A New Favourite

It is a funny thing, but one can pick up a fly box from pretty much anyone and pretty much anywhere and find a selection of hardcore fly patterns that are near universal in their appeal, to both the trout and the angler.

For the relative novice, still hooked on the idea that you have to have the right fly, or the besotted tyer slaving over a hot vice trying to come up with the latest “silver bullet” it can be something of a disappointment to realise that the same handful of patterns produce the goods a LOT of the time. Yes, nothing works all the time and there are situations and places where perhaps the fish demand something a little bit more precise than average. But on the whole the same standard flies make up the mainstay of many fly selections and account for many of the fish caught.

Most popular flies, such as the Adams, are great general patterns covering several bases

I can think of the Elk Hair Caddis, the Pheasant Tail Nymph, The Adams, Tabanas, The Diawl Bach and GRHE of prime examples of flies that can be found in just about every fly box in the world and they all represent a generic approach to copying insects. They are by nature non-specific; they are what I tend to refer to as “all things to all fish” flies. That’s an oversimplification but much of the time these flies work and there is little need to become obsessed with further detail.  

Even patterns which at first glance appear to be one thing can serve as a copy for another. The Elk Hair Caddis is quite obviously, as its name suggests, designed as a caddis pattern but can be put into service to imitate upwings quite effectively on occasion. Even the most classic of upwing patterns The Adams, was actually originally designed by its creator, Leonard Halladay, to copy caddis flies. The Adams is recognized as one of the most versatile of all dry fly patterns and can be pressed into service to cover midges, fluttering caddis flies and obviously a variety of the upwing mayfly species.

Cracking Brown Trout taken on they Wye during a mixed hatch using the modified F fly.

Now it so happens that after three or four days of fishing in Mid Wales on the Wye, Usk and Irfon Rivers I have a new favourite fly, one that deceived fish on all those streams, during evening rises and even drumming up fish which were not evidently moving that much.

It is a pattern which I have tied and played with for some time, but hadn’t really tested out that vigorously until this point in time. I have had some success on my home waters with it but I would hardly say that it was a favourite. In part because it isn’t particularly visible on those waters. (It is odd that some flies show up better on some waters than others and I do like to be able to see my dry flies clearly when fishing).

The fly Accounted for a few Grayling too

The fly is a modified “F” Fly, and I say modified because I never really liked the standard version, partly because, as with so many things, I imagined it to be a poor imitation of anything, only to find out that it isn’t actually, it is a more than fair imitation of a lot things. I have come to accept that it is easy to be wrong, and I have over time proven myself to be initially incorrect in my assumptions related to all manner of fly patterns. Parachutes I thought at one time to be an affectation, Comparaduns, well they didn’t look like flies at all, how would they work? Barbless hooks, what a foolish idea, etc. I have been wrong before and it is more than likely that I will be wrong again, but I do at least try to keep an open mind.

This is admittedly a particularly poor version of the original F Fly but illustrates the point, I think that it is lacking something.

First attempts with the “F fly” were disappointing, and convinced me of its lack of worth, the flies wouldn’t stay afloat for long and would never be capable of doing so once a fish was taken. Attempts with the pattern tended to result in frustrated fly changes after every fish. It turns out that this failure was primarily, simply the result of not having quality CDC and perhaps less than ideal fly floatant as well.

Equally though, the standard tie also lacked substance to my mind; I like simple patterns, but the original just seemed too insubstantial, too simple perhaps, lacking a certain “Je ne sais quoi”. It may be that it makes little difference to the fish, but an angler’s faith in a fly pattern can prove crucial to its apparent effectiveness. (See “The C Word”, posted earlier on this site, to further explore the importance of confidence) https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/the-c-word/

After some fiddling I have developed my own version, it differs only in that it sports split nylon paint brush bristle tails (whereas tails are omitted on the original) and it has a collar of spun CDC tied with a split thread technique. These two additions, to my mind simply make a better fly, and certainly one in which I have a great deal more confidence. ( I try to restrict any egotistical suggestion that this is a “new pattern”, I am not sure there is such a thing in fly fishing anymore, but it is a variation which I prefer and with which it turns out I have enjoyed increasing degrees of success)

The modified F fly has a collar of CDC and split nylon tails. To my eye, far nicer and more imitative than the standard version.

