Tying the Clown Shoe Caddis

Tying the Clown Shoe Caddis
The Clown Shoe Caddis is tailor-made to suspend heavy dropper nymphs, even in turbulent water. Photo by Charlie Craven

I have been extremely lucky in my lifetime to have met and known a lot of great fly tiers. Traveling around the country to various fly-fishing shows and demos has allowed me to meet and interact with both big-name tiers, as well as folks you may have never heard of.


I am always amazed at what I can learn from the tying talent out there, and I try to keep my eyes open for the top tiers I meet at international events. With this in mind, I feel almost embarrassed that I haven't until now written an article about Jay Zimmerman, or about his many innovative fly patterns. You see, Jay has been hiding right under my nose for the past several years, working with me full time at Charlie's Fly Box.

Jay grew up in rural Ohio and has worn a wide variety of hats through the years. His résumé now reads like a dream job list for a typical Midwestern kid, with highlights such as stints with the elite 82nd Airborne as a U.S. Army paratrooper, as an archaeologist at Toledo University, a commercial halibut fisherman, a moose- and bear-hunting guide, and as a carpenter and concrete worker before he finally decided to "escape" to Colorado's fly-fishing industry. He has since guided trout fishermen, taught fly-tying classes, managed fly shops, and authored a couple of books in his spare time including most recently The Best Carp Flies: How to Tie and Fish Them (Stackpole Books, Headwater Books, 2015)

Jay is also a signature tier with Umpqua Feather Merchants and is best known for his in-depth knowledge of carp flies and fishing techniques for these frustrating beasts. He lives with his wife Erin Block in the type of cabin in the woods that we all dream about. Jay is truly one of the most interesting characters I have ever met, and his fly patterns follow suit.

When I asked Jay to tell me a little about the process he used to come up with his Clown Shoe Caddis, he shared this with me;


"I started tying the Clown Shoe Caddis back around 2005 or 2006 when I was single and living with a cat in a little studio apartment in Boulder. The fly was originally called the Boulder Creek Caddis, and it was my solution to the problems I was having with other dry flies (such as the Stimulator).

"At the time, I was fishing the creek about four to five days a week, and my go-to rig was a #16 Stimulator with a dropper about 12 to 18 inches belowusually a Brassie, Poison Tung, or Zebra Midge. There are a ton of brown trout in the creek through town, so the flies would get torn up fast. The hackles would get stripped, or they would get mashed and make the fly float on its side. I didn't like tying them, and with a dropper nymph the Stimulator would just sink.

"It eventually came to the point where I could not see the fly in low light in the evening, or in the shadows under dense foliage, or in the fall when leaves would cover the pools and eddies. My vision was clearly deteriorating so I needed something that was crazy visible.


"The D-rib abdomen is indestructible. The bright McFlyfoam post makes it noticeable from space, but not too crazy from the fish-eye-view.

The way the hook drops off away from the butt of the elk hair/middle of the fly makes it a workhorse dry fly that can suspend heavy droppers. Think of a 2x4 floating in the water . . . if you pull down on one of the ends you can sink it easily, but try pulling it under by grabbing it from the middle, and it is really hard to do."

Because of Jay's purposeful design, the Clown Shoe Caddis lends itself well to broken water and dry-dropper rigs as well as fishing from a drift boat or raft. The heavy hackle and colorful post make the fly both buoyant and visible in the roughest water, and that D-Rib body is pretty darn buggy looking.

It's an interesting fly to tie as well, with a couple slick little tricks to combat the bulky wing tie-down and attach that indicator post. Grab your vise and get to work, this is one you're going to want to add to your arsenal.

Tying the Clown Shoe Caddis

Hook: #12-18 Tiemco 2487.

Thread: Olive dun 8/0 UNI-Thread.

Body: Small clear D-Rib.

Wing: Yearling elk, natural or dyed dun.

Hackle: Grizzly saddle.

Indicator: McFlyfoam in your choice of bright colors.

Thorax: Black Superfine Dubbing.

1. Wrap a thread base halfway down the hook bend, and tie in the D-Rib with the flat side facing up. While slightly stretching the D-Rib, wrap back over it to the bend of the hook, creating a smooth thread underbody as you go. Return the thread to the starting point.

Step-1-Clown-Shoe-Caddis

2. Wrap the D-Rib forward over the underbody and tie it off at the starting point. Clip the excess, then build a thread base up to the hook eye and back again to the front of the abdomen.

Step-2-Clown-Shoe-Caddis

3. Cut, clean, and stack a clump of yearling elk hair as long as the hook. Anchor it in place on top of the last turn of D-Rib. Make a narrow band of thread over the flared butts to lock them in place, then trim off the butts of the hair at an angle. Lift the tips of the wing and make a single turn of thread around the back to group the hair together in a tight bunch.

Step-3-Clown-Shoe-Caddis

4. Wrap forward over the butt ends of the hair to the hook eye, creating a smooth base. Prepare and tie in an appropriately sized grizzly saddle feather at the base of the wing.

Step-4-Clown-Shoe-Caddis

5. Separate a small bunch of McFlyfoam from the main clump and tie it down on top of the hook at the center of its length. Make the anchoring wraps one on top of the other at the center of the thorax area.

Step-5-Clown-Shoe-Caddis

6. Dub the thorax starting just behind the hook eye and continue back to the base of the wing. Return the dubbing ending to the hook eye, forming a robust thorax.

Step-6-Clown-Shoe-Caddis

7. Spiral wrap the hackle forward over the dubbed thorax and tie it off at the hook eye. Clip the excess. Build a small thread head and whip-finish.

Step-7-Clown-Shoe-Caddis

8. Stretch the McFlyfoam slightly and clip it just beyond the hackle length. Trim the hackle flush with the dubbing across the bottom of the thorax.

Step-8-Clown-Shoe-Caddis

*Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie's Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of Charlie's Fly Box (Stackpole Books, 2011). He is also the featured tier in two new Fly Fisherman DVDs: Warmwater Fly Tying and Saltwater Fly Tying, available at flyfisherman.com/store.

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