How to Tie A.K. Best’s Spent Caddis
This is A.K. Best’s Spent Caddis, tied here with a Hans Weilenmann hackle wrapping technique. Spent caddis are an often overlooked phase of the hatch but are extremely important, especially toward dark.
For a hook I’m going to use a Fulling Mill 5050 barbless Ultimate Dry in size 16, with a black nickel finish. After getting the hook firmly secured in the jaws of my tying vise, I load a bobbin with a spool of tan UTC 70 Denier.
Get the thread started on the hook shank leaving some space behind the eye and take a few wraps rearward before snipping off the tag. End with your tying thread hanging at about the hook point.
The dubbing for the body of the fly is really up to you in terms of color and type, here, I’m using tan beaver. The body’s going to be fairly slim so you don’t need much. Use the dubbing to build up a slender 2” long noodle on your tying thread that lightly tapers from thicker at the top to thinner at the bottom. Start taking wraps with the noodle so the dubbing begins right at the start of the hook bend. Make touching wraps forward to build up a body that’s a little bulkier in the hind end and tapers down to almost nothing at the hook eye. End with your tying thread about 1/3 of the way down the hook shank from the eye.
Mr. Best originally used a hen mallard breast feather for the spent wing, but here I’m going to use this beautifully bleached Hungarian partridge. The feathers have fantastic markings and to me are just right for imitating a kind of generic tan caddis. With a single feather pulled from the skin, strip off all the lower fuzzy, uneven fibers from both sides of the stem. Ideally you should have an even number of fibers on either side and fairly even tips. Lay the feather against the near side of the hook and take thread wraps over the first few lower fibers. After 2 or 3 wraps, pull forward on the feather’s stem while keeping it on top of the hook shank. The fibers should fold down either side of the hook, kind of tent-like. Keep pulling on the stem until the tips of the fibers extend about a half a hook gap beyond the back edge of the hook bend. With the wing looking good, lift the butt end of the feather up slightly and snip it off at a shallow angle. This will allow you to take thread wraps and create a nice smooth ramp down to the hook shank. As you can see, the wing kind of covers and half-encircles the dubbed body of the fly.
In the past I’ve had trouble with the wing pulling out from under the thread wraps, during use. So whenever I’m tying this pattern, I place just the smallest drop of super glue, here, Fly Tyer’s Z-ment on the thread wraps. Then I wrap my thread through it to make absolutely sure the wing fibers can’t pull free. I would highly recommend you do the same.
For hackle, I’m using a feather in a color I’m not going to even try to describe, just to say it looks super buggy. As always, I’ll measure the feather’s fibers first to make sure they’re the correct length, here size 16, before plucking it free from the skin. With the dull or back side of the feather facing you, pull down and strip off all the lower fuzzy webby fibers. Then strip a half dozen more from just the top of the stem. Now, flip the feather around so the shiny side’s facing you and lay the stem against the near side of the hook so the fibers start right in front of the hook eye. Take wraps of tying thread to firmly anchor the stem to the shank then lift the excess stem up and snip it off close. Make sure your tying thread is positioned all the way back at the base of the wing, prior to wrapping the hackle.
Pick up your favorite set of hackle pliers and use them to get hold of the feather’s tip. Push the stem back to kind of crease it a little bit then start taking touching wraps with the feather rearward toward your tying thread. When you reach your thread, use it to anchor the tip of the feather then use the tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess off close. Spin your bobbin clockwise to cord up the thread then take wraps through the hackle, effectively counter wrapping the delicate stem. This is the way Mr. Weilenmann does it, and I like his technique very much. When you reach the hook eye, preen the hackle fibers rearward, out of the way, and take a few wraps to clean up the head area. You can then reach for your whip finish tool and use it to do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish, seat the knot well and snip or cut your tying thread free.
The fly can be fished just like this but I like to trim the bottom hackle fibers so it will lie flat in the surface film. This pattern is a little hard to see on the water, particularly toward dark but oh my goodness, does it ever work.