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The composite caddis held between fingers

 

It took a while for the penny to drop but, when it did, it turned out to be a Kruger Rand.

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Stephen Boshoff, developer of the ‘light bulb’ concept

In May last year split cane master builder and dear friend Stephen Boshoff of Cape Town sent me a photo of what he called the “Light Bulb Ant’, a palmered CDC fly flecked with tiny drops of UV resin.

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Stephen Boshoff’s’ ‘Light Bulb Ant’ – a concept that has many applications.

He explained that these drops would both catch and reflect light and also cause the CDC barbules to move up and down with the impetus created by the weighted tips responding to the current movement.

I saw it immediately as a means of creating a pendulum movement in hopper imitation legs.

I have, however, for the past two years been working on a way to make Al Troth’s Elk Hair Caddis more buoyant and easier to follow in the drift. This was because, in his definitive book ‘Trout from Small, Streams’, the author, Dave Hughes, found that a #16 Elk Hair Caddis was his most successful searching dry fly.

I called the result the Composite Caddis because it combines features and materials from a number of contemporary adult caddis imitations.

The front of the fly is based on the foam rubber head of Roman Moser’s Balloon Caddis. Moser used yellow foam rubber, presumably to make it more visible at dusk when caddis emerge and then return to the water to lay their eggs.

I chose orange Larva Lace foam rubber instead because I wanted it to be a daylight fly and trout and yellowfish seem to be very susceptible to flies using orange materials.

The caddis adults that I had seen on the Sterkspruit River in Barkly East at twilight had bright green egg sacs and so I used a section of a small chartreuse Wapsi foam rubber parachute post to mimic this feature. It adds a little floatation at the heaviest part of the part of the hook and fluoresces strongly under UV light.

For the body I chose Semperfli Kapok dubbing which has quickly earned itself a reputation as a material which adds buoyancy to dry flies. It has the added advantage over synthetic dubbing material in that it soaks up and retains floatants such as Watershed, Loon Fly Dip and others.

Using a CDC feather below a deer hair wing has become a norm on contemporary caddis dries and I reasoned that the greater opacity from below thus created, would enable the use of highly reflective materials such as orange micro Krystal Flash and Hends Holographic Hair on top of the deer hair wing to improve visibility.

I sent the Composite Caddis, along with other patterns, to Rhodes residents, Rudi Hiestermann and Heather Ralph - @fishnwine – both highly-experienced fly anglers, and they found the Composite Caddis to be the most successful of the group of experimental patterns I had posted to them.

I then ordered 50 Composite Caddis from Stellenbosch University Student Caleb Willmot who ties professionally under the Instagram hashtag @wild-mut-flies. Along with his business card they were included in the goody bags of the participants in the 2023 Dirt Road Outfitters/Wild Trout Association Festival held during March in Rhodes.

Within two days, the first emailed orders were received:

Dick Plaistowe: “Hi Caleb, a report back on the performance of your Caddis that was given to us at the WTA Festival for which many thanks - 21 fish in just over an hour until I lost it. First fish first cast, the next on the third cast - very nice fly with plenty of triggers. A big improvement on my Elk Hair Caddis that I tie and often fish with. I tie it with a fluorescent orange post so I can see it, but I will build in your extras 👍👍Your fly is visible, but I’d prefer a slightly larger orange head when fishing longer casts, - the red flash is amazingly visible.

Ritchie Morris: "Used your fly today at the Rhodes Dirt Road Festival on the Tenahead beat. I must have caught at least twelve fish on the fly.”

One of the guides at the festival, professional fly tyer @jankorrubel_anglerfish, provided similar feedback but felt it would be more effective as a size 14 rather than a size 16 fly.

The Composite Caddis proved equally successful during the festival for Rudi and Heather when they fished the Loch Ness dam near the Tiffendell ski resort on Ben Macdhui Mountain. At 3000 metres this is the highest trout dam in the country, and it is self-stocking as trout breed in the inlet streams.

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Loch Ness Dam near Tiffendell Ski Lodge where the Composite Caddis proved as successful as it had on the streams in Rhodes and Barkly East.

They, like Jan Korrubel, also felt that it would be more successful if tied as a size 14, probably because it would be more visible and less attractive to very small trout.

Herewith the step by step tying procedure:

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  • Tie the tip of a chartreuse Wapsi foam rubber parachute to the bend of the hook to imitate the egg sac of the gravid female caddis.

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  • Cover the hook shank with Semperfli Kapok dubbing leaving a gap behind the hook eye for the wing tie-in point.

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  • Tie in a strip of orange Larva Lace foam rubber jutting forward over the eye.

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  • Tie in a CDC feather covered with deer hair to create the wing.

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  • Lay pieces each of orange Micro Crystal Flash and Hends Holographic Fibre on top of the wing to act as sighters and cover the area beneath it with orange Kapok dubbing.

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  • Complete the fly by folding the foam rubber strip back to the wing tie-in point and whip finish.

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  • The top view. The combination of the orange foam rubber head and krystal flash and holographic tinsel makes the fly easy to follow in pocket water.

I incorporated orange dubbing in the body after I sent Heather Ralph some orange McFlyLon yarn and suggested that, covered with floatant, this lighter than water material would make a good strike indicator. She then experienced a trout rise to this strike indicator on three successive casts and, reflecting on how often this had happened to me on Cape streams, I decided to incorporate some orange Semperfli kapok dubbing in the Composite Caddis.

It also occurred to me that ‘the Light Bulb’ technique could be used to imitate the one element that is missing in traditional caddis imitations such as the Elk Hair Caddis and Hans Weilenmann’s CDC and Elk – the antennae.

In most caddis species they are as long as the body but, despite this, they are routinely ignored by fly dressers.

I had been experimenting with light bulb legs on hopper patterns but found that on the mottled and translucent latex Sili legs, the UV blobs peeled off. Furthermore, the resin would not cure fully and remained sticky which meant the legs stuck together during casting. Professional fly tyer Alan Hobson of ‘Wild Fly Fishing in the Karoo’ in Somerset East told me that the UV resin would only adhere to rubber legs.

Stephen Boshoff, however, told me that one of the least expensive resins, Loon Knot Sense’ adhered without problems to the cheapest rubber thread on the market, Bait Cotton.

This opened the possibility for delicate and highly-mobile antennae on the Composite Caddis.

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Marcel Terblanche adding latex antennae to the Composite Caddis.

I asked Marcel Terblanche, who lives in Storms River and occasionally fishes a small brown trout stream in the Knysna forest to test the idea and he confirmed that the combination worked well, particularly if a tiny dot of the Loon resin was placed in the centre of the V where the antennae were tied in and then cured with a UV light, thus separating the antennae strands and holding them apart.

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  • The Composite Caddis fitted with Stephen Boshoff’s ‘Light Bulb’ antennae.

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The weighted ends of the fine rubber antennae will create a pendulum movement in the water and the resin will reflect light creating a further trigger point.

I regard the ‘light bulb leg’ idea as a significant addition to our fly-tying techniques which will add movement to legs on nymphs, hoppers and beetles among other applications.

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A rainbow trout, one of many, deceived by the Composite Caddis during the 2023 WTA festival in Rhodes.

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