Sparkle Caddis Emerger: A New (Old) Standby

The Sparkle Caddis Emerger is far from a new fly. Developed around 1974 by Gary Lafontaine, it’s a pattern that has been fished successfully in hundreds of waters around the world. Yet despite its effectiveness, it is often ignored in favor of “sexier” bugs.

A tan Sparkle Caddis Emerger.

For years, a couple of gaudy Sparkle Caddis Emergers sat dormant in my fly boxes, likely arriving via a Postfly box or TU gift package. In my opinion, the flies looked pretty stupid – little more than a mess of yarn with some deer hair lumped on top. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what the flies were; LaFontaine’s patterns are world-famous, and probably for good reason. But why fish these flies when I had dozens of beautifully hackled, vibrantly colored dries that had proven themselves over numerous trips? 

The change in mindset came during a trip to Rangeley last spring. After many casts and flawless drifts with a Purple Haze, I was left fishless and frustrated. Rings sporadically dotted the riffled water as little trout sipped mysterious insects. Bending closer, I noticed some tan, tent-winged caddis wriggling through the water’s surface and fluttering away. I could try an Elk Hair Caddis, but that might float too high. Craig Matthew’s X-Caddis was another option, but I only had green ones. Then I remembered the long-overlooked Sparkle Emergers that were a near dead-ringer for the emerging caddis.

It took me about five minutes to find the flies crammed in a forgotten box stuffed in the bottom of my pack, but I soon had one on my tippet and thoroughly greased with floatant. On the first cast, a small brookie sucked down the fly. And so began my obsession with the Sparkle Caddis Emerger.

The fish that sold me on the Sparkle Caddis Emerger.

Over the course of the summer and fall, I caught brook, brown, and rainbow trout, as well as landlocked salmon, on the Sparkle Emerger. The pattern proved effective in Maine, Massachusetts, and even North Carolina. It caught fish anywhere from a dismal couple of inches to whopper 16-and-17-inch browns.

I’ll admit that a more buoyant pattern like an Elk Hair Caddis is a better option in small streams or where fish aren’t picky. But in slow, clear water, the Sparkle Emerger shines as a low-floating, highly realistic caddis imitation. This is a great choice if fish are specifically keying in on caddis emergers. Even when fish aren’t regularly rising, this fly will bring them to the surface. 

While many seasoned Swift river fly fishers opt for microscopic CDC dries, the Sparkle Emerger is a highly underrated option for the river’s educated trout. I’ve tied the fly down to a size 20, which is plenty small when larger insects are present in warmer months. In tiny sizes it can be quite difficult to see, so I’ll fish a double-dry rig with a larger foam bug. Unlike CDC patterns, the Sparkle Emerger soaks up plenty of floatant and will still ride on top after a couple fish (although desiccant dressings are occasionally necessary).

When I’m not at a technical fishery like the Swift, a size 16 has proven to be my bread-and-butter. Tan, cream, and cinnamon have all worked for me, and I’m sure a plethora of other colors would be effective. One of the best things about this fly is how adaptable it is. Swap the deer hair for CDC in the wing, add a small brass bead, or even tie in a hen hackle collar. 

If you’re like me and have a few Sparkle Caddis Emergers stashed away in a neglected box, consider giving them a try. And if you don’t, tie or buy a couple! They may not be as glamorous as some newer patterns, but they catch just as many fish as they did nearly 50 years ago.

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