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The Elk Hair Caddis Dry Fly: A Comprehensive Guide

28 May 2024

The Elk Hair Caddis dry fly is a staple in the world of fly fishing, known for its simplicity, versatility, and effectiveness. This comprehensive guide explores the history of the Elk Hair Caddis, the fish species it attracts, effective fishing techniques, and the essential equipment needed for a successful outing. Whether you are a seasoned angler or a beginner, understanding the Elk Hair Caddis dry fly can significantly enhance your fly fishing experience.

The History of the Elk Hair Caddis Dry Fly

The Elk Hair Caddis was created by legendary fly tyer and angler Al Troth in the early 1960s. Troth, originally from Pennsylvania, moved to Montana, where he perfected this iconic pattern. The fly was designed to imitate adult caddisflies, which are a significant part of the diet for many freshwater fish.

Al Troth’s innovation was to use elk hair for the wing, providing the fly with buoyancy and a lifelike appearance. The elk hair also makes the fly durable and able to float well in turbulent water. The simplicity of the pattern and the effectiveness in various fishing conditions quickly made the Elk Hair Caddis a favorite among anglers.

Troth’s fly became widely known after he started tying it commercially in the late 1960s. Its reputation grew as anglers across the United States and beyond began to realize its potential. Today, the Elk Hair Caddis is a must-have pattern in any fly box, renowned for its versatility and reliability.

What Fish Will Bite the Elk Hair Caddis Dry Fly?

The Elk Hair Caddis dry fly is known for its ability to attract a wide variety of fish species. Here are some of the primary targets:

  1. Trout: The primary target for the Elk Hair Caddis is trout, including rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout. The fly’s design mimics the caddisfly, a major food source for trout in many streams and rivers.

  2. Grayling: In regions where grayling are present, the Elk Hair Caddis can be particularly effective. Grayling are known for their selective feeding habits, and the Elk Hair Caddis’ realistic appearance can entice these fish to strike.

  3. Panfish: Species like bluegill and crappie are often attracted to the Elk Hair Caddis, especially when they are feeding on small insects near the surface.

  4. Bass: Smallmouth bass, in particular, can be tempted by a well-presented Elk Hair Caddis in streams and rivers where they coexist with trout.

How to Fish the Elk Hair Caddis Dry Fly

Fishing the Elk Hair Caddis dry fly requires an understanding of dry fly techniques and the behavior of caddisflies. Here are some effective methods:

  1. Matching the Hatch: One of the key strategies in fishing the Elk Hair Caddis is to match the hatch. Observe the insects on the water and choose a fly size and color that closely resembles the natural caddisflies present.

  2. Dead Drift: The dead drift is a fundamental technique for fishing dry flies, including the Elk Hair Caddis. Cast upstream and allow the fly to drift naturally with the current, ensuring there is no drag on the line. This presentation mimics the way real caddisflies float on the water’s surface.

  3. Skating and Twitching: Unlike mayflies, caddisflies often skitter across the water’s surface. To mimic this behavior, try skating or twitching the Elk Hair Caddis. After casting, impart slight twitches with the rod tip or retrieve the fly in short bursts to create movement.

  4. Upstream Cast: An upstream cast can be very effective when fishing for trout. Position yourself downstream of the target area and cast the fly upstream, allowing it to float naturally back towards you. This technique helps keep the fly line and leader out of the fish’s line of sight.

  5. Mend Your Line: To achieve a drag-free drift, it’s often necessary to mend your line. After the cast, use a quick flick of the rod tip to reposition the line upstream. This helps prevent the current from pulling the fly unnaturally and can make a significant difference in fooling wary fish.

  6. Sight Fishing: When conditions allow, sight fishing can be an exciting and rewarding way to use the Elk Hair Caddis. Look for rising fish or those holding in shallow water. Present the fly delicately to avoid spooking the fish and watch for any subtle takes.

Equipment for Fishing the Elk Hair Caddis Dry Fly

To fish the Elk Hair Caddis dry fly effectively, you’ll need the right equipment. Here’s a detailed guide on what you should have:

  1. Fly Rod: A 9-foot, 4- to 6-weight fly rod is ideal for most situations involving the Elk Hair Caddis. For smaller streams and more delicate presentations, a 3-weight rod can be a good choice.

  2. Fly Reel: Choose a reel with a smooth drag system that balances well with your rod. The reel’s primary role in dry fly fishing is to hold the line and provide a smooth, controlled release when casting.

  3. Fly Line: A weight-forward floating line is suitable for most dry fly fishing situations. Look for a line with a long, fine front taper to help achieve delicate presentations.

  4. Leader and Tippet: Use a tapered leader that transitions smoothly from thick to thin. A 9- to 12-foot leader is ideal for most situations. Attach a 4X to 6X tippet, depending on the size of the fly and the water clarity.

  5. Floatant: To keep your Elk Hair Caddis floating high on the water, use a quality floatant. Apply it sparingly to the fly before casting and reapply as needed.

  6. Fly Box: Include a variety of Elk Hair Caddis flies in different sizes (12 to 18) in your fly box. Having multiple sizes allows you to match the hatch more accurately.

  7. Waders and Boots: Quality waders and boots are essential for accessing prime fishing spots. Look for breathable waders and sturdy, well-fitting boots with good traction.

  8. Accessories: Include hemostats, nippers, a landing net, and polarized sunglasses to reduce glare and spot fish more easily.

Tying the Elk Hair Caddis Dry Fly

For those interested in fly tying, creating your own Elk Hair Caddis flies can be a rewarding experience. Here’s a basic recipe:


  • Hook: Dry fly hook, sizes 12-18
  • Thread: Black or brown, 8/0 or 12/0
  • Tail: (Optional) Antron yarn or similar synthetic material
  • Body: Fine dubbing, typically in olive, tan, or brown
  • Wing: Elk hair
  • Hackle: Dry fly hackle, typically grizzly or brown


  1. Start the thread at the hook eye and wrap a smooth base back to the bend.
  2. Optionally, tie in a small bunch of Antron yarn for the tail, about the length of the hook shank.
  3. Dub a slender, tapered body with fine dubbing, wrapping forward to about two-thirds of the way to the hook eye.
  4. Cut a clump of elk hair and remove the underfur. Stack the hair to align the tips and tie it in at the end of the dubbed body, with the tips extending slightly past the hook bend. Secure the elk hair with tight wraps.
  5. Tie in a dry fly hackle and wrap it forward in evenly spaced turns to create a collar. Secure and trim the excess.
  6. Whip finish behind the hook eye and apply a drop of head cement for durability.

The Elk Hair Caddis dry fly is a testament to the timeless appeal of well-designed fly patterns. Its rich history, coupled with its ability to attract various fish species, makes it an essential pattern for any angler’s fly box. By understanding the history, target species, fishing techniques, and necessary equipment, you can maximize your success with the Elk Hair Caddis dry fly.

Tying your own Elk Hair Caddis flies can add a personal touch to your fly fishing experience, allowing you to tailor the fly to specific conditions and preferences. So, next time you head out to the water, make sure you have a selection of Elk Hair Caddis dry flies in your arsenal. This classic and effective fly has the potential to turn an ordinary day of fishing into an extraordinary adventure. Happy fishing!

By diving deep into the Elk Hair Caddis dry fly's history, effectiveness, and practical application, this blog post aims to equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to make the most of this exceptional fly. Whether you're a fly fishing veteran or just starting out, the Elk Hair Caddis offers opportunities for learning, experimentation, and, most importantly, successful fishing trips.

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