Flies: Compara’ and Spun Duns

Comparaduns, Spun Duns and Derivatives.

CompSpunBanner

So we get to choosing flies for our streams and although in the early season things may well be a little different, the water higher and the fish a tad less discerning after three months without being bothered by those of a piscatorial persuasion one of the main stay patterns in your box has to be a mayfly.

Now it is easy to suggest all manner of different mayfly patterns but much of the time finding a style of fly that you like and that suits you and simply changing the colour schemes is quite sufficient.

My absolute favourite mayfly patterns, no doubt partly influenced by the rate at which clients lose them in trees, fish and even their own clothing or anatomical protuberances, are Comparaduns, Spun Duns and their derivatives.

I rarely if ever fish standard hackled dry flies anymore, that is to say the Halfordian or Catskill ties with a collar of wound generic cock hackle. I do fish a lot of parachute patterns but even those are superceded by the spun duns and their relatives most of the time.

The flies, possibly the best dry flies in the world in my opinion have a lot going for them.

  • They don’t require difficult to obtain or expensive materials.
  • They are quick to tie.
  • They are inexpensive to manufacture.
  • They land the right way up everytime
  • They can be easily tied in a variety of colours and sizes and even densities to accommodate various water conditions and hatches.
  • Some of the variants can be modified on stream to represent spinners, midges, floating nymphs and emergers with the simple application of some saliva and or a quick trim with a pair of sharp scissors.

They are simply the most effective, quick and versatile upwinged fly imitations I have yet to find. In fact despite their apparent simplicity they frequently out fish more complex patterns. So let’s have a look at the variations and discuss the pro’s and con’s.

The Comparadun.

Olive Comparadun

Olive Comparadun

Launched to the world in the 1970’s by Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi, and popularized in their book “Comparahatch, these flies have gained a huge following and wide acceptance from what was to start with possibly a skeptical angling public. They just didn’t look like the flies we had all been using, where were the gorgeous and radically expensive generic hackles, the split duck quill or wood duck wings? Surely the trout wouldn’t accept such simplistic offerings?

Well truth be told the trout do and possibly with more enthusiasm than some of the more traditional ties. I personally feel that amongst other factors, the low floating properties are preferred by many feeding trout, plus they are sparse, simple and delicate, all attributes of the real thing and many traditional patterns appear far too “solid” and bulky by comparison.

It takes a little practice to tie these flies but they aren’t difficult, just different to what one has been used to in the past. Colour schemes are completely at your discretion and with readily available coloured deer hairs and dubbing materials comparaduns can be manufactured to copy almost any mayfly and quite a few midges as well.

The downside, if there is one, is that the tying buries the hair butts under the abdomen, which pretty much limits one to using dubbing as a body material, tends to make the flies a tad fatter than they should and makes the tying a little tricky to get neat and tidy. Plus with the natural hair the ability to trim them on stream without affecting the “look” is limited. Having said all of that these are classic and deadly patterns. Described by Skip Morris in his book “The Art of Tying the Dry Fly as “the most popular dry flies in the USA” or words to that effect. That is a terrific book by the way, and you will learn myriad tricks from it if you have never read it before.

The Spun Dun.

Olive Spun Dun

Olive Spun Dun

I have not been able, at the time of writing, to determine who came up with the spun dun pattern originally. It was first  shown to me by Eddie Gerber in Cape Town and I am not sure where he found it.

But it was I think originally tied by spinning deer hair around the hook and then trimming the lower section off afterwards. These days most of us only “flair” the hair on the top side of the fly, giving almost exactly the same profile as the comparadun but with the addition of a slightly spun collar/thorax of hair butts which both aid floatation and I suspect do a good job of imitating the thoracic thickening on real mayflies, perhaps even suggestions of a hind wing? One thing for sure, these are easier to tie than the Comparduns and what I really like about them is that you have no limitations as to body materials. You can use simple tying thread, dubbing, goose biot’s, quills, anything that you like and still get a slim and delicate body. Very many of the spun duns that I use are tied with little more than 120 denier tying thread, which both allows the creation of a slim coloured abdomen as well as obviating problems with breaking the thread when clinching down the hair nice and tight. Add to that a “super glue whip finish” and you have a remarkably simple, quick and durable pattern that you can churn out of the vice at a rate of knots.

The Poly Wing Spun Dun.

Poly Yarn Spun Dun

Poly Yarn Spun Dun


One of the limitations with using deer hair as the wing material is that it is tricky to use on tiny patterns, I find that #18 is about the limit of my abilities and then they start to look pretty ragged. But for years now I have been using smaller spun duns tied with polyyarn. The stuff is dirt cheap, available in a wide variety of colours and is totally resistant to the absorption of water and fish slime. The poly yarn versions are tied in exactly the same manner, however you can trim the yarn to the correct length afterwards as it isn’t tapered like the deer hair. This also means that you can trim the stuff on river and manufacture a wide range of emergers, spinners and floating nymphs from the same flies if you need to.

One point, when tying with the yarn, it doesn’t naturally flare well so you need to tug and pull it into shape.

The CDC spun Dun.

CDC Spun Dun

CDC Spun Dun

Again another variation, CDC is magic stuff but it tends to get wet and unusable, it does however make for superb small to micro patterns, provides wonderful delicacy of presentation and is both visible and not too bulky, all great attributes in a material for small dry flies.

By playing around with variations of these patterns, different colours , sizes and material combinations you can cover almost all of the mayflies that you are even likely to encounter, I even have a flying ant version which is deadly. So if you are going to start filling your boxes with useful flies you could do a lot worse than churning out a few dozen of these varieties in the next week. It won’t take you long and you will be amazed, come September, how fantastically effective these flies are.

Comparaduns and their derivatives are my “go to flies” when the  fish are being tricky or in larger sizes these patterns make excellent searching patterns to “drum up” some fish, even in the faster pockets.

The flies shown in this article all have split micro fibbet tails but again variations are plentiful, sparkle duns with zylon or antron tails, standard cock hackle, Coc du Leon tails, hair tails, water mongoose tails etc etc. These patterns really lend themselves to all manner of experimentation so don’t imagine that your flies need to look exactly like mine to work..

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6 Responses to “Flies: Compara’ and Spun Duns”

  1. Should I do the washing? « The Fishing Gene Says:

    […] Comparaduns, Spun Duns and derivatives. […]

  2. Mike Krall Says:

    Hello Tim,

    I’m not certain, but this may be the originator of the Spun Dun… http://www.flyanglersonline.com/flytying/fotw2/120103fotw.php

    Mike Krall
    Lander, Wyo.

    • paracaddis Says:

      Well done Mike and thanks for sharing.. that looks like it alright. As you will know I tie mine a bit differently and don’t have to trim as much hair but the origins are most interesting and it is a tremendous fly. I greatly appreciate your input in locating this article. Thanks again.

  3. Mike Krall Says:

    Tim,

    I ran into the Spun Dun through Tom Sutcliffe, then to you then to the FAOL site. I sent Davie McPhail the FAOL link as well as your Spun Dun blog page and Davie then did this… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFQDlkfH_Ys… a very helpful thing for me.

    Mike Krall
    Lander, Wyo.

    • paracaddis Says:

      Thanks, I like the additional dubbing on Davie’s fly so I might experiment with that a bit. Although as you can tell I am all for keeping my flies as simple as possible. Thanks again for your input and interest in this very useful pattern.

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