Pattern Description: Chuck Stranahan came up with his Caddis Variant (CV) pattern way back in the sixties. He developed the fly for steelhead in the Sacramento River in California. I wonder if he knows how well this pattern has performed all the way out here in Colorado?
Roaring Fork Valley guide, Dustin Harcourt, introduced me to this great pattern several years ago. A good friend and I had booked a day through Roaring Fork Anglers for a float trip down the Roaring Fork and Colorado. Drew Reid, the manager of RFA, also happens to be an old friend and he set us up with Dustin. As it turned out, Dustin went to high school with my wife, hung out with my high school girlfriends cousins and we both knew many of the same folks. We hit it off immediately. I have since been on several floats with Dustin and can confidently say he may be one of the very best float guides in the Valley. But I digress&
Drew had warned me that the CV was Dustins favorite fly, so I had tied up my idea of the pattern from the description that Drew provided. My version was much more like a common Fluttering Caddis, adhering to standard fly proportions and silhouettes.
Once we started the float, Dustin attached a CV to my buddies tippet and he proceeded to start ripping fish. Im not the smartest guy in the world but it didnt take me long to make the switch myself. The only problem was that my version didnt work. Not, didnt work as well, it didnt work at all. I snatched Dustins fly box and peeked at the CVs in it. They were much different than the pattern I had tied. The bodies were shorter and stouter, the wings were much more sparse and the hackle was tremendously oversized. To top all this off, it was tied on a strange new hook that I had never seen before. I swallowed my pride and begged a few from Dustin (as a, often broken, rule, I DO NOT use flies I havent tied myself). The new fly proceeded to pull fish up consistently. I had even fished it on a dropper behind an Elk Hair Caddis and got exactly zero hits on the Elk Hair while the CV was constantly under attack. Like I said, Im not the sharpest, but the Caddis Variant quickly became a favorite pattern that day. This is truly one of those flies that simply have something different.
I have analyzed this pattern for several years and think I may finally have come up with an answer as to why this fly works so well. The profile presented by this fly is almost an exact match for a real caddis. The natural has the same type of short, stubby body, its wings are, generally, tightly folded over the back of the body and the gangly legs are in constant motion. The triggers this pattern provides make it a sure thing on many waters. I think we have all been snowballed by popular patterns like the Elk Hair Caddis. Not that the Elk Hair isnt an outstanding pattern, but there are times, especially these days on more pressured water, where a slightly more realistic pattern really makes a difference. The most common angler perception of a caddis is that of a wide, moth-like critter that bounces up and down on the water. In reality, a caddis fly, when viewed from the bottom (the fishes view), has a much shorter body than the wing and a dramatically thinner wing silhouette than is commonly perceived. The oversized variant hackle of the CV sets the front of the pattern up on the surface forcing the deer hair wing tips down to create a streaking impression on the surface of the water as the pattern is twitched and skated. Mike Lawsons fantastic new book, Spring Creeks, has an outstanding bottom view photo of a natural caddis that really reinforces this idea.
I use this pattern as an example of a fresh look at an old perception. Keep this in mind as you design and tie some of your own stuff.
The CV does present a few tying challenges.
The stacked, hi-viz wing creates a lot of bulk on the front of the hook creating a tapered base for the hackle. Conventionally wrapping hackle over this tapered base leads to the wraps falling forward down the base. I present an alternative method here that will alleviate this problem and create a secure tie down and wrap area. Pay close attention to the thread positioning prior to wrapping the hackles.
The body is formed from a twisted antron rope, unlike many conventional patterns. The rope creates a robust, segmented body that is more in proportion to the naturals wing length than most traditional patterns.
Be absolutely certain to tie some Caddis Variants up for your box. This is one pattern I dont go fishing without!