In this tying tutorial, we’ll look at how to tie the Elk Hair Caddis – an indispensable dry fly no matter where you fish. We’ll look at precisely what material and tools you’ll need, and then I’ll take you through the step-by-step procedure to whip one up.
I’ve tied the Elk Hair Caddis for as long as I can remember. Actually, my first rendition wasn’t tied with elk or deer hair at all. I cut off a clump of hair from our German Shepherd’s back. Since then, I’ve had access to the right materials, and let me tell you, this thing slays fish.
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- Difficulty level: Medium to hard
- Tying time: 5-10 minutes
- Materials: Hook, thread, hackle, dubbing, and deer or elk hair
- Hook Size: 10-18
What Is an Elk Hair Caddis?
The Elk Hair Caddis was developed in 1957 by Pennsylvania fly tier Al Troth. As the name suggests, the fly imitates an adult caddisfly. In my experience, though, the fly is much more versatile than you think.
I tie it with legs on the side to imitate small hoppers. Some of my variants have long Coq de Leon tails to imitate big spent mayflies. Carry a good selection of Elk Hair Caddis flies in your box, and you’re good to go.
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How to Fish an Elk Hair Caddis
Firstly, the Elk Hair Caddis is a dry fly. This means that the fly floats on top (or in) the water’s surface. It’s an excellent fly to use if the fish are actively feeding on adult caddis. I use the Elk Hair Caddis on a floating line and long 12ft leader.
The key is to get the fly to drift as naturally as possible. This takes practice and good technique. Keep this in mind when fishing the fly.
Because the Elk Hair Caddis is so buoyant, it lends itself to being used in a dry and dropper rig.
Materials You’ll Need to Tie an Elk Hair Caddis
You’ll need the following materials to tie an Elk Hair Caddis:
Dry fly hooks are a personal preference for many experienced tiers. In my opinion, a barbless wide gape thin wire hook works the best for the Elk Hair Caddis. The gape width helps to pin more hookups, and it looks damn good.
The size of caddis in the system you’re fishing determines the hook size. But don’t be afraid to up the size slightly, as the Elk Hair Caddis also entices reaction takes. Whether it represents a crippled hopper, I don’t know, it just works.
My favorite hooks for the Elk Hair Caddis include:
A flat-lying 70 Denier or finer thread is preferred. Using a flat thread has two distinct purposes. The first is that it reduces bulk on smaller patterns, which only applies if you regularly open the thread. (See more in the tying guide below.)
The second purpose is that it won’t cut the hair fibers when you’re tying it in. My preferred thread for these applications is Griffith’s Sheer 14/0. The color may be adapted to suit the overall appearance of the fly.
The specific material which forms the abdomen of the Elk Hair Caddis isn’t that important. Whichever material you end up using should, instead, have particular attributes. It must be light and repel water absorption, and it shouldn’t build up bulk.
I prefer fine dry fly dubbing on my Elk Hair Caddis as it’s quick to work with. Once again, the color should match the abdomen of the specific caddis you’re trying to imitate.
The hackle plays a vital role in the Elk Hair Caddis. It helps float the fly and gives it a buggy appearance and profile. I recommend buying the best hackle material you can afford. It works easier, and you’ll end up with a fly that’s more durable and fishes better.
Some of the brands you can look for include:
- Sideling Hackle
Elk or Deer Hair
There has been, and probably always will be, a great debate around what hair fibers are the best for the Elk Hair Caddis. Yes, the fly’s name refers to one kind, but fine deer hair works perfectly well in my experience.
I guess it all depends on which type and what quality you’re able to get hold of. What you’re looking for is a hollow hair for most of the strand, which helps keep the fly afloat.
An excellent hair to use is called a Comparadun deer hair. It just means that you’re getting a hair fiber that’s fine and hollow.
Tools Needed to Tie an Elk Hair Caddis
You’ll need the following tools to tie an Elk Hair Caddis.
- Bobbin holder for the thread
- Whip finishing tool
- Hackle plier (optional)
- Bodkin (optional)
- Hair stacking tool
Step-by-Step Guide to Tie an Elk Hair Caddis
As you’ll see in the step-by-step guide below, the first steps for tying an Elk Hair Caddis are similar to those for tying a Griffith’s Gnat. If you’re new to fly tying, I suggest that you first tie one of those before attempting the Elk Hair Caddis. Please follow this link for our tying tutorial on Griffith’s Gnat.
