fly is called the CDC & Elk, I prefer using deer hair for the wing. I find that, if you select the correct hair, the fly floats better. Selecting the most suitable deer hair for a small dry fly is key.
Inspect the hair when it’s on the skin. The individual fibers need to be thin and crinkly, which means that they’re hollow. There needs to be a distinct dark line across the entire section at the point where the hair goes over to the tip. This dark tip section isn’t hollow, so you want that to be as short as possible.
Deer hair, or elk for that matter, intended for dry fly wings is a very different material to deer hair meant for spinning purposes.
The dubbing wax is applied to the dubbing loop. This will ensure that the CDC fibers are secure during the brush spinning process. You can make use of any thread wax.
Recommended Dubbing Wax:
→ Loon Outdoors Swax High Tack Dubbing Wax
The head is sealed to add durability to the fly. A small drop of your favorite head cement will be sufficient.
Recommended Head Cement:
→ Loon Outdoors Water Based Head Cement System
Tools Needed to Tie A CDC & Elk
The following tools are needed to tie a CDC & Elk. Of course you don’t have to use the exact clamps I’m using for this tie, but if you plan to use a lot of CDC for future flies, then I recommend getting these magic tools for the job.
- Bobbin holder
- Long Marc Petitjean Magic Tool table clip
- Long Marc Petitjean Magic Tool flat clamp (or a long paper clamp will do as well)
- A pair of long-blade scissors
- Short-blade scissors
- Hair stacker
- Whip finishing tool
- Small comb
Watch The How To Tie a CDC & Elk Video
Let’s Get Started!
How To Tie a CDC & Elk
Now let’s get started with the tie. You won’t need too many materials to tie the CDC & Elk, but the tools are a little bit more extensive because we make use of a hair stacker and a couple of clamps. But overall, this is a fly that you should have no problem tying after a bit of practice.
CDC & ELK Recipe
- Hook: Hanak H130BL size 14;
- Thread: Gordon Griffiths Sheer 14/0;
- CDC: 3 long CDC feathers, color may be varied;
- Wing: Fine, hollow deer hair
- Loon Outdoors Low Tacx Swax dubbing wax
- Loon Outdoors Water-Based head cemen
Step 1: Place The Hook in The Vise
Select a hook from the packet or box and place it between the hook jaws with your thumb and index finger. The hook point and imaginary barb location should be exposed as this will assist you during the planning phase of the fly.
Make sure that the hook shank is level. Once you’re happy with the hook’s positioning, secure the hook by flipping the cam lever.
Step 2: Lock in The Thread
Hold the thread with your left hand and place the thread over the hook shank, about 1/3 behind the eye.
Make 5 touching thread wraps forward, then run the thread over itself until you reach the tag end. Let the bobbin hang freely and cut off the excess.
Step 3: Lay a Thread Foundation
Spin the bobbin to ensure a flat thread. Wrap the thread forward to just behind the eye of the hook. Flatten the thread again and cover the hook shank with touching turns in a rearward direction. Stop the thread at the start of the hook bend.
When to bobbin is left hanging freely the thread should intersect the start of the imaginary barb.
Step 4: Clamp The CDC Feathers in The Table Clip
Select three long CDC feathers from the packet. One by one, pull their fibers back so they’re perpendicular with the stem.
Place them, on top of each other, on the Petitjean Magic Table Clip. Gently pull on the tips and bases of the feathers and press them into the clip.
Step 5: Cut Off The Excess CDC
Cut off the excess CDC feather on either side of the table clip so that it is pretty much flush with the ends of the clip itself.
This will ensure that the feather doesn’t get stuck in the small securing spring that’s wrapped around the clip when you move onto the next steps in this tutorial.
Step 6: Transfer The CDC To The Flat Clamp
Slide a clamp with suitable length over the upright feathers in the table clip. Grab them with the flat clamp and open the table clip to release them.
I find that it’s wise to add extra pressure to the flat clamp to ensure that the fibers don’t slide out during the transfer.
Step 7: Cut Off The Stem of The Feather
With a pair of long-blade scissors, make a cut against the stems. It’s important that you have a straight edge on the CDC fibers as this will prevent complications in the dubbing brush procedure.
You’ll notice that there is very little waste of feather when using these clamps. When you’re satisfied, set the clamp with the prepared CDC aside as you will use it in later steps.
Step 8: Split The Thread
Instead of creating a dubbing loop, a simpler and much faster method is to use the split thread technique. Spin the bobbin in the anti-clockwise direction to flatten the thread.
