Posts Tagged ‘Dry Flies’

Lockdown Day 10

April 5, 2020

Corona Lockdown day 10

Now it just so happens that I am fortunate enough to fish waters where dry flies prevail, where a combination of poor hatches and low clear water mean that fish can frequently be drummed up to a dry fly even when not a fish rises or any obvious insects are emerging.

Like many anglers I really do prefer to fish dry fly, it isn’t snobbery, it is just that I love that visual aspect of the sport, to watch a fish tilt fins and ride the invisible current upwards to intercept a floating pattern is mesmerizing. That moment where a fish engulfed a carefully presented pattern was magical the very first time it happened to me 50 odd years ago and the thrill of it hasn’t diminished in all that time. Actually the thrill is the same even if it is a client’s fly being taken and I am little more than a bystander to proceedings.

For dry fly anglers, images such as this really amount to “Trout Porn”.

The numbers of video clips showing slow-mo footage of trout inhaling dry flies suggest that many other anglers feel much the same. There aren’t too many of us drooling over video shots of a Euro-nymph line twitching as a deeply submerged fish takes a sunken fly in fast water. There is nothing wrong with that, but it just doesn’t seem quite so much fun.

That isn’t to suggest that I don’t fish nymphs or indeed that I don’t enjoy fishing them, what it means is that there the lack of visual stimulation, you don’t see the fish, you don’t see its reaction to the pattern, you don’t get to watch this creature momentarily leave its aquatic world and break through the surface into your world, to me that is magical.

If your heart doesn’t sing watching all these rising fish you are not a fly fisherman.

Many years back as a young lad I would fish for carp and other course fish species, frequently with rigs that placed the bait on the bottom but there are contrived means of doing this with a float to indicate a take and I always opted for those set ups. Sitting watching a float bobbing gently is a lot more absorbing than waiting for an electronic buzzer to beep indicating some interest from the fish.

Even in my youth I would far rather watch a float all day


Than sit hoping some electronic buzzer would indicate a take.

I suppose that we are to a large degree visual creatures, a large part of our brains are geared to interpreting visual data, so it should be no surprise that it is important to us in many ways. A fishing float sitting prettily on the surface, perhaps twitching now and then as a fish investigates the bait, is I suppose to a degree just like watching a lovey dry fly drift, being able to watch something, seems almost necessary to get maximum enjoyment.

In my youth one might have been forced to listen to a rugby test match on the radio, I can assure you that seeing the same game in glorious technicolor on a large screen is infinitely more enjoyable.

So one of the key aspects of fishing dry flies is being able to see them, indeed I recall Pascal Cognard (Three times FIPS Mouche World Flyfishing  Champion), mentioning during an instructional visit some years back, that it was imperative that one could see the fly clearly.

It isn’t just about detecting the take but equally being able to read the drift of the fly, recognize the onset of drag and to know when you have covered your target fish. Being able to see the fly is crucial most of us would agree.

To me one of the problems of trying to make patterns more visible to the angler is that they can easily become less imitative.

But that has led me to a bit of a dilemma, because some patterns, particularly terrestrial ones such as beetles and ants are so simple and diminutive that the more the fly tyer tries to improve their visibility to the angler the more you detract from their similarity to the real thing. It is easy to produce a great ant or beetle pattern, indeed there are hundreds of varieties, but most of them sit low in the film and are tough to see in anything but relatively calm water.

Having fiddled with numerous patterns and tried to incorporate hot spots, posts, coloured dots etc in an effort to make them more visible I finally had something of an epiphany, “Why bother?”

Would it not make sense to simply ignore the idea of trying to see the fly better and employ some sort of device that would allow one to fish it effectively?

It is pretty much common practice to fish a nymph with an indicator or perhaps a nymph with a dry fly as both a second pattern and acting as an indicator at the same time, so why not simply fish a dry fly with an indicator or two dry flies, one providing more visibility the other more realism?

That is the essence of the Invisi-ant and Invisi-beetle patterns, not that there are not a great many imitations that are as good if not better, the point is to simply give up on the idea of the pattern being visible but rather focus on the imitative aspects of design.

By giving up on the ability to easily see the pattern one is freed up to try to make it a better and more imitative copy.