So, with that out of the way, let’s tie an Elk Hair Caddis fly.
Elk Hair Caddis Recipe
The specific materials I use are:
- Hook: Mouche 8426 size 14
- Thread: Griffith’s Sheer 14/0 Orange
- Abdomen: Hareline Superfine Waterproof Dry Fly Dubbing Adams Grey
- Hackle: Whiting Bronze Grade Grizzly Dry Fly Hackle neck cape
- Wing: Hends Deer Hair color code 05
Step 1: Place the Hook in the Vise
Remove a hook from the packet and place the bend between the jaws of the vise.
What you’re looking for is a level shank and the hook point and barb area (if using a barbed hook) protruding.
Lock the hook in place and test if it’s secure.
Step 2: Attach the Thread
Hold the thread’s end with your non-tying hand and place the thread over the top of the hook, at about 1/5 of the shank length behind the eye.
Wrap the thread forward six times with touching turns. Then, back the thread over itself five times and trim off the loose tag end.
Step 3: Lay a Thread Foundation
Open the thread by spinning the bobbin anti-clockwise. Wrap the thread rearwards with touching turns until you reach the bend of the hook.
You can also use the barb as a reference point.
Step 4: Prepare the Hackle
Pluck a hackle feather from the skin. Once wrapped, the fibers should extend from the hook shank to the hook point – no farther.
Pull any soft and discolored fibers off the feather base, leaving a hook shank’s length of the stem exposed.
Step 5: Tie In the Hackle Feather
Place the feather on top of the hook shank so that the first fibers touch the end of the thread foundation.
Secure it with thread and run the thread forward to cover the rest of the hackle stem.
Stop the thread, leaving a small gap behind the hook eye.
Step 6: Create a Dubbing Noodle
Run the thread back to the base of the hackle feather. Pull a clump of dubbing material from the holder and place it against the thread.
Wet your fingers and, while holding the top part with your non-tying hand, turn the dubbing around the thread to create a slender noodle.
Step 7: Create the Abdomen
Wrap the dubbing noodle forward with touching turns. The key is to keep the noodle slender, and to do this, turn the dubbing material tighter around the thread after each rotation.
If your dubbing noodle is too short, add more material as you go along.
Stop the abdomen, leaving a small gap behind the eye of the hook.
Step 8: Wrap the Hackle
Wrap the hackle forward in the same direction as the thread. Make sure that the shiny (or more brightly colored) side of the feather keeps facing forward.
Secure the hackle once you reach the position of the thread.
Step 9: Tidy Up the Mess
Pull back any forward-facing material with the thumb and forefinger of your non-tying hand and lay a couple of thread wraps in front of it.
Step 10: Cut the Deer Hair
Cut a small clump of deer hair from the skin and pull out any short and loose fibers while securely gripping the tips with your non-tying hand.
Step 11: Align the Fibers
Place the deer hair fibers in a stacking tool and tap it a couple of times against the table.
Split the stacking tool carefully and remove the aligned fibers.
Step 12: Measure the Wing
Hold the wing over the body of the fly to ascertain where the cut must be made.
The wing should just protrude behind the hook bend. Make a mental note of this imaginary tying-in point.
Step 13: Cut the Wing
Switch the hair fibers over to the other hand, keeping in mind where you must make the cut. Place the wing in position and make one cut with a sharp pair of scissors to align all the fibers.
Don’t move the hair fibers or let them go.
Step 14: Tie In the Wing
Make two loose wraps of thread around the deer hair. Keep pinching the deer hair in place with your left hand.
Then, make a third securing wrap, pulling everything tight. Still, don’t let go of the fibers.
Step 15: Form a Head
Make one or two more wraps around the tying-in point and then transfer the thread to in front of the head created by the deer hair.
Form a neat head between the deer hair head and the hook eye. Now you can let go of the hair with your non-tying hand.
Step 16: Whip Finish
Whip finish the fly while being careful not to trap any materials in the process. Cut off the thread.
That’s How to Tie an Elk Hair Caddis
I hope that this tying guide has encouraged you to tie and fish your own Elk Hair Caddis. There’s nothing quite as fulfilling as seeing an unwary trout take a self-tied dry fly.
If you found this guide interesting, please share it with your friends and fellow anglers. Also, please leave any comments or questions at the bottom of the page.
Until next time.