Elk Hair Caddis

UNI Products Fly Tiers Corner

A Useful Mistake

November 2023

There is little doubt that the Elk Hair Caddis pattern is one of the more popular and useful flies in southeastern waters. It has many of the attributes needed for fishing our streams.

The pattern is quite buoyant due to the use of the elk hair, which is hollow, for the backward slanted caddis-style wing. The color of that material is of a light enough hue to make it fairly visible on the water as well.

The result is that most fly boxes in our region will have some examples of this fly in them. That is a bit ironic since the original pattern was a bit of a mistake. The Elk Hair was created by Al Troth in 1957 and first fished on Loyalsock Creek in eastern Pennsylvania. He was seeking to imitate a green caddis emerger.

That idea did not work because the fly proved too buoyant. The use of little dubbed on the body and a palmered hackle made it bulky enough to stay on the surface of the water, As it turned out, however, the fly proved to be great at imitating the adult phase of both caddis flies and small stoneflies.

The versatility of the pattern on the water soon made it a favorite. Caddis appear on southern waters from early spring all the way into the autumn, so the season for fishing this fly is long. Our turbulent free stone streams actually add to the appeal of the fly.

When caddis and stoneflies are on the surface, they actually move a good bit, as opposed to remaining still while floating. Tossing the high-floating Elk Hair onto choppy water gives it a natural look as it bobs and weaves in the current. But, be aware that this fly is far less effective on calm water in deeper pools.

The Elk Hair Caddis pattern is pretty easy to tie, once you master handling the elk hair for the wing. Additionally, by changing the color of the dubbing on the body of the pattern, you can produce flies that match a wide range of caddis that show up during most of the year.