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Spring Fly Showdown: All hail the Elk-hair Caddis

The king of all flies?

The votes are in, and I must admit, I’m a bit surprised. In a fantasy “tournament” of fishing flies, the Elk-hair Caddis reins supreme.

In the recently completed TU-Loon Outdoors Spring Fly Showdown, the venerable bug outlasted the stately Adams in the final matchup. And, honestly, I voted for the Adams.

Not that I don’t value a good, old caddis imitation. Caddisflies are serious trout food, and not just the adults that the Elk-hair Caddis imitates, albeit somewhat auspiciously. But caddis larvae and emerging bugs undoubtedly amount to more trout meals than the adult version of the insect.

But, at our core, we fly fishers are visual creatures, and a prolific caddis hatch definitely brings trout to the top. In fly fishing, the ultimate moment happens when a trout puts aside all caution and happily inhales a floating imitation of an insect. The take is king. Simple as that.

But, of the two flies that faced off in the finals, I prefer the Adams as more frequent choice of patterns, particularly where I fish here in the mountains of eastern Idaho. Mayfly hatches start early and end late here in the Snake River country, and the Adams is a mayfly pattern looking for a trout every time it’s tied to my tippet.

The caddis? I always have a few in my fly box, particularly for backcountry caddis hatches where most of the trout in the stream are looking up. On bigger water, though, I’ve learned that the Elk-hair Caddis that imitates a mature insect is a bug that, more often than not, fools the smaller fish that are willing to expend the energy for a “maybe” meal—caddis dance and flitter and often hover just above the water, making the gamble to chase one anything but a sure thing.

If I’m going to fish a caddis pattern, chances are, it’s going to be an emerger or a “cripple.” These flies represent more guaranteed meals, and bigger trout will expend the effort to after them. It makes sense. If the bug can’t get away, the effort to chase it down will be worth it.

But the results don’t lie. Folks dig the old Elk-hair Caddis.

Long live the king.