Stream Tender Magazine

March 2018 Issue

The Tent Wing  Caddis Dry Fly

    Most fly fishers use the good old elk hair or deer hair caddis dry fly imitation. It usually works great and it is easy to tie. In fact, the hair wing caddis is so popular that it overshadows another great caddis dry fly pattern; the tent wing caddis. The best explanation that I can come up with for this, is the durability of the hair wing, in comparison to the more fragile feather tent wing patterns. Which is a good reason.

    However, there is an important role for the tent wing caddis in every fly fisher’s fly box. The tent wing imitates an adult caddis that has just hatched and it is drifting with the current, while it dries its wings enough to take flight. The feather tent wing silhouette is a great imitation of this stage of the hatch.

    I have found situations where a low profile tent wing dry fly, drifting amongst other naturals, was the only thing that would bring picky feeders to my hook. Other elk hair or deer hair caddis dry flies would not do the job, but the feathered tent wing would.

    The first pattern that I used was the Henryville Special, a great Pocono’s dry fly pattern that was first tied by Hiram Brobst of Pennsylvania and later named and made popular by Al Ziegler. The flies original name was the “No Name”. It has become legendary for fishing caddis dry fly hatches and considered a classic for many experienced hatch matchers.

    The other feathered tent wing that I first used was the “King’s River Caddis”. This is a simpler fly to tie, when compared to the Henryville Special and it is also very effective on a caddis hatch, for the mottled winged caddis flies. The pattern was first developed by Wayne “Buz” Buszek, of Visalia, California.

    There are a number of other great tent wing dry fly patterns that you can use and one that is on the list is the tent wing emerger caddis dry fly. Basically, it is like a King’s River Caddis with some long soft hackle added at the throat of the fly pattern. The long soft hackle imitates the long legs of the caddis nymph, as it emerges from the shuck.

    The emerger dry flies are usually lighter in color than the other adult patterns. The reason for this is that when the caddis first emerges, it immediately starts to darken as the wings and body dries. So the emerger wings as often light in color.

    By far, the most common tent wing imitation for caddis dry fly is the Henryville Special. I have heard this fly pattern being discussed by other experienced fly fishers over many years. It is a little more difficult to tie, but it is very worth the effort. The most common hook sizes for this pattern are size 14 and 16 dry fly hooks in a 1X long.

    One drawback about fishing the tent wing dry flies is that they ride low in the water and they can be very difficult to see, especially in the low light evening hours of spring caddis fly hatches. The best thing to do is try and keep your casts fairly short in distance. Also, a shorter leader will help in determining where your dry fly pattern is drifting on the surface, out from you.

    There are great videos of how to tie tent wings, on the internet. The only thing that I can add is that I like to coat my wing feathers with a water based polyurethane after the pattern is tied. This will help keep your feather wings in form. It is a great pattern to tie and try. Good quality wing quill feathers are a must for this pattern.

Henryville Special

King’s River Caddis

Tent Wing Emerger

Above: This is what a feather tent wing caddis dry fly looks like from the top. This particular fly pattern is the Henryville Special, a very old classic caddis dry fly imitation.

     Tying Smaller Tent Wing Caddis Dry Flies

Above: Light color emergers tent wing dry flies are best suited to imitate a newly emerging caddis adult, before it darkens in color, as the wings and body dry.

    The vast majority of spring caddis dry fly hatches on the Bow River are small in size. I have found that a simple dry fly tent wing pattern is best to use for the smaller size of hooks required. I tie a simple tent wing, with a polypropylene under-wing to do the job.

    The poly under-wing helps keep the fly afloat. I only need to apply a small bit of floatant to the hackle and body of the fly to ready it for the water. Poly is less dense than water, so it floats good, without a coating of floatant.

    The smaller caddis hatches of the Bow River, in the early spring, was what first prompted me to start using a feathered tent wing for a dry fly imitation. Sometimes, the trout would not touch my elk or deer hair caddis patterns with the same interest as they would for the feathered tent wing patterns.

    The trout would only take the sleek shape of the tent wing as the adult caddis drifted slowly over flat clear runs and tail-outs. The Bow River is notorious for picky feeders, especially on small flies.

Right photo:

    The small size 18 and 20 caddis dry flies are tied with a simple feathered tent wing design. The under-wing of polypropylene is vital to help keep the fly floating at the right level in the surface film.

    Good quality wing quill feathers are very important for tying this pattern successfully. Add a little cement to the wing ends.

Right photo:

    Light brown or tan caddis dry flies are common on the water, so be sure to have some imitations on hand. I use a hydrogen peroxide solution to lighten Canada Goose quill feathers for this pattern. You can also use other wing quill for the right color choice. I like the durability of the goose for a sturdy wing material.

Right photo:

    For the mottled wing color on this tent wing pattern, I used turkey quill feather. You can obtain turkey quill feather at any fly shop. It is a very common fly tying material.

    I use a water based cement or polyurethane for coating this wing material. It is not as sturdy as duck or goose quill, so it needs some re-enforcement.

Woody Cover Habitat  -  Both Above and Below

    For many visitors to trout streams, they may not know the importance of woody structure, both above and below the surface of the stream. As an avid fly fisher, I realized a long time ago how important wood is to a resident trout population. Both for food and for cover, trees, willows and root systems are a key part of a healthy trout stream habitat.

    While fly fishing the free stone trout streams to the west of my home town, I would always thoroughly fish any type of woody debris or cover habitats when I came upon them. It was almost always a sure thing to find trout utilizing the cover of a downed tree across or along the stream channel, or a snag of woody debris caught up in the submerged boulders in a stream.

    Too me, there is a simple explanation for a trout’s attraction to any type of submerged wood or any woody cover just above the water’s surface; food. Aquatic invertebrates also utilize any submerged wood in a stream. So if trout can find a habitat that not only provides a place to hide, but also a place to dine, they will make this habitat their home.

    If there is a healthy riparian habitat along the stream channel, with a good cover of willows and trees, some of that wood will eventually end up in the creek. So for a fish habitat technologist, the simple solution for providing a healthy habitat for trout is to make sure that there is a good cover of riparian growth along the stream.

    This type of fish habitat enhancement has been taking place, in a large scale, on a number of area streams for the past four years. The program is the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” and the primary focus is too replenish the riparian zone with native willows and trees.

    It will take just a few years for the new plants to start to provide overhead cover on the streams and in time, some of them will also end up in the stream channel. As the willows drupe down into the water along the stream bank, this will help to constrict the flow in the channel as well. Flow constriction helps to speed up the velocity of the flow and clean out years of silt that has accumulated on the bottom.

Above: The tree roots of balsam poplar and aspen create good stream bank stability and they also provide excellent trout habitat, where they grow along the edge of the stream channel. For an experienced fly fisher, just seeing a habitat like the one featured in this photo, makes one confident that there are trout holding just below or along the submerged tree roots.

Above: You can see a brown trout’s back in this photo. The trout is holding just under a few submerged logs. Trout love log jams for a safe habitat to live in.

Below: This timber bundle deflector and cover habitat was constructed on Policeman Creek in Canmore in the late 1990’s by Bow Valley Habitat Development. The photo was taken four year’s after construction was completed. There were a series of these built.

Constructed Fish Habitats Using Timber

Planting Overhead Cover

    Starting from above the water’s surface on a stream channel, planting native willows and trees will eventually provide good overhead cover for trout. Some branches will submerge to provide in channel fish and invertebrate habitat. The secret to success is too plant the plants horizontally along the stream bank, so that they grow out and over the surface of the stream. Native willow cuttings that have been grown until both root and top development has occurred, is the best approach to accomplish this.

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