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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Waker Of The Month: March 2017 - McMillan's Steelhead Caddis

Bill McMillan's Steelhead Caddis.  Tied by Todd Hirano  (tying this fly a bit sparser than what I have pictured here wouldn't hurt)

In the book Dry Line Steelhead, Bill McMillan spoke of taking steelhead consistently on Muddlers in the early seventies.  By the mid seventies, Bill decided to try tying a sparse muddler like fly to imitate October caddis and his Steelhead Caddis was the result.  Bill described that the Steelhead Caddis was the fly that gave him confidence to fish surface flies anytime during the year, even during winter.  He found that he was able to raise winter steelhead to the surface with the Steelhead caddis and that anytime water temps reached 44 degrees, that surface methods were well worth a fair trial.  Bill also found that anytime water temps were 48 degress or above, that surface methods took more steelhead than any other methods.   The Steelhead Caddis was the primany stimulus for Bill's broadened confidence in fishing for steelhead on the surface.

I began tying and fishing the Steelhead Caddis in the early nineties after being fully immersed in my readings of Dry Line Steelhead.  I loved the functional simplicity of the pattern that even an amateur tyer like myself could pull off.  A simple dubbed body, tented turkey wing, and sparse deer hair collar was all it took to tie this effective fly.  Before I knew it, I had a box full of the famous pattern tied up.

I was amazed how a riffle hitch placed behind the head of the fly kept the sparse pattern on top in just about any surface current from smooth tailouts to white water pockets.   My first success with the pattern came in a small summer stream where I discovered steelhead holding in a pocket in the midst of a stretch of rapids between pools.  I recalled the method Bill McMillan described of simply hanging the pattern on a short line in white water pockets.  I raised a couple steelhead in that bathtub sized pocket, but my opportunity was thwarted when some kids came blasting through in inner tubes.  I later found another steelhead in the very head of a small pool that required the same technique of simply hanging the fly in a confined lie.  A steelhead lunged at the fly and missed, came back again, took the fly solidly and took off down stream, fully testing the 9'4wt rod I was using before coming to the bank.

The Steelhead Caddis has also proven itself in larger traditional runs and it has also worked well  in getting steelhead "on the comeback", when my gaudy foam patterns have brought steelhead to the top and failed to bring on a return appearance.

The drab pattern also produced a memorable experience on the lower Deschutes when I was fishing a tailout in bright sun during a late afternoon in August   I was fishing a short line with the fly swinging in front of some boulders as I was "killing time", waiting for the sun to set behind the canyon wall.  As I gazed at the Steelhead Caddis's seductive wake coming across the calm tailout, a broad shouldered form suddenly appeared and in an instant, my fly disappeared and line was ripping off my reel at an alarming rate.  As the fish turned with my fly I was able to glimpse the form of what appeared to be a large hen steelhead in the 35 inch range.  This steelhead continued downstream and was simply untoppable!  Next thing I knew, I noticed that I was on the last couple layers of backing before hitting the arbor knot and just at that moment, I felf my line go slack.  I reeled as quickly as I could, hoping the steelhead turned back towards me, but I came to realize that she took my fly with her.  The curl at the end of my 8lb Maxima Ultragreen tippet told the story of a powerful creature (likely with Idaho origins) that I would never forget.

When I first started fishing this fly regularly, I worried about the aesthetic issues of ruining the fly when a steelhead was hooked with the riffle hitch damaging the clipped head.  I have found it to be true that a hooked steelhead will typically mangle the head on the pattern.  However, I found it is a very simple to "repair" the fly by simply untying the collar/head of the fly and then retying a fresh one back on and the fly is good as new.

I haven't fished this pattern as often in recent years, since my development of the Little Wang, but after writing these random thoughts and reflections on this wonderful  fly, I'm jazzed to tie a few and put them to work again!