By Nick Simonson
Of all the flies that trout eat, particularly in North Dakota, the caddisfly is probably the most common and easiest to imitate. Many late spring and early summer evenings across the Peace Garden State can be spent chasing stocked rainbows that are adapting to their lake environments and the natural food sources available to them before the waters warm. It’s not uncommon to see a variety of caddisflies come out in the month of June – from big black fluttering species, to almost ghost-like gray varieties – luckily there’s a pattern that can be adapted to all hues and sizes of caddisflies present in and around area lakes, and that’s the Elk Hair Caddis or “EHC” as it’s commonly called.
Formed with a super-buoyant combination of dry fly hackle and hollow elk hairs to keep it skittering and sitting atop the surface, these flies shine on still evenings when caddisflies cover lakeside vegetation and start fluttering out around the edge of the water. It’s always exciting to watch the insects attempt to deposit their eggs and be chased across the surface by a hungry trout as they hop and fly from ripple to ripple until, with a gulp and a splash, they’re eaten. The EHC helps mimic that movement by staying up top and drawing the attention of rising trout with a skating action on the surface.
Hook: Dry Size 16 to 12
Thread: 6/0 Black
Body: Dry Fly Dubbing
Hackle: Dry Hackle
Wing: Stacked Elk Hair
Certainly, this fly can be customized with any color combination to match the caddisflies that are frequently occurring in any area, and patterns in brown, gray, olive and black will cover a good majority of the dozens of species found in North Dakota. Start the fly by tying in a dry fly hackle at the bend of the hook (1). Next, create a dubbing yarn in the desired body color about two inches in length (2). Dub the body forward to about one-hook-eye-length behind the hook eye (3). Using a hackle plier, wrap the feather forward to form the hackling, remembering that the closer together each wrap is, the more surface tension resistance and skitter action it will provide (4). Tie down and trim the excess hackle feather.
At that point, select a small pinch of elk hair and place it tips-down into a hair stacker. Tap the hair stacker a couple of times on the desk to align the tips, and place them over the hook to form the wing of the fly; they should extend just a bit beyond the bend, but can be shortened or lengthened as preferred by the fish or the angler. Tie the wing in with four overlapping wraps (5). Trim the front section which has flared around the top of the hook by gathering it and lifting on it; cutting at an angle to form a triangular head (6). At that point, whip finish the fly going a couple times between the hair head and hook eye and a couple times over the tie-in point for the wing. Add a drop of head cement to the underside of the wraps for posterity, and the fly is complete (7).
Take some time this summer when coming off the water on those warmer June nights to identify the caddisflies that trout begin to feed on as they acclimate to their new homes. Odds are with a quick switch of hackle and dubbing color, any species is easy to mimic with this versatile pattern.