Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody, Wyoming, retired National Park Superintendent

In my opinion the most attractive dry flies to lure a trout to rise and strike has to resemble in color and size an insect the trout recognizes. But, if your fly is not a perfect match to a hatch in progress, or there is no hatch at all…if your fly has prominent, visible wings, if it sets on the water in an upright position, and is a high floater; the odds of having a trout rise to take that fly are improved. You can dramatically increase your chances of having a trout rise to your dry fly presentation if your dry flies have those three attributes of prominent divided wings, the fly lands upright and it floats high on the water.

Very few, if any, store bought commercially tied flies meet the criteria of prominent wings and dependable high floating. Most have well done divided wings, and some have quality stiff hackle barbs to maintain a good float….at least for the first few casts or until the immersion it gets with one fish being caught. Then they become water soaked and tend to sink. You could add silicone dry fly treatment substances to minimize the tendency for the fly to sink or perhaps float lower in the water. With consistent applications of “float chemicals” and false casting to dry the fly you will achieve some success.

However, when you tie your own dry flies you can build in all the requirements that I believe are necessary to increase your top water fish strikes. Many of the Catskill dry fly patterns resemble a wide variety of hatching insects and they are more effective if you have them in a size similar to the size of flies that typically hatch on the stream or river you are fishing. All of those patterns are recommended in hook sizes from ten to eighteen. If you have those patterns in size twelve to sixteen, you have it pretty well covered.

OK, how do you tie flies with prominent wings that float high and land upright? Superfine dubbing is waterproof and it comes in all the dry fly colors you would need to tie dry flies. Use that dubbing for all your dry flies requiring a dubbed body. But, some of the Catskill and other traditional patterns call for bodies of stripped hackle stems or stripped peacock quill for bodies, and several other patterns call for turkey biot bodies. All those should be lacquered with thin fly cement. None of those nor even the Superfine dubbed bodies will consistently float high in the water. To ensure a high floating fly, and provide a sleek tapered fly body, I tie in a thin sliver of floating fly foam just behind the wings that I cut in tapered strips from the cylinders of floating fly foam. The tiny tapered piece of floating fly foam extends from behind the wing and tapers to where the tails would be tied. It compacts well with tying thread which allows you to create a tapered insect body with a hackle stem or peacock quill without overlapping. The hackle stem, peacock quill, turkey biot or Superfine dubbing is then wound over the fly foam from the tail to the wings.

For prominent wings the easiest material to use is polypro or antron yarn in white, grey or dun shades. It takes some time to learn how to tie wings of hackle tips and wood duck flank feathers, but it is worth learning. For the prominence requirement I make sure the wings are full and slightly longer than the wound hackle.

To enhance the fly floating properly and landing upright use tapered, synthetic, microfibetts for the tail. Make sure the wings are located about one third of the hook distance from the eye of the hook and they are well separated. That position helps to balance the fly. Also separate the tails so the fly has a balanced rear platform to rest on. Wind the hackle several turns behind the wing then in front of the wing. One other trick is to use your scissors and make a V shaped cut of the hackle below the wing. This gives the fly a di-pole platform to sit up straight. Properly done, your flies will be more attractive to predatory trout.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks to Clay for an articulate, interesting and easy-to-implement plan for productive dry flies. It’s also a bonus that these ideas apply over a wide range of patterns and sizes. I look forward to more of Clay’s posts on Thoughts on the Fly!

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