The Elk Hair Caddis
Caddis flies, or sedge flies as they are more commonly called in the U. K., form an extremely important food source; to trout. Of the Trichoptera order of insects, they are similar to mayflies in that they are true aquatic insects. However, unlike New Zealand mayflies, caddis flies are abundant in lakes and still waters as well as streams and rivers; consequently their distribution is far more widespread. Furthermore the caddis is generally more tolerant of water impurities and temperature variations than the more delicate mayfly.
Trout feed on caddis flies at all stages of their life cycle from the larva to the pupa and finally to the adult, first as it emerges from the pupal shuck and secondly when the female returns to lay its eggs. Although March is an excellent month for caddis flies they are by no means confined to it. Indeed some form of caddis activity can invariably be found all year round. Summer months are, however, when they are at their most active.
Occasionally caddis hatches can be witnessed early morning and during the daytime but more commonly the bulk of activity is from dusk and even well into the night.
Here in Central Otago, the Upper Clutha River is renowned for its often spectacular hatches of caddis flies and night fishing is both popular and successful.
Caddis pupae commonly ascend to the surface quite rapidly where the eclosion (hatching) is often brief and explosive. The newly hatched adult sometimes rests on the surface while it dries its wings but more frequently it will beat them vigorously while it skitters across the surface to the shore or bank side vegetation. Consequently, a trout’s rise to caddis adults is often splashy and violent.
To imitate the adult it is often desirable to impart movement to the fly. When tying still water I prefer a slow retrieve – perhaps a foot or so and then a pause of a few seconds. It definitely pays to experiment if you are not having success.
In a river situation I try to fish upstream and fish the caddis “dead drift” over a rise. Sometimes where bank side vegetation dictates it I will approach from upstream and fish across and down, slowly retrieving the fly up the edges. Trout, under the cover of darkness, often take up position very close to the shore. Most of the takes occur at the beginning or the end of the swing. Unfortunately, solid hook-ups are less because one tends to pull the fly out of the trout’s mouth.
Caddis fly imitations are numerous and quite varied. Most pay particular notice of the distinct “tent-like” winging. For simplicity itself it is hard to pass by the Deer Hair sedge – a clipped deer hair body with an optional red /brown cock hackle. It is extremely durable, and very buoyant. However, on still water, particularly when the surface is “mirrored;” I prefer to use an Elk Hair caddis. It too is buoyant and durable and an easy and enjoyable fly to tie.
I vary the underbody colours too, mostly greens but also browns, cream and grey; indeed at dusk an orange underbody works well – being similar in appearance to a King River caddis.
Normally, the underbody material is of dyed fur or a synthetic material and tied quite plump. However, on occasion, I delete the palmered hackle and “pick out” the thorax and abdomen – the use of partridge S.L.F. dubbing material is absolutely marvelous for this, adding a little sparkle to a struggling emerger trapped in the surface film.
Although it is possible with care to use any deer hair for the winging elk hair is by far the best as it is stiffer and flares less readily.
Hooks should be lightweight dry fly hooks like the Kamasan B401 and from sizes 10 to 14 – the smaller sizes being used more in the daytime.
Night fishing, whilst perhaps not having the appeal as sight fishing during the day, is a marvelous experience and at times can give fast and furious action.
Sometimes that is just what is required after a hard day’s work.
Ian Cole – New Zealand Fly Fishing Guides: Wanaka Fly Fishing, premier professional fishing guide, guided flyfishing safaris for brown, rainbow trout and salmon in southern New Zealand.