Invented somewhere west of here by Al Troth, the elk hair caddis has over the years proved to be an un-paralleled fish catcher. In the tradition of all great flies its "why didn't I think of that" quality has reinforced its reputation and resulted in a continual presence on practically every trout bearing water in the world.
Primarily I like to think of it as a skater, the perfect fly for imitating both the newly emerged caddis flies' maiden voyage (take off) and the skittering female dropping her payload of eggs under the evening sky.
I have fond memories of the Elk hair caddis. It is a fly responsible for both some of my proudest moments and shocking defeats, but one things for sure, whether I'm cursing the content of my fly box or sitting in anticipation over my vice, there is very rarely a time when the EHC is not drifting around somewhere within my subconscious.
Suit and Tie
Hook - Standard dry in sizes to suit the natural. i.e. everything, but generally 12, 14, 16 and 18
Thread - black, brown, tan, yellow, olive and so on. Match it roughly to the colour of the fly. Use a fairly stout thread also, you will be using quite a bit of pressure during this tying so avoid midge style threads.
Rib - Mono.
Body - Any kind of dubbing in colours ranging from various shades of olive and tan to dirty browns and washy blacks. Today I will be using a dark tan. Over the years it has proved to be the most effective variation I've used so I will stick with it for now. Do remember though that as with all flies it is worth playing around with, try mixing it up a little and you may find *the* fly for the newish millennium.
Hackle - brown in this instance, but again, mix it up a little to contrast with the body colour - Grizzly, dun, badger, ginger etc.
Wing - Elk. Don't get fooled into being too specific about which hair you choose. In most instances you will be buying purely Elk Hair, which nine times out of ten will be fine. If you want to experiment a little more then have ago with some Yearling or bull elk. In the end, if you're happy with the result and it doesn't sink like a stone then it is as perfect as it's ever going to be.
As with all materials it is better if you can examine the product before you buy it, otherwise you may end up with something less than useful. It happens rarely and in general my experiences have been positive regarding quite a few mail order companies (unless I've just been lucky). However if you do have access to a well-stocked local fly shop then have a good sift through its selection. Look in particular for straight hair, curved is harder to work and may result in odd-looking bent wings. Incidentally, if you do end up lumbered with such a patch just hold it over a boiling kettle and the steam should straighten out to some extent. Also take note of the tips, you want nice unbroken… firm… plump…natural tips!
The knotted rope
Knot 1 - Start the thread and after five or so turns tie in a rib, before winding backwards over it until you reach the bend of the hook. Now trim off the waste.
Knot 2 - Form a rope of dubbing and wind on stopping a couple of millimetres short of the eye. I tend to dub it quite shaggily and with very little taper. Why shaggy? Well I've just spent an evening catching on little seals fur blobs and now feel to have wasted my entire life and several hundred little pictures of the queen for nothing. So there you go.
Knot 3 - Now for the palmer. Tie in the hackle pointing backwards; glossy side facing up, and wind backwards down the body in open spiralling turns, 5 or 6 should do it.
Knot 4 - Whilst holding the hackle in place at the end of the body, preferably skywards, grasp the rib and take two firm touching turns around the hackle tip to secure in place. While keeping tension on the rib wind it up through the hackle in open spiralling turns, again about five, until the eye is reached. Now tie down and snip off both the hackle tip and waste mono.
Before adding any wing the material must be correctly prepared first (this goes for all variations). Hair comes layered upon the skin of an animal, resulting in uneven tips when a bunch is removed. Tie this in and the combination of short and long hair will look very odd indeed. To remedy such a problem the hair must first be stacked using (not surprisingly) a hair stacker.
A stacker is a tool commonly used to level up the tips of hair ready for tying. In its simplest form the hair stacker is basically a tube that slots into a base containing a slight well at the bottom of it. The hair is placed tip first into the stacker and tapped a few times on a table, thus allowing the tips to fall in line. The tube is then tilted and removed from the base revealing the perfectly level fibres.
Hair stackers come in a wide range of prices, shapes and sizes. This doesn't mean you need them all however. Although the gold plated ones look nice, for ninety percent of the time a bog standard no frills one will do fine. If you begin dealing with very long hairs you may wish to include the next size up, but that is as far as it goes. The stacker in the picture cost £2.50, it works perfectly. You don't need anything expensive, but there are certain factors that determine a good stacker from a poor one. Firstly, it mustn't be made of a material that is likely do develop static electricity such as plastic. Static will cause the hairs to stick to the inside of the stacker, thus rendering correct alignment practically impossible.
A well should also be present within the stacker base to ensure that when the tube is removed the hair extends out over the lip for easy removal. Finally, the base on the inside of the stacker must be completely flat. The hair will assume the profile of the base; if it isn't flat the tips will not be in line and the whole point of the procedure will be lost.
P.S. also look for a good flare at the entrance to the tube; it makes adding the hair in the first place so much easier.
It doesn't stop there however, when you cut a clump of hair take notice of the fluff surrounding the base of the fibres. This under fur will hinder your stacking efforts by acting as a binder, thus holding the fibres together and stopping them from aligning properly. So before anything else it must be removed. This can be achieved by the use of a commercial fur rake, which is a simple toothed instrument that strips the fur from the hair butts, or else a toothbrush (not the girlfriends) or an animal flea comb. It's your choice, as long as all of the fur is removed before stacking it doesn't really matter.
Knot 5 - so knowing this, cut a clump of hair from the skin, a firm pinch full should be sufficient, and using a removal device of some sort strip away the under fur. I find holding it by the tips, fanning it slightly and resting it on the edge of a table works best.
Knot 6 - Once fully devoid of fluff, place the clump of hair, tips first, into the hair stacker and tap it a few times on a firm surface. Whatever you do, don't smash it down; you'll probably loose most as it flies out and up your nose. Be firm but gentle, go with the motion of the ocean, technique is the key. 5 taps is better than two Whacks!
After tapping a few times tilt the stacker onto its side and slowly remove the tube from the base.
Knot 7 - firmly take the hold of the tips and transfer to your tying hand (right hand in my case). Now line up the prepared wing along the body so it extends just past the bend of the hook.
Swap hands, firmly holding the wing in place, and using the pinch loop method take three to four wraps of thread over the hair and tighten down. Of primary importance during this procedure is to keep pressure on the wing by holding it in place, if you loosen your grip at any one time some of the hair will tend to migrate around the sides of the fly, as opposed to resting upon it, and that just isn't cricket.
Knot 8 - Now take the thread in front of the hair butts, build up a head that is sufficient enough to prevent the butts from laying flat across eye (thus blocking it), whip finish and varnish both the turns over the elk hair and the head behind the eye.
Knot 9 - To finish, simply trim the hair butts to roughly match the angle of the wing. How artistically or close you do this is up to you, I like a good head as it does add a little extra buoyancy.
Now sit back and admire your new caddis.