Monday, November 25, 2013

The Hackle Stacker Caddis

At the World Fly Fishing Championships in Norway this year the few fish there were to be caught showed a particular interest in dry flies. For example, the brown below rose near my teammate Lance Egan and I during a particularly tough practice session for our team. I made a cast that went a bit long and the fish moved 3-4 feet out of his lane to inhale a parachute Adams. 
There were as many caddis around as there were mayflies so I sat down at the vise that night and played with some patterns. One of my favorite Baetis patterns for the last several years has been the hackle stacker. I've had a lot of success with it on pressured fish that have refused other patterns. I also like the fact that it is easier to keep floating than the go to CDC patterns that are often used in similar situations. In Norway, I wanted a caddis with similar qualities that would float well but also fool fish in flat water with a low riding profile. Sticking a hackle stacker on the front of a caddis seemed to be an obvious design to try. I fished the hackle stacker caddis in my second session on the Vefsna River. Luckily I had one of the few beats that held good numbers of fish. For the first 45 minutes or so of my session I fished my new creation with good success starting with a brown on my first cast. I fished up the bank and caught 6 browns and grayling of my 16 to win the session with the new fly. 

When I returned home I was anxious to try the new fly on some Colorado fish. The Poudre River trout near my home also have a particular liking for dry flies. I tied some hackle stacker caddis in sizes 12-10 to fish as attractors that would be able to suspend a nymph. Happily, I found it could hold nymphs up to a size 14 with a 3mm bead fairly easily and in smooth pools it was able to hold up a double dropper rig with a size 14 and a 16 nymph. The hackle in the front provides floatation when the fly is tipped head downward, which happens when fishing the dry on a tag as mandated by the rules in competition. Even more happily, I found that I caught at least half of my fish on the dry instead of the nymph while using it. The fly has since found similar success on many of the other rivers in Colorado and was important during my America Cup win this year.

More recently, after reading a book I'll talk about in a future post, I decided to try the caddis in a "Purple Haze" configuration. I fished it for the first time with Jeremy Sides and Joe Schwonke back on the Poudre. The morning started out with 38 degree water, not exactly prime dry fly temps, and yet the first eat I had came on the new purple configuration. The water stayed cold enough (low 40's) the rest of the day that I normally wouldn't expect fish to come to dries, especially an attractor dry.  However, on one illustrative bank I caught 10 fish on a slow edge below a boulder. I could see most of them on light colored silt and I had the pleasure of watching 7 of the 10 rise to eat the caddis. Even this last week I had a few half hearted rises to it despite the river being 34 degrees. 

Without further ado here is the recipe and instructions. Hopefully, you'll find it as useful on your local water as I have on mine.

Purple Haze Hackle Stacker Caddis:
Hook: 8-16 dry. The hook in the instructions is the Fulling Mill grab gape.
Thread: 8/0 uni. I prefer not to use UTC for this fly because it is slick and the elk hair spins on it.
Tail: Fl. shell pink antron yarn
Dubbing: purple ice dub
Wing: Elk hair
Overwing: Pink poly yarn
Hackle stacker core: 6x monofilament
Hackle: grizzly dry fly saddle

To begin, attach the thread and tie down the antron yarn tail.

Dub the abdomen and lay a thick layer of thread on the thorax as a base for the wing which will help keep it on top of the hook and avoid spinning.

Tie on the elk hair

Add the pink yarn over the top for visibility and added floatation.

Tie in a loop of 6x facing forward

Pull it back and tie it in again. This will lock it in and keep it from slipping out when you begin wrapping the hackle. I know from experience this is a frustrating occurrence.

Tie in the hackle on the far side of the hook.

Dub the thorax

Wrap the hackle in tight touching turns upward while holding up the thread with your right index finger. Make sure the length of wrapped hackle is no longer than the thorax but long enough to cover it.

Wrap the hackle back down in about half as many turns. End with it facing away from you.

Tie down the loop in front of the thorax with just a couple of turns.

Pull the loop tight, pull it back, and tie it down with a few more tight turns. This also anchors the hackle in place without having to tie it off.

Whip finish, clip off the loop and hackle and you're done.


  1. That is a new twist on the Hackle Stacker. It is one of my favorite dry patterns. Does a good job imitating a cripple dry

  2. Very cool fly...great step by step pictures Devin...thanks for sharing