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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5 thoughts on “Sparkle Caddis Emerger: A New (Old) Standby

    1. I am glad I read this article. I always have a few sparkle caddis in my fly box, but have only dead drifted or swung them with a small split shot above the fly. I never thought to fish them in the film like a dry fly. Good to know! Thanks, Sam

  1. I keep on looking for a site where they speak more of fishing than about what kind of equipment is for sale. It looks like this is one (finally!) So, even though I’m not from your-all area of the country, I’m daring to deposit my verbiage here, because, after all, we all speak trout!

    I want to speak here in praise of ugly flies, at least emergers (sparkle emerger will come in here). I’m in Arkansas, often fish a river in Oklahoma, the Lower Mountain Fork, a tailwater, for trout. The other day I was there, standing at the head of a flat area watching the fish feed on some kind of emerger. BWO’s had been coming off recently, so I tied on an RS2 in BWO colors that had been working. Nothing in a number of casts. So then (being sub-genius it takes me a few minutes to figure these types of things out) I finally thought to break out the little dip net I sometimes carry. I managed to seine out several of these emergers. They were quite ugly, brown, with legs and wing parts and shuck, probably, sticking out all over as they, apparently, were struggling to emerge. They were pretty small, maybe an 18.

    Speaking of sparkle emerger, now, I found a sparkle emerger in an 18 I had tied several years ago. Meaning to imitate a little black caddis, I had included black in the bubble and shuck, so, while not brown, it came out overall to about the same darkness quality. Luckily, maybe for the present case, I’m a fairly poor tyer and this fly was pretty ugly, kind of lop-sided and not at all symmetrical like the much prettier sparkle emerger in all the photos and videos. Well, by gosh mikey, they liked it! I tore them up for the next 45 minutes or so. I had kept that stupid looking, un-previously-successful little size 18 lump in my fly box for about 5 seasons, not quite knowing why, but this season it earned its spot.

    Moral, emergers might not need to be pretty I’m not sure if they all look quite as hideous like the ones I sampled, or not, but I’ve seen photos of caddises emerging that weren’t pretty at all. If your hackle ends up mostly on one side or your bubble does the same, it may more resemble some of the emergers struggling than a more symmetrical fly. Keep that fly. It may pay off -someday. Also, I don’t know again if these bugs were representative of emergers in general, or not, but they were mostly brown.

    1. Jonbo, just seeing this comment now. I agree with you wholeheartedly – sometimes the uglier the fly, the better! The Sparkle Emerger pictured on this post is admittedly far cleaner and sparser than most that I tie and fish – I’m just self-conscious about posting messy flies! I’ve found that the Sparkle Emerger tends to work even better after a few rounds of fish catches and grinding in desiccant powder. Enjoy the winter fishing down in your neck of the woods – below freezing and snowing all day here.

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