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Dickson's Crystal Caddis

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As Told by Dennis Dickson

Finished Crystal CaddisBack in the early 90’s I found myself getting a little tired of the river traffic on my beloved Wenatchee River. Having guided it nearly every October day since 1986, I knew it would be a tough one to give up. So many memories! Rumors began buzzing about this remote southwest Washington called the Grande Ronde River. What sold me were the stories of a lovely surface rising steelhead. I live for surface rising steelhead! One look at the majestic waters of the Ronde and I was hooked.

By the fall of 1992, I was already running a 6-angler October gig with my full time assistant guide, Jack Mckeehan. Alan, who was the team leader on this particular expedition, would help direct decisions about which angler would fish with which guide. When we got river side, Alan nonchalantly informed me that his buddy Paul had just come off a really bad river experience (I never pried for the details). Point number 1: The bottom line is that Paul doesn’t wade but is interested in steelhead. Now, my rafts were the old red Achilles model and the frames were not set up for anchor off.

I looked at Alan and asked, “What exactly am I suppose to do with a guy that won’t even get into the water?”

He just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Look, just row him around, me and John will be fine.”

I thought, “Great....”

So I lined up Alan and his buddy John on a pretty little run to fish, and then pulled the raft off the trailer. I remember Paul getting a bit nervous just climbing into the raft. Poor guy. I was surprised he even came fishing at all. Anyway, I tied on a pet steelhead pattern which consisted basically of an orange-winged muddler. This bug was kind of my "go-to" fly on the Grande Ronde, though I originally developed it in early days, chasing Deer Creek summer runs.

I learned a second point in the day real fast. Paul wasn’t much of a caster. As I rowed the raft over to a river seam which had held a steelhead the day before, I began back peddling the raft the best I could before I noticed Paul was still fiddling with his fly line. It was not even out of his rod yet. I finally pulled the boat in behind a big rock so he could get ready to fish. I was getting tired before I was even started. As Paul began buggy-whipping the water, I pulled the raft back out into the river again. Paul promptly hooked the very rock I wanted him to cast behind. Before I could even say a word, he just lowered his rod and pulled it back on his line. Snap! My favorite GR fly was gone! Two bushes and another rock later, and we had just gone through four of my favorite flies in five minutes of fishing. I pulled the Achilles to the shore side eddy and decided we needed another plan.

I said, “Well, enough of my stuff, what flies have you got?”

Paul rummaged through his fly boxes and admitted, “Gee, All I got is a bunch of Montana trout stuff.”

Then I saw this caddis in his box with a really cool Krystal Flash wing. I said, “Hey! Let’s try that one.”

So, I cut his leader even further back (cuts down on the breakage) greased it up and rowed back onto the water. I am not particularly proud of what I had him do next but.....

Summer Steelhead taken with the Dickson's Crystal CaddisI told him to shake out a bunch of line onto the water while I rowed the boat. I located his fly some 30 feet downstream of the boat and began 'hotshoting' the fly from rock to rock down the river. The greased up little Caddis was just dancing right along. Paul wasn’t casting really - more like trolling. If he had a problem with it, he didn’t seem to mind, (or was just too nice to say anything). I began thinking, “Dang, this might actually work” and about that time, a really nice steelhead poked his head out of the water and took the fly down like it was his last meal. The rod went down and the steelhead was on!

Point number three: As bad as Paul was at casting was how good he was at playing steelhead. He didn’t bother to get out the boat. I did that, but neither of us really minded as I finally cradled his first Grande Ronde steelhead. Way cool!

By day’s end, two more steelhead came to his Montana Caddis. I was friggin elated. His three 'hotshot' steelhead were even a better showing than his two buddies. Classy guys as they are, Alan and John made a bigger deal about Paul’s fish than Paul did.

I should have known better, but I made the mistake early in day two of having him cast. POW! He buggy whipped his back cast again. Just like that, our magic Caddis was gone. I don’t remember a lot of details of the trip from that point on, but I do remember straining for the details of that magic Montana trout fly.

Now I will be the first to admit, this Krystal Flash-winged Muddler was not really my own. Heck, I don’t even know how close my Crystal Caddis is to Paul’s original, but no worries. Mine works too. To this day, I can’t fish the Crystal Caddis without thinking of Paul from Montana.

“Thanks man, I owe you one.”


Materials List

Name Dickson's Crystal Caddis
Category Steelhead
Hooks Gamakatsu T10 3h #4 or #6
Thread 3/0 for body, Kevlar thread for head
Tail None
Tag 4 strands of Krystal Flash, Orange
Body Orange poly yarn
Rib Orange Krystal Flash, wrapped forward
Wing Orange grizzly hackle tips (optional)
Overwing 12 strands orange Krystal Flash
Collar Spun Deer Hair. or Elk
Head Spun Deer Hair or Elk, Muddler style

Crystal Caddis Step 1
Step 1
Crystal Caddis Step 2      
Step 2
Crystal Caddis Step 3
Step 3
Crystal Caddis Step 4
Step 4
Crystal Caddis Step 5      
Step 5
Crystal Caddis Step 6
Step 6
  Crystal Caddis Step 7    
Step 7

Fishing: I always fish the fly with a riffle hitch, depending on which side of the river I am fishing. For full details on fishing surface flies please read my article on Surface Flies for Steelhead.

As you can probably tell, skating flies for steelhead is the finest freshwater experience I know. That’s my opinion and I am sticking to it.

1998 Photo (Dennis holding a steelhead)
1998 Photo (Dennis Holding Steelhead)

Northwest native Dennis Dickson is a Washington fisheries biologist who also has enjoyed the opportunity of being a steelhead flyfishing guide for over 20 years.  He and his staff share their vast experience, teaching their highly popular flyfishing schools and bringing anglers from all over the world to enjoy the thrill of flyfishing steelhead. Dennis and his guides, who along with himself, fish many clients throughout the year.  His website, is among the most widely read Internet weekly steelhead flyfishing reports in the state of Washington. Dennis also has personally written some 40 articles and stories about steelhead flyfishing. Flyfishing has been good to Dennis; The writing is his way of giving something back.*

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