The Foam Body Elk Hair Caddis
The caddis fly is an important part of the trout’s diet on many of our rivers. There are many different caddis patterns available in all phases of this insect’s life cycle… the larva, pupa, and adult. For many of us the go-to pattern in the adult stage has been the Elk Hair Caddis. It is a good idea to carry a variety of Elk Hair Caddis flies to cover the myriad number of size and color variations that hatch during the course of the fishing season.
Al Troth is credited with coming up with the original design for the Elk Hair Caddis back in 1957. It remains one of the most popular dry flies of all time. Al has been featured in numerous books and was three times on the cover of Fly Fisherman magazine. Troth said he was experimenting with wet fly designs but found that this new pattern with elk hair floated like a cork so he knew he was onto something good. The pattern has become a versatile favorite of fishermen because it can be fished so many different ways: it can be dead drifted, it can be skittered across the surface, it can be slowly stripped in the surface film, and it can even be used to simulate a diving caddis.
The standard version of the Elk Hair Caddis has a body comprised of hair dubbing and palmered hackle reinforced with ribbing. The hackle is especially helpful in choppy water to help maintain flotation. But for calmer water the hackle is sometimes trimmed down on the underside to allow the fly to sit lower and more evenly on the surface. The wing of the fly is elk hair but deer hair is a good substitute. Elk hair and deer hair are both hollow and provide the majority of the floatation of the fly. Because the elk hair is thicker it holds more air and therefore tends to float better. The deer hair is thinner and for that reason some tyers tend to prefer it for the smaller caddis patterns. The fly can be tied in a variety of colors of wing, hackle, and body colors to simulate different species of caddis.
As well as the standard Elk Hair Caddis floats it will eventually get saturated with water and no longer stay on the surface. Not too long ago a friend of mine asked me to see if I could improve further on the original Troth design of the Elk Hair Caddis by using other materials to increase the flotation even more. Sure I said, and went on to experiment with some different body materials. If I had been paying attention I would have realized that the solution had already been worked out by numerous fly tyers working with both standard 2mm foam, and thinner razor foam which comes in both 1mm and .5 mm thicknesses. The razor foam seems to work well for the smaller size caddis patterns. Fly shops are now carrying variations of the original Elk Hair Caddis that are made with a foam body material. One local shop told me that all of their Elk Hair Caddis flies have a foam body. They carry nothing else. Lesson learned… when you think you have an idea for a new fly design there is a chance that someone has already come up with it!
Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, May 25th to tie up some foam body Elk Hair Caddis flies. See you at 6 pm.