With a bodkin or the point of a scissor, split the thread in half. Place your finger between the two thread strands to keep it open.
Step 9: Apply Dubbing Wax
The dubbing wax secures the CDC fibers while they are being spun into a dubbing loop. This is an important step and the wax can make a read difference when spinning the dubbing, so I do recommend using it.
Apply a thin coating the length of the clamp holding the CDC fibers on both thread strands.
Step 10: Place The CDC Fibers Between The Split Thread
With the thread split open by your finger, take the clamp containing the CDC fibers and place it in between the thread strands. Remove the finger keeping the thread open.
Gently slide the clamp outwards until the only the CDC fibers are trapped in between the thread and while pulling tight on the bobbin, open the clamp and set aside.
Step 11: Spin The Bobbin
Pull out 6 inches of thread and let the bobbin hang over your left index finger. The brush and bobbin should make a 90-degree angle. Spin the free-hanging bobbin.
It’ll take quite a few spins of the bobbin to create a proper brush, so keep spinning it for about twenty or thirty seconds, then, remove your finger creating the 90-degree angle in the thread.
Step 12: Spin The Brush
Pinch the thread just above the bobbin and push the turns upward, toward the brush. This will spin the brush even more.
Turn the thread spool to take up the excess thread until you reach the CDC brush, then comb out any trapped CDC fibers with a small brush.
Step 13: Create The Body
Palmer the CDC brush around the hook shank with touching turns. Remember to palmer back the material during every turn.
The body should end leaving enough space to tie in the deer hair wing. If the brush is too long, you can remove excess CDC fibers by pulling them out.
Step 14: Comb Out The Trapped CDC
Comb out any trapped CDC fibers with a small brush. To do this I comb the material forward first. You can also use a bodkin to free any trapped fibers.
Then comb the CDC backward and in the opposite direction, always combing in an upward or horizontal direction.
Step 15: Cut & Stack The Deer Hair
Cut a clump of deer hair from the skin and remove any short, damaged, and woolly hair to ensure that you’ll end up with straight, natural looking fibers.
Place the remaining hair, tip first, into the hair stacking tool. Give the tool a couple of good taps against a hard surface.
Step 16: Measure The Deer Hair Wing
Open the hair stacking tool and grip the aligned deer hair tips between your left thumb and forefinger.
Remove any loose fibers. Transfer the deer to your other hand and measure the length against the hook shank. It should be slightly longer than the hook when held at the tying position.
Step 17: Cut The Deer Hair To Length
Transfer the deer hair to your left hand again. Keeping in mind where you envisioned the tying in point to be, cut the deer hair off about 1/5 inch beyond that point.
While still pinching the deer hair, place it in position on top of the hook and get ready to tie it down with a couple of basic pinch wraps.
Step 18: Secure The Deer Hair Wing
Make two loose thread wraps around the tying in point of the deer hair. Very gently, slide your thumb and forefinger (that are pinching the deer hair) over the thread wraps and pinch it.
Pull down firmly on the thread to secure the deer hair wing. Make two or three more wraps around the tie in point. Still holding onto the deer hair wing, build a neat head for the fly just behind the hook eye. Then let go of the wing.
Step 19: Finish The Fly
Make one or two whip finishes to secure the thread of the fly. While doing this, ensure that no deer hair fibers are trapped in the whip finish. This will obstruct access to the hook eye. Cut off the thread.
Now, seal the head with a small drop of head cement. This is done to add durability. Make sure that the eye of the hook is free from any head cement or tying material.
Step 20: Cut The Abdomen Fibers
Pull down all the bottom CDC fibers of the abdomen. Place a sharp long blade scissor level, against the bottom of the fly. With one cut, remove all downward facing fibers.
The idea is to create a flat underside for the fly. This will open the gape, allowing better access to the hook point. It will also allow the fly to sit lower in the water film, creating a better-looking footprint.
The CDC & Elk
Now You Know
How To Tie a CDC & Elk
Reading through the step-by-step guide might make the CDC & Elk look like a very complicated fly. Although there are many steps involved, once you get the hang of them, this method will prove to be the fastest way to produce good caddisfly imitations.
I encourage you to take time and learn all the small techniques covered in this guide. It will greatly advance your tying. Also, feel free to experiment with different colors of CDC and deer hair.
Please feel free to ask any questions or leave comments at the bottom of the page.
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