It's exciting, it's sexy, it floats, it's, THE DRY FLY
Title says it all really. Fish love them, fishermen love to fish them, and fly tiers love to tie them.
The dry fly is an imitation of a fully emerged, or emerging fly. Most are dressed with firm, stiff hackles and tails to ensure they stand proud of the waters surface. Although some follow the emerger's path by allowing certain parts to break and sit in or under the surface film as well. They can be dressed thin for calm water or bulked out for increased buoyancy in fast turbulent currents.
This I must admit is a special day for me, nymphs and wets are fine, but nothing can rival the sheer, excitement, satisfaction, torment and confusion the dry fly has to offer. I'm an addict, plain and simple. There, said it. I believe that if I don't approach the water with a dry as my keeper I will blank miserably, fall in a cow pat, and be struck by lightening. Sad but true.
The Grey Evil
The Grey duster was originally designed as a Stillwater midge imitation, which it does very well. However, like the Adams they seem to catch in virtually any situation going. Why? I don't think we'll ever really know, it's just one of those things. Maybe fish just like grey, or perhaps they see size and shape as a greater reason to take than colour. Or maybe they just like winding us up, who knows?
For quite a long while I wouldn't fish the grey duster, wouldn't go near one for love nor money. They were the evil little combinations of fur and feather that always seemed responsible for my failure and everybody else's success. I spent tried my utmost to convince myself the fly was a fake, a kid's fly, the *easy* way out. You see, in the eyes of those who choose fly tying as the art of imitation as much as a method of catching fish, patterns such as these will always prove annoying.
For a dry fly purist having spent the best part of a day dancing around a field collecting bugs, several more locked in a basement with nothing more than a collection of dead animal skins for company, and at least as many again for praising ones self for creating the single greatest fly ever to have graced a tying bench, the vision of a slightly scruffy bugger, lets call him Trev, ploughing through the undergrowth sporting a big cheesy grin after having just caught innumerable brownies, whilst expressing his utter delight with humiliating comments such as "heard of selectafly have you?", would be, I imagine, only marginally less pleasurable than a room full of carp fishers. (Ben: would this "Trev", happen to be a relation of yours bearing exactly the same name by any chance? - Paul)
But what can be done? Nothing, my advice is that some times you just have to swallow your pride and go with it. Hey! If you can't beat them join them.
What you'll need
Hook - Any standard dry fly hook in sizes 8 to infinity
Thread - Black or brown
Tail - Cock hackle fibres in badger. You'd be hard pushed to find a commercial grey duster with a tail. Since they are considered to be midge (tail-less) imitations and will therefore not possess any. I have had more success with the grey duster as a mayfly than anything else, which is why this version is tied with a tail. If tying them as midges in smaller sizes I just leave them out. Whether it makes any difference or not I can't tell you, in most cases I suspect not.
Body - Natural rabbit under fur. Lovely stuff for both tight and scruffy dry fly bodies. It's soft, easy to dub and looks great. You could use one of the many commercial dry fly dubbings available that go under the title of "super fine" etc, but in my opinion it is nothing more than vastly over priced fluff. Rabbit under fur isn't generally sold as prepared dubbing; it is usually just available in the form of fur patches or whole skins.
I do believe though that buying just a single rabbit patch is well worth it. Just a three by three inch patch can produce at least five times the amount of dubbing contained within the most generous of commercial packs, and all for £1.10. The only catch is that you have to separate the stiff guard hairs from the soft under fur yourself. You can do this buy plucking them out with tweezers, which is a bit painstaking to say the least, or buy simply cutting out a *small* clump and wangling out the soft fur using the famous and ancient technique of "messing with it".
Hackle - Cock hackle in badger, but not literally. For fear of repeating my self and due to unprecedented laziness, go here (another great article by Ben, called Cape Fear) to find out a little more about capes. There are two obvious corrections to make here. One, there are four grades and not three, and secondly, despite the fact that I do say:
"Hackle selections can also be bought in packs for a reasonable price although in most cases you can't pick and choose which size feather you receive and therefore run the risk of acquiring something completely useless."
You *can* actually buy selected hackle feathers for specific hook sizes. Oh joy!!
If you are going to splash out on a cape of any kind I urge you to "look around" first. I've just bought a new Whiting silver grade neck cape; the very same product in a well-known mail order company's new catalogue exceeds its price by £17. I have found this to be the case on many occasions regarding many products. So please take the time to check out a few places before you sacrifice the contents of your wallet, it's well worth the effort.