With an idea of roughly where the pattern is, one still generally gets to see the take, and one is still able to read the drift and mend as necessary to delay the onset of drag. It is a method I have used a great deal over the past five or so years, fishing diminutive midges, soft hackles and indeed terrestrials. Sometimes where clients battle with two flies I will simply add a tiny indicator, perhaps the size of a match head, more than enough to follow the drift. But freeing oneself of the need to be able to see the fly all the time opens up possibilities of imitation and fishing which otherwise would be unattainable.

So with that, here are two very simple imitative patterns which are specifically designed around the idea of them not being visible. Once one gets one’s head around that idea a whole series of possible fly design is opened up. For the most part I still fish dry flies which are visible, but I don’t really like bright coloured wing posts, I think they result in too many refusals, and where I fish, overly large flies tend not to work well. So small invisible flies (invisible to us but quite obviously not the fish) are a very useful addition to the fly boxes..

The “Invisi-Ant” was my first deliberate departure from tying visible flies.

Again I am sure there are as good or better beetle patterns, the point is to free one’s thinking of needing to see the fly and allow a more imitative approach .

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.






Guide Flies

December 7, 2011

Things have been busy of late and that means that other than a lot of additional shopping, sandwich making, car servicing and such there is the perennial issue of having the right flies. If you are a social angler not being able to match the hatch or fool the fish is simply a matter of annoyance but if you are a guide it represents a most serious professional faux pas. I have to admit that I did once forget to take the rods with us in the car but I pride myself on finding a solution to finicky fish even if I have to chop up a pattern on the river to make it work.

Flies of course wear out, they get lost, hooked in bank-side herbage, caught in client’s socks and clothing and even simply fall out of one’s hat or fly box. In short they have a limited lifespan. With windy conditions, a bushy stream and an impatient and unskilled client their longevity is only marginally better than that of an unstable sub-atomic particle. More than a few give up their brief lives without ever having been presented near to a fish. I figure that if flies had feelings they would undoubtedly feel disappointed, perhaps even insulted by the way they are discarded with gay abandon. Trouble is, as one of my favoured writers, John Geirach, points out, to be of any use at all flies must be “thoughtlessly expendible” and that is pretty much it.

With all of the above then – there is the necessity to match the hatch, carry plenty of patterns, replace those lost and worn out and still have flies that are sufficiently efficacious to satisfy both discerning trout and fussy clients. One then has one’s work cut out work that frequently requires long hours at a hot vice in the wee hours of the morning.

Guides want their clients to catch fish and we want them to catch fish on the flies that we supply and recommend, but we don’t want to be spending an hour constructing a pattern that as likely as not will end up in a bridge support before it gets wet.

Guide flies are therefore a little different to standard shop bought patterns. Firstly I would venture that they are generally “more” and at least “as” effective. Secondly they are carefully geared to the likely requirements on specific waters with which the guide is intimately attuned. As far as possible they are equally durable, inexpensive and quick to manufacture and most of the time it is a huge advantage if they are also highly visible. People with sufficient time and financial resources to utilize guides are rarely blessed with 20:20 vision any longer, mind you neither are most of us aged, bent and arthritic guides either. For the client to miss a take is forgivable, the same doesn’t apply to the guide, so visible flies are a professional necessity.

So it comes to pass that I have been in need of churning out more than a few patterns of late and I thought that I might share a couple with you. You don’t need to be a guide to benefit from them and indeed anyone can make use of these invaluable patterns and adapt them to their own requirements.

The Key Patterns I like to carry are:

Elk Hair Caddis 

Once you get the hang of them Elk Hairs are pretty simple to tie, bleached or light hair makes them pretty visible and they not only make for great caddis flies but are respectable “bugs” covering any number of terrestrials, they will even fool more than a few Mayfly feeders much of the time. They have the added advantage of being one of the few patterns that are sufficiently aerodynamic to be easily forced into a stiff breeze when the need arises and equally act well as high floating indicator patterns when nymphing with a two fly rig. If there is a disadvantage it is that they are not that durable and require a palmered body hackle which if you are using genetics can be wasteful. On the smaller sizes you don’t really need body hackle at all and brushed out dubbing bodies will suffice. On the larger ones one can frequently use oversized hackle and trim them without ill effect. Either way they are patterns that you can’t really go without. Details of how to tie Elk Hair Caddis Flies can be found in my eBook “Essential Fly Tying Techniques