Initially I always saw the “F” fly as a down wing caddis type fly, but it turns out that it is probably a far better upwing imitation than one might imagine, with the addition of some tails and the collar it really does an exceptional job of imitating a wide variety of Ephemerids.

Back at home one rarely gets the opportunity to watch mayflys (olives, sulphurs or whatever) hatching and drifting down river. (I should mention that I use the standard SA and US nomenclature, and that to me “Mayflies” include basically any ephemerids; upwinged mayfly species, both spinners and duns. This might cause some confusion for UK anglers who tend to reserve the term for large Mayflies of the Danica and Vulgata species, do bear in mind, that irrespective of size the morphology of these bugs is pretty similar most of the time). At home, the hatches are not that dense and the flies are for the most part very small, too tiny to study easily on the water most of the time.

Gorgeous Brown trout from the spectacular River Usk

On the Wye, there were occasions where there were good hatches of insects, such that I could watch them over some time and in some detail. Yes, of course I have seen plenty of images and video of drifting mayflies, but no medium can beat actual on the water experience.

Watching the olives (and a few large Danica) drift down stream it became quite apparent that my “F” fly version sat on the water in almost exactly the same way, with the same profile and near identical win colour. Although the mayflies are generally referred to as “Upwings” , if you watch them drift on the current their wings are not upright at all, but rather slope back somewhat at an angle over the abdomen. The CDC wing, lifted slightly as a result of the collar, sits at just the same angle as the wing on the real insect.

On a long flat, where I had some considerable success with the pattern, it was quite clear, because the drifts were long enough to study for some time, that my version of the “F” fly, really looked, at least from the angler’s perspective, very very like the drifting Olives. The profile and wing colour making it quite difficult to distinguish the artificial amongst the naturals.

Broad flats like this one on the Wye produced some great fishing to targeted rising fish

Is this all new? No, I am not claiming to have invented anything, but I certainly have a new favourite fly and it worked wonders on the rivers in Wales during my most recent trip. I still dislike the standard version seen on most websites, but that might just be personal bias, if you are not confident in a pattern it isn’t going to work for you. This version I have confidence in, it is one of those “all things to all fish” type of patterns. One could pull out the tails and end up with a more than serviceable caddis pattern and obviously slight variations of colour are all that might be needed to provide more specific copies of a natural should that be required on occasion.  

No fly is a silver bullet, and of course there are still the standard issues of presentation and quality drifts required to illicit a result from the fish. On this occasion I was fishing a leader close to 20’ long and tapered down to a final 8X tippet. On this set up, putting the fly over a rising fish resulted in a take on the first drift about 70% of the time. If that wasn’t the case most fish took it within three quality drifts, and of course a few (the minority) of times the fish didn’t take and stopped feeding; more likely angler error than some fault of the fly.

I would add two other factors worthy of consideration when using such flies: firstly you require a floatant which works with CDC and doesn’t clog the feather fibres. The absolute best I have found for this is “Power Float” from C&F”. It isn’t always easy to find, might be seen as expensive and comes in a very small little toothpaste tube, but one actually uses such small amount that tube will last a long time. (I don’t have any affiliation with C&F or any financial benefit from telling you this, just so that you know)

Power Float is one of the very best floatants I have found to use with CDC flies.

The second issue worth noting is that after catching a fish it is important to wash the fly off to get rid of any hydrophilic slime from the fish, then blow it as dry as possible before squeezing the fly in dry pocket tissue and a final blow or false cast to dry it off. Done like that, on my last trip on the Wye, a single fly accounted for a dozen fish over a period of perhaps two hours without requiring replacement or
re-treating with floatant.

Pocket tissues offer an excellent and easily obtainable means of drying out CDC flies

I find it quite interesting that a pattern which initially failed to impress, both me and the fish in my experience, turned out to be a real winner. Some of that might well be the mechanics of manufacture and the use of poor quality materials, equally part of the success could well be attributed to better design and more confidence on the part of the angler. In short I have a new favourite fly and equally a new appreciation of the idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover or a fly from only a few experimental casts. One needs to keep an open mind. Quite possibly many, if not most, of my “favourite” patterns have been ones which I initially disliked or in which I lacked confidence. So I am forced to add the “Modified F Fly” to that list of patterns which have grown on me in time. Just as well, without the flies on that list I probably wouldn’t be catching anywhere near as many fish.

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One Response to “A New Favourite”

  1. Johan van Heerden Says:

    Very interesting and good read, thank you. I see what you mean and I agree with you.

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