When I was a youth in the late 1960's experience with the trout on my home river had showed me that, when they were feeding on tiny midges in the surface film, they could be caught on a short dressed hare's ear stuck on the film. The water in the late summer in a dry season would drop to a depth of six to nine inches in the pools and about a foot and a half in the holes at the neck. The trout would only accept my 'imitation' when the tippet had sunk below the surface for a minimum distance of about five inches. That suggested to me that any nasty tippet distortion on the surface was outside the feeding fish's cone of vision.
Then some scientifically talented anglers showed me how to get a good presentation of a trout fly at the surface of the water. My influence was that excellent book by Brian Clarke and John Goddard - 'The Trout and the Fly'. Particularly with reference to the trout's view of the fly in his mirror of vision, flies were photographed from beneath the surface. Naturals, imitations on floating tippet, imitations on sunken tippets and more were shown. The floating tippet severely distorted the mirror. The sunken tippet is in my opinion always preferable.
Fishing the Avon at Durnford in the 1970's I found an interesting problem. The trout were gorging on large dark olives. The problem encountered was that the trout were ignoring the hatched duns coming down the glide and stuffing themselves with emergers. I needed a floating nymph. I wanted a sunk tippet. I retired, troutless, to think - skunked is a term I believe universally understood in context.
While I want to design a fly I sit down with a pen and draw it. I believe myself effective in this. I draw what the insect is doing and then look at the ways of attaching the hook while sinking the tippet at the same time. If one has an evening free this is probably an artistic pursuit; I don't, so the drawings take seconds and then flies are tied. With practice we get faster.
Sitting at the bench, I drew a nymph, reversed on the hook and upside down, as that was the easiest fly to tie and present at the surface on the, by now obligatory, sunken tippet. With short hare's whiskers for tails the body would sink, thus mimicking the thorax, abdomen and tails of the emerging nymph. The hackle, spiralled through the bend of a longshank Yorkshire grub hook #16, and a pretty mallard wing or just the cock hackle tips left in looked about right.
In design terms the fly is aerodynamically built to fall through the air hook-point up. This is achieved by tying the wing in around the bend. The effect of tying soft mallard fibres in at ninety degrees to the point is to make the hook fall below the fibres which act as an aerofoil. Gravity versus aerodynamics is the secret of floating fly presentation, as how it lands is how it sticks.
Attached to a tippet we want to present the hook and its aerofoil prettily in the surface film. In order to make it stick there we add a hackle to fill the gap between the point of the hook and the shank. Floating is guaranteed if the hackle and wing are treated in permaflote.
To make this dainty presentation at the surface more appealing to the target fish we endow the shank of the hook with a body matching his current menu, be that mayfly midge or caddis. It can be further developed on a long shank hook into stuck-shuck emergers with excellent results.
Build the thorax and abdominal areas to match the general colour and profile of the emerging fly. Bodies, as a matter of interest, are best made from complex seal fur and hare mixtures. Blend them to match the insect's general colour in daylight, against the sun - presuming 1/ you can catch an insect and 2/ the sun is still up when you do.
Mix furs by an open window in sunlight or outside on a calm day for an even better look.
Base colour thread should be sympathetic to the natural. The seal's fur makes a little halo around the thread so it looks like the internal layers of the ecloding insect. Some of the modern fine dazzle mixtures of furs added to the base fur mixture can give it an oily appearance for that extra-juicy look.
Ribbing is advised for strength and segmentation. Fine wire is good, coarse wire needs a longer hackle fibre to support the weight on a larger footprint. For lightness on smaller hooks use monofilament or invisible mending thread. Less and smaller hackle will then serve well for flotation.
The overall appearance of the fly should never be bulky, unless you want a caddis emerger. Tails on a mayfly emerger are most effectively imitated by a short bunch of three or four short, thick hare's mask guard hairs to withstand the pressure of casting and produce a lifelike visual impression. On midges use clear Antron fibres, clipped short.
When this mini miracle lands on the water, attached to a fine degreased tippet the body and thus the tippet penetrate the surface. The fly sticks on its hackle and the tippet continues to sink quickly. Four feet downstream it is perfectly set up. Casting this fly on a slack leader gives a long float down a glide. I am convinced that there is less drag just below the surface than on it. So I view sinking the tippet as a standard requirement, for this and reasons previously stated.
On a lake, as a midge, mayfly or caddis emerger this fly is a star. In a flat calm on a hot day it is one of the few flies - ah! there's Skues' Little Red Sedge too - that I know will pull a fish to the top when all appears asleep.
A size 10 in a gale is an excellent choice on a March afternoon when your fingers are freezing and the bottom of the lake is being churned up. Then you see the shake of a head in the side of the wave where the fly was and a spade of a tail to follow. This fly has given me some great fun as a reversed emerging buzzer; the Avon Special Emerger in it's various guises of mayfly and as a caddis cripple.
If you lack faith in USD flies for whatever strange reason, please try these out, remembering that they need the same delay on striking as does a dry fly. Whatever that is depends on where you are fishing and how the trout are taking the fly. One thing you can be sure of is that they should take with confidence as the fly is the right shape, size and colour and it is in the right place. What is more, the light pattern is unencumbered by any hawser effect in their mirror of vision.
Preferred hooks are short point longshank grub/scud hooks. The recent popularity of the Klinkhammer style has produced some good emerger hooks. Extra long shanks are useful for an occasion where the shuck is apparent. Whereas some of my designs require modified hooks this one is fine on a standard version.
The original inspiration was 1975-ish - an emerging midge which I watched on a lake as it came slow out through the surface on a sunny but cold spring afternoon. He took his time because, I think, the water was very cold, but then maybe he was just shy or photophobic. Will we ever know?
Drawing and building that representation backwards and upside down and, as Paul Arden says, inside out, has been a revelation for me in my fly tying adventures. I'd be lost without my notepad - now where did I put it?
Roy Christie (email@example.com) is a flytyer and Sexyloops' board member, who likes to tie flies backwards, upsidedown and inside out.