Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

No, I don’t think he was a fly fisherman…and honestly that was a bait-and-switch article title because this is the Spotlight Caddis Emerger pattern. It’s a terrific pattern, and incredibly productive. It’s thought to appeal to trout in great part because of its meaty-looking abdomen, which hangs down below the water surface, visually enhanced by the delicate tuft of emerging wing material drying in the air above it. The fly is said by some to resemble an emerging caddis fly trapped somewhere between the water, the film, and the sky, in it’s struggle to break free and become the adult stage of the insect. The caddis larva/adult is in an extremely vulnerable state in these moments, and still fat and tasty, and trout have trouble passing it up.

Original Parachute Version
Original Parachute Version

The problem with the pattern, from my perspective, is that it takes me so incredibly long to tie it. That there’s a lot going on, with a lot of small tufts of different materials all coming together in a narrow space, is part of the problem, although I wouldn’t have a major issue with most of that if that was the end of it. But it’s the fact that it’s supposed to be a parachute tie that I can’t accept.

I don’t tie parachute dry flies very well…in truth I don’t tie them at all. The very few times I’ve tried have produced results that were…well, abysmal. Waste of materials. Trout would instantly evolve the ability to laugh, if they saw it. Smaller flies in particular suffer from my ineptness and lack of enthusiasm for the style.

And so for the Spotlight Caddis I’ve abandoned the parachute. And remembering an old drawing from my childhood of Sergeant Nick and his men leaping out of a plane at altitude and landing with a “whump!” on their feet on the ground below, and recalling the caption that said, “They don’t need parachutes, they’re TOUGH!”, I thought it might be fun to temporarily commemorate the good Sergeant in dispensing with a parachute for this fly. I used his name here for three reasons: To catch your attention with the article’s title, to state emphatically that the Spotlight Caddis don’t need no stinkin’ parachute, and to point out that my alternative tie of this fly is TOUGH!

You’ll find instructions for tying the normal parachute version of the Spotlight Caddis Emerger everywhere–videos abound. They must all be using #10 hooks, to get their parachutes that neat. My abridged version takes less time but I believe works as well on the stream, and looks great–more natural than the parachute version, if you ask me. Real bugs don’t have structural pillars rising out of their backs.

The materials list:
Hook: Emerger style, #12 to #18 (#16 is the smallest I usually tie).
Thread: 6/0 black is fine.
Underbody: Peacock-colored or pearl-colored tinsel…or my preference, since it winds more smoothly and shimmers more naturally: Olive UNI-Floss. The underbody is just there because it catches the light a little better than if you’d left it off, so whatever shimmers or shines works.
Ribbing Wire: Small amber (which I prefer), or copper.
Abdomen: Velvet micro-chenille, in one of numerous available shades of olive, or dull orange-ish brown (sometimes called “poopah-colored”), or regular brown, or tan, or black, depending on the species of caddis you wish to imitate.
Antennae: Two long barbs of a wood duck flank feather.
Emerging Wing: A small tuft of white NeerHair, or any “kinky” white Z-Lon-type synthetic; cream would work fine too.
(Legs: You could use a few fibers of grey comparadun hair…but I recommend you dispense with this feature entirely, as it gets lost in the hackle anyway)
Hackle: Grizzly-dyed-brown dry fly hackle

Steps you skip, as compared to tying the usual parachute version:
— You can skip the installation of a parachute post (and yet this version is just as visible). This gives you a lot more room to work with on these short-shank emerger hooks.

— You can skip the addition of a tuft of legs below (the dimension of the hackle-winding and its grizzly-brown color makes perfectly fine legs without adding the extra tuft).

— You can skip the addition of a dubbed collar to keep a tuft of legs standing out from the hook (not needed in the absence of the separate legs…and the hackle already gives the elusion of a fat body…and there’s just no room to add all that on a nice little #16).

— You can skip the horizontal parachute hackle (which didn’t represent a part of the real insect anyway).

My basic abridged procedure:
Tie in the wire and the floss or tinsel halfway down the bend. Make the underbody and tie it off up at about the thorax position on the hook.

Chenine Abdomen
Chenine Abdomen

Choose the body chenille color and prep its end with heat–bringing it near a lit match for a moment transforms it into something that looks much more like a bug’s butt (although I swear I haven’t spent my life peeping in bug windows). Cut the chenille to length and tie it in at thorax position, letting it remain long enough to droop a little past the hook bend.

Wind the ribbing wire over the chenille and up to the thorax area, to trap the abdomen chenille onto the top of the hook. Don’t squish the chenille with too-tight wire windings; space them to resemble ribs.

Tie in the antennae barbs, backward-swept on each flank, like is done in the parachute version.

Tie in a sparse clump of the NeerHair/Z-Lon emerging wing material. LEAVE THE TAG-END OF THE SPARSE BUNDLE LONG OUT PAST THE HOOK EYE, then fold it back and bind it down again. Use a few thread wraps to make the folded-back part stand up a little more vertical-ish than the emerging wing part.

Tie in the hackle and wind it around the hook like you would on a normal dry fly. Start with turns behind the upright “post” you made from some of the folded-back NeerHair/Z-Lon. That helps it stay vertical and visible.

Whip-finish, apply some nail polish, and you’re done! Trim the NeerHair/Z-Lon “post” down a little so it’s not so obvious from below. It provides you the visibility a true parachute post does, but is far easier to tie, and doesn’t give the strange non-caddis silhouette. Also trim the emerging wing material so it’s sparse and isn’t too awful long…differing theories exist on how long it should be, but strikes will mean the trout approve your estimate.

Finished Abridged Version
Finished Abridged Version

The result is a very buggy Spotlight Caddis Emerger that can be tied much more quickly (and more neatly, for me), and that is quite tough (no hackle to slip off the top of a calf hair post), and that still hangs its abdomen down below the film, like the original tying instructions intended. You can snip out a few underside hackle barbs if you’re afraid it won’t sit low enough, but I find it’s fine as-is. How you apply fly floatant can also affect how it rides; I focus more on the hackles that extend outward to the sides, and try to go light on the bottom-most hackle barbs and of course on the extended abdomen chenille.

The use of some of the emerging wing material for an “angler-visible post” (rather than a separate calf-hair or synthetic post) is this abridged version’s main simplifying change…which then sets up the fact that the hackle ties on in a leggier way, which in turn avoids at least three other steps. This version can be tied down to #18 by the still-of-hand; somebody might even be able to go smaller than that, although too small generally doesn’t match the natural.

And for an even more abridged set of steps (say, for example, the Sarge orders you to drop the bobbin, clean up your tying kit immediately, and “take the point”), just stop after the winding of the rib wire, add a couple of tiny dark sprigs of marabou under the head to resemble feet waving in the current, and you have a nice green caddis worm nymph that gets plenty of takes too.

Green Caddis Worm
Green Caddis Worm

Due to its savage effectiveness at any times of the season when caddis take flight, the Spotlight Caddis Emerger is quickly becoming a legendary top-water pattern. But I guess this abridged version is not truly worthy of the “Sergeant Nick Fury” name unless you also tie in that half-inch-long cigar butt clenched in teeth at the head. Let me know how that part goes….

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