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CDC and Elk (caddis pattern)

It was inevitable that I would eventually write this post. This feels a bit like my preaching the CDC and Elk gospel but there are some that have not heard or read the gospel and they need to. If you fish for trout, you need to try this pattern. If you fish for spring creek trout and are not using this pattern, well, I don't know what to tell you. We all have those flies that we have supreme confidence in. For me, it is the CDC and Elk. The CDC and Elk is quite simply the most effective dry fly that I have ever fished. I do not think I would not be exaggerating to say that from about the first or second week in April when the first caddis start hatching in earnest until about July, I have this fly on at least 50% of the time. It is what I put on when caddis are hatching, it was what I put on when caddis are not hatching. I have used to to imitate mayflies as well.

It is (almost) everything you want in a pattern. It is quick and simple to tie. It features relatively inexpensive and readily available materials - particularly if you are a duck hunter or know a waterfowler or two. It is great dead drifted but it also works well as a skated fly. If there is a downfall, it is that the CDC can get "slimed" by fish and not float as well. Cleaning it with a shirt sleeve will work for a while. I extend the life of the fly with a dip or dusting with some silica. And they are so quick and easy to tie, if you have to retire one, it is not a big deal as the next one you tie on will have taken you two to four minutes to tie it.

Hans Weilenman developed the pattern as a low floating caddis imitation, a fly to catch fish that turned their noses up as the higher floating Elk Hair Caddis. Instead of me telling you about how to tie the fly and what not, I'll let Hans Weilenmann do that in video (below) and in a step by step write up (link).

Hans Weilenmann is the first to give Al Troth's Elk hair caddis credit for the idea behind his CDC and Elk. It is basically a lower floating - in the film - fly. But what I really like about it is that while it rides lower, it still skates effectively. If you are not moving your caddis, well, you need to start moving them.

The Pattern:

Hook: Tiemco 102Y #11 - #17 (or equivalent dry fly hook)

Thread: Brown 6/0

Wing/head: Fine tipped deer hair

Hans does a much better job than I can in describing what to look for in materials. The selection of CDC feathers is pretty important to tying a proper CDC and Elk. I go into a bit of detail in the harvest your own post on ducks and geese but size matters. Much of the readily available CDC on the market is not the CDC you want for Hans' CDC and Elk because it is too large and for different purposes - like using the super-cool Swiss CDC Multi-clamp. The best commercial stuff I've found is the wild Mallard CDC from Performance Flies in Pennsylvania. Yes, it is costly but $20 buys you A LOT of CDC and the stuff is nearly all usable for trout sized flies. The wild stuff is as good or better - particularly from teal and wood ducks - but for the CDC and Elk, this is next best source. One other important thing in Hans' video is how he ties off the wing. You do not have to do it his way but I nearly guarantee you that if you try it, you will end up doing all your down wings in this fashion. It makes for a nicely shaped wing and head and holds the hair better than the standard whip finishing over the deer / elk hair does.

While there is no science behind this, my thoughts are that it works so well because it floats low, because the CDC fibers move so easily in the water, and because it can be drifted or skated. And as much as anything, I have supreme confidence in the pattern which I think is a bit part of fishing success.

In addition to the standard CDC and Elk, Hans developed a number of other variations - everything from cripples to streamers and bonefish flies. Here are a few links to some particularly effective spring creek patterns.

You probably came for the pattern but with that out of the way, I'd like to tell a story or two about Hans and the CDC and Elk.

Hans Weilenmann on a Driftless Spring Creek
Hans Weilenmann fishing a Driftless trout stream during his 1997 visit.

Bob Blumreich Photo:

It is 1997, a time a long, long time ago. I was about to move out of Wisconsin for what turned out to be nine years - though I had no clue at the time it would be that long. Before packing up for West (By God) Virginia, we had a week of "HansClave" scheduled. Hans was in Michigan tying at the Federation of Fly Fishers (today's Fly Fishers International) where Bob Blumreich was also tying and attending. Having been Creepy Little Internet Friends (CLIFs) for years, Hans rode back to Wisconsin with Bob and we spent a week's stay on the West Fork of the Kickapoo in Avalanche. Over the week, we were joined by others but mostly, Bob, Hans, and I fished, tied flies, and had a great time. The big highlight of the week was HansClave where a number of us from the Wisconsin Fly Fishing Message Board gathered for the weekend.

I'd love some photos from those that were part of HansClave in 1997!

It is a pattern that has been a favorite of mine for about 30 years and let's hope I get another 30 or so years of fishing the pattern. I have used it on spring creeks and tailwaters. On big western freestoners and on Appalachian trout streams. On streams and on ponds. I've caught more fish on this pattern than any other. Friends joke that I don't carry anything else. That's not true - I carry all sorts of different flies - they just don't get tied on nearly as often as the CDC and Elk does. When it is working, why not stick with it?


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Brian Larson
Brian Larson
Apr 21, 2022

I adapted a fly that one author really liked out east for pond brook trout. I call it the "blond in a red dress". red CDC with bleached elk hair.

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