Incidentally, if you're very, very nice (preferably female), and want to find hook specific hackle packets or slightly cheaper than average whiting capes, email me I may, with a little persuasion, tell you how to find such bargains. (NB: Ben is a butt man – Paul)
Stairway to heaven
Step 1 - Start the thread and wind down to the bend. Select a small bunch of hackle fibres for the tail, 4 or five should do, and tie down. If the feather butts extend up to or beyond the eye continue winding up the shank binding them down, before removing any waste and winding back down to the bend. If not, just snip them off as close as possible, flattening down any waste with a turn of thread. Winding over short stubby butts will provide a slight bulge, which can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. Whether you think this matters or not, is down to your own personal level of perfectionism. It takes no extra effort either way.
Step 2 - Next, dub a fine rope of under fur, tapering from a fine point, and wind it up the shank in touching turns, stopping roughly one third's length away from where you started the thread.
Argh, tapered dubbed body, are you mad?
Don't panic, just take a deep breath, something alcoholic maybe, herbal if you're that way inclined, and relax.
The key to dubbed dry fly bodies is patience, patience and more patience. Start by applying a base layer to the thread, a fine level rope. Now this is where the value of taking your time comes into its own. Select a *tiny* pinch of fur and apply a few mm back from the ropes uppermost tip. Continue doing this as you work your way down the base rope, but remember, tiny pinches, mean, *tiny* pinches. After working you way down the base rope simply start again, but this time start dubbing a few mm short of the previous start point, and so on and so forth. What you effectively end up with is a stepped taper that when wound will form a perfectly tapered body.
With a bit of practice this can be achieved incredibly quickly, remember, when unwound the body of a fly is not very long, all in all it takes me about 30 seconds to complete the operation. Be patient, but not fussy.
For those who have read the previous articles you'll notice that there is no mention of preformed under bodies, as explained in 'the first fly'.
For dries I never pre-form under bodies, I like them to be as light as possible, makes sense, they do have to float after all. Adding a fairly dense under body contributes unnecessary weight to the fly. Some may say the difference is negligible, but I believe not. A solid Thread or floss body is heavier than a comparable fur one, fact!
Step 3 - Select a cock feather for the hackle. When wound the hackle tips should not protrude any further than roughly one and a half times the gape of the hook. To check whether or not your selected feather is of an appropriate size simply bend the hackle into a loop, either on its own or around the hook shank, allowing the fibres to flare out for closer inspection. If they are noticeably larger than 1.5 x the gape or significantly less i.e. well inside the gape, reject the feather and select one of a more appropriate size.
Once the right hackle has been selected strip a portion of base fibres from the feathers butt to provide a clean tie in point. Using this point, tie in the hackle so it extends backwards along the shank, ensuring the glossy side faces up.
Step 4 - Take hold of the hackle with either your fingers or a pair of hackle pliers and with a little tension, not too much, begin to wind in neat touching turns towards the eye. When complete tie down with no more than three wraps of thread, remember what I said about fat heads? and clip off the waste.
Very often you'll notice that the hackle will twist as you make the first turn and refuse to face forward. If this happens don't reject the feather, as some suggest, if it refuses to be wound clockwise simply wind it anti clockwise and it will go on perfectly. Or visa versa.
When completing a hackle you may find it helpful to tie down the quill as it is being held uppermost to the eye i.e. on the top of the shank. Tying to the underside of the eye makes it all the more difficult to remove the waste, which may result in a slightly dodgy looking head and partially blocked eye.
Step 5 - Whip finish and varnish
Ah yes, one more thing, if you're slowly slipping into insanity at the sight of those irksome little barbs that always seem to become trapped upon completing the hackle don't panic! You will never escape from this, you will always get at least a few trapped, forward facing barbs at the eye. I used to think hackles could and should be wound perfectly, HA you fool Ben, all these bloody expert tyers exhibiting their work, tying for magazines and never once did they tell me that it was normal. For years I felt half a man, a freak, I even contemplated bait fishing, it was a terrible time. Bastards!! You know who you are.
To rectify, or limit, the problem there are a number of options, 1, upon the last wrap of hackle firmly hold the previous wraps back and out the way to prevent wayward barbs from the penultimate wrap becoming trapped under the final turn.
2, after tying down the quill simply hold all the trapped barbs back and a take a few wraps of thread in front and over to hold in place, you could use a hackle guard for this, indeed for smaller flies they are most useful.
or 3, you could just finish completely and snip off the offending barbs with a pair of scissors.
And 4, you could just adopt the Arden hackling technique and catch more fish.
Well I'm just going to shut up now.
Next time: The mystery of dry fly wings and wet quills