To me, caddis hatches represent the epitome of summertime fishing. They start hatching in April and, in one species or another, continue well through fall. I have many great memories of late-evening caddis hatches on Western rivers, enjoying slashing rises and aggressive feeding. I also have nightmares about the few especially particular trout I’ve found in the slick tailouts and smooth edges of my favorite rivers. While the majority of the trout during a true caddis hatch are veritable suckers for a bushy, high floater like an Elk-hair Caddis or Goddard Caddis, there are outliers that decide to change the game and reject these patterns. They are the ones that have always kept me up at night.
Enter Alec Gerbec, born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and transplanted to Colorado for his college years. Gerbec immediately fell in love with the trout-fishing opportunities in the Centennial State and started guiding once he learned his way around the numerous rivers in the area. Trout fishing took him across the country, fishing all the famous waters and even more that you’ve never heard of. At some point, he decided it would be a good idea to get a captain’s license. That landed him a job guiding for Enchanted Lake Lodge in Alaska, and later guiding halfway around the world in the Seychelles. Trout bums have a way of getting around, and it didn’t work out too badly for this kid from Illinois. He has fished everywhere.
While fishing the upper Sacramento River, he also encountered caddis-eating trout that shunned his usual offerings, but instead of throwing rocks at those fish and moving on to the easier ones, Gerbec went to his tying bench and started tinkering. He credits the base of his pattern to the Hemingway Caddis, albeit with a few significant changes to better represent the real thing, especially on slow-moving, glassy water where the fish can really eyeball your bug.
Gerbec started off with a curved-shank hook, favoring the Tiemco 2487 or the new Umpqua XC300 in sizes 10 to 18. He specifically told me to use “my favorite thread,” so I opted here for Veevus 14/0, though almost any small thread would work. Gerbec uses the tag end of the thread to rib the Superfine Dubbing body, and adds a CDC underwing to enhance the silhouette and improve the floatation of the finished fly.
It was when he got to the overwing that Gerbec took a hard turn. Rather than the typical duck quill or cut feather wing, he pulled the sometimes intimidating Wally wing technique out of his dusty bag of tricks, and has done a wonderful job of using a formerly archaic parlor trick to create very practical and realistic pattern.
I have to admit, while Gerbec and I are good friends, I have always teased him about this fly, calling it Gerbec’s McGinty in an ode to another pattern of yesteryear, but in the same breath, I must also admit that I had never tied one until we started to work on this article. I’m not too brash to admit that this fly, and the Wally wing in particular, are not easy to master and will test your skills and attention to detail. The technique was always a bit of a mystery to me, and through Gerbec’s extreme patience and teaching ability, he taught this old dog a few new tricks on something I had always overlooked.
The first and most important trick is to soak the mallard flank feathers after prepping them. I would never have thought of this myself, but I also didn’t really understand the technique. Soaking softens the center quill and makes the “peeling” process in the building of the wing go much more smoothly and consistently. I can say from experience that many of you will attempt to skip the soaking process, but I caution you not to. It takes a bit of practice to first understand the nuances of the Wally wing, and even a bit more to start to pull them off consistently, but once you get the hang of it, they are kind of addictive.
Gerbec’s Resting Caddis sits low on the water due to the curved hook/abdomen and trimmed hackle collar. The CDC underwing exudes life and presents a near-perfect match for the shape of a natural’s wings in mid-flutter. The inherent speckling and vast color variations of dyed and natural mallard flank make it easy to adapt this pattern to caddis of all colors and sizes. Tie up a couple dozen, as it’ll likely take you half that many to get it just right, but once you do, you’ll just want to keep tying them because they’re so fun.