Hackling the Fluttering Caddis

Hackling the Fluttering Caddis

The right thread tension makes all the difference

  • By: A. K. Best
I tie a pattern I call the St. Vrain Caddis because I designed it for a specific caddis hatch that occurs on the St. Vrain River in Colorado. The amazing thing about this pattern is that it has been a consistent fish-getter from California to Vermont, and even in British Columbia, Alberta and Labrador. I think the colors are what make it a killer fly, but even more important is the manner in which I fish it.

I like to give the fly an almost imperceptible twitch every one or two feet as it floats downstream. You will occasionally see caddisflies that run across the surface about the same speed as you can execute a hand retrieve. I want one pattern that will do both without nose-diving beneath the surface. The hackle you use and the manner in which it is wound around the hook are the two critical factors in solving the problem. You must use the stiffest hackle you have. (I prefer the highest-grade saddle for this.) And the finished hackle collar must present a reverse cone-shape profile.

I've been tying this pattern for about 20 years and have always been puzzled as to why some flies came out right and others didn't. Two days ago I began tying a special order of St. Vrain Caddis and made an astoundingly simple discovery: It's all a simple matter of thread tension!

Here's how get it right every time:

1) De-barb the hook, put it in the vise and attach the tying thread one hook gap behind the eye and wind to the beginning of the hook bend. Twist very fine dubbing onto the thread to create a dubbing rope with the thickest portion near the hook shank, and taper it to nearly nothing at the bottom. This will help to create the reverse body taper that is needed on any hair-wing caddis pattern.

2) Wind the dubbing forward up to one hook gap behind the hook eye. Bring the tying thread all the way forward to the hook eye and back to one hook eye space behind the eye. The finished dubbed body should taper into the same diameter as the hook shank. This is the only way to prevent the hair wing from flaring wildly when you tie it on.

3) Clip a small clump of bleached elk or deer hair, remove all the under-fur, extra-thin hair and any broken tips and even the tips in a hair stacker. The stacked hair clump should be slightly smaller in diameter than half the hook-gap space.

4) Place the hair clump over the hook shank as shown in photo #3 with the tips extending beyond the hook bend equal to one hook gap space.

5) Wind the tying thread over the hair clump toward the rear for a distance of one hook gap while gradually increasing thread tension to create a reverse tapered underbody and lessen the tension on the last two turns to prevent too much flaring. Lift the butts and clip them off at an angle.

5) Select a sized saddle hackle, trim the butt to leave an empty quill equal in length to the bound hair and place it on the hook with the dull side up.

6) Wind the hackle forward to within one hook eye space of the hook eye, tie off, clip off the excess and whip finish.