Welcome to Beginning Fly Tying

Part Twenty-six

Black Hills Brown

Intermediate Fly Tying:

The Sparkle Caddis Emerger

By Al Campbell

So far we've looked at dry flies that float on the water's surface by resting on the surface tension of the water. As a general rule, most dry flies float in this manner. We also tied a couple of flies that had buoyant materials in addition to the standard materials that make most flies float. Now, it's time to turn another corner and look at flies that float because of the buoyant materials they are made from, rather than relying on the surface tension of the water for floatation.

For lack of a better way of describing these flies, most flies that float in, rather than on, the surface film are called emergers. The buoyant materials used in the wings and often the bodies of these flies keep the fly floating near or in the surface film. By suspending the fly in the surface film this way, it looks like an emerging insect to hungry fish searching for an easy meal.

One of the most hazardous moments in the life of an aquatic insect is the moment when it swims or floats to the water's surface, forces its way through the surface tension, cracks open its nymphal case, and waits for its wings to dry enough to fly away. To the fish, this is feeding frenzy time. Emerging insects are easy targets and fish take advantage of any easy meal. To the insect, this is the time of intense danger because there is no avenue for escape until their wings dry enough to support their body weight in flight.

Since this is the time insects are most vulnerable to fish attacks, it only makes sense to imitate this stage in the life of an insect with a fur, feather and hair creation of our own. For all the "upstream and dry" fanatics, this is your moment. Emerging insects are forced to wait for their wings to dry. In the case of mayflies, this takes a long time. In the case of midges and caddisflies, this takes a few short moments, but these are treacherous times for any insect caught in the surface film and unable to escape the watchful eye of the fish below.

Several people have dedicated countless hours to researching the emergence process of various insects. One of the best known studies was Gary LaFontaine's study of the emergence habits of caddisflies. In that study, he noted that caddisfly pupae often surround themselves with an air bubble that lifts them and supports them during their struggle through the surface tension of the water. Although there has been a lot of discussion about the existence of such bubbles, the flies he developed to imitate caddis pupae during this phase of emergence have added credibility to his theory by catching lots of fish.

This week's fly pattern is a modified variation of one of Gary's original sparkle caddis patterns. The body is tied similar to his diving version, but I add a full elk hair wing to it for floatation. After testing Gary's patterns and my variation on my local waters, I've decided I like my variation better. Of course, the reason I decided I like mine better was due to the fish liking it better and me catching more of those fish. Reason enough for me!

This fly floats entirely in the surface film due to the buoyant characteristics of the elk hair wing. The hollow hair will return the fly to the surface even after it takes a dunking in turbulent water. It's a little like adding a bobber to the top of the fly. The only problem with this fly is seeing it. It rides low enough in the surface film to be hard to see. Let's tie up a few.

List of materials:

Mustad 80000BR
  • Hook: Light wire dry fly. Mustad 80000BR or equivalent. Size: 12 to 22.

  • Thread: 6/0 Gudebrod or equivalent, black or olive green.

  • Tail: None, or you could add a short antron tail.

  • Under-body: Metallic green mylar tinsel. I usually scrounge mine from Easter baskets (fake grass).

  • Over-body: White, yellow, forest green or olive antron, tied to flare slightly, forming a bubble shape.

  • Wing: Elk hair, tied to flare slightly.

  • Tying steps:

  • 1. Start the thread and tie in a strand of antron. Let the antron extend over the hook bend a few inches.

  • 2. Tie in a strand of green mylar tinsel.

  • 3. Wrap an under-body of green mylar tinsel and tie off behind the hook eye. Leave plenty of room for the head and wing. When fished, this green tinsel will provide a green hue common to most caddis pupae.

  • 4. Pull the antron forward and around the mylar under-body trying to keep it evenly distributed on all sides of the fly.

  • 5. Secure the antron to the hook with a couple of loose wraps of thread.

  • 6. Gently pull the antron back a little ways toward the hook bend to form a bubble of antron around the hook. Secure with a few tight wraps of thread.

  • 7. Trim the excess antron and tie the loose ends down to the hook.

  • 8. Prepare a wing of elk hair like the one you used for the elk hair caddis. The wing should extend to the hook bend. (In the original LaFontaine pattern, the wing is much shorter.) Tie the wing in and trim it the same way you did the elk hair caddis wing.

  • 9. Whip finish and cement. A drop of cement on the front of the wing will help keep the wing together and make the fly more durable.

    Just like the elk hair caddis, this fly has a time and place. As much as the EHC is a perfect imitation of those caddisflies that are returning to the water to lay their eggs, this fly is a perfect imitation of an emerging caddis.

    If you've sat out the caddis emergence because your EHC just didn't work for that part of the hatch, your slack times are about to end. Any time you see caddisflies emerging, tie one of these sparkle caddis emergers on for a fast and furious time. I like to fish it in the slow water just below the riffles. Although it works in the riffles, I just can't see it well there. And, since the caddis emergers are usually still drying their wings in the slow water for a few moments, I can fish where I can see the fly.

    The most productive antron colors I've found are white and olive with white leading slightly. You might want to tie up a few color variations to be prepared for any variation you might encounter on the water. Try a few this summer. You might become an emerger fisherman.

    See ya next week - Remember, I'm always happy to answer your questions, feel free to email me. ~ Al Campbell

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