Parachute Mayflies:

I carry virtually no “standard” or “Catskill” ties at all in my boxes, the parachutes have major advantages in terms of presentation, they always land the right way up, are easily spotted on the water even in small sizes and require less hackle to make them float. They can therefore be tied more sparsely than Catskill ties which provides in my opinion better imitation and improved economics. My standard parachute pattern is the BSP “Bog Standard Parachute”. The flies vary in only size and colour, but their manufacture is identical. Again this is a major advantage in production tying, once you get in the groove you can churn out effective patterns at a rate of a dozen an hour or more. The key issues for me are that the BSP’s don’t use any dubbing, they sport bodies of thread only. Thread colours are easily and cheaply obtainable in such variety that you can match near anything that you may encounter and for our streams the slim bodies better match the anorexic forms of most of our naturals. We don’t have fat mayflies for much of the time, simple as that. There is a post on this blog “Bog Standard Parachutes” which gives step by step instructions. Also there are two parachute patterns detailed in my “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” eBook demonstrating the various techniques of tying in the post and performing a “super glue whip finish”. (the SGWF is a boon to guide flies, it does an amazing job of increasing durability and speed of tying, most flies get lost before they get broken)

Parachute Caddis Patterns:

It is odd really that the Elk Hair Caddis is such an effective pattern, on our waters we don’t have a single natural caddis fly that would grow larger than a size 18 and most are considerably smaller. Small and micro flies require trimming down compared to their more robust brethren and the goose biot micro caddis is the perfect example. It is tied with exactly the same technique, thread body, post and hackle as the small BSP’s just that it sports neat little biot wings. As a guide fly it is superb because you can always pull the wings off and have a reasonable midge or mayfly pattern. It lacks tails of course but sometimes it will work if you are stuck.

Spun Duns:

I have written about variations of spun duns on this blog previously, in fact in the article “No Hackles” you can find a link to tying a pretty complicated goose biot spun dun. Most of mine are however once more simple in the extreme. Split tails (a twist of complexity to be sure but even guides have been known to give in to vanity and they just look nice). Thread bodies (again that ease of matching various colour variations) and a collar of semi-spun deer hair. These are superb mayfly patterns and have the major guiding advantages of being quick to tie, easy to see, floatability and near ludicrously economic. They can further be trimmed on stream to produce spinner patterns, floating nymphs, cripples and emergers if the need arises.

Drowned Midges:

These patterns are actually drowned anything, although originally designed to copy net winged midges they do a great job of covering cripples, stillborns, drowned duns, midges and even spinners and are so simple to manufacture that there is no excuse not to have dozens of them. Simple brushed dubbed thorax to imitate legs and movement and hackle point wings, added more from vanity than necessity. They aren’t visible patterns and generally get fished in tandem in much the same way one would a nymph, but they are effective. Detailed instructions in graphic and video format for this pattern are part of my eBook “Essential Fly Tying Techniques”

The Brassie:

If there ever was a quintessential “Guide Fly” then the brassie has to be it, simple, quick and inexpensive to tie, durable and deadly. It is my “go to nymph” when the fish are being difficult. We don’t have a lot of serious hatches and the fish rarely get the luxury of honing in on specific sub-aquatic forms. The brassie does a great job of covering tiny caddis larvae, baetis mayfly nymphs, black fly larva and more, plus it has that “certain Je ne sais quoi” that lures fish the world over. Tying the brassie is covered in “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” eBook, available from

Pheasant Tail Nymph:

In case I feel the need for something a tad more complicated the Pheasant Tail nymph covers more sub aquatic life, a universal pattern effective everywhere. Sporting on occasion a tungsten bead and always with my favoured peacock herl thorax for that added touch of sparkle. Another killer pattern in various guises. The PTN breaks one of the guide fly rules, it does lack slightly on the durability front, but wrapping the pheasant tail over a bed of thread moistened with head cement will provide additional longevity. The PTN is also covered in detail in “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” eBook.

The Compar-ant:

This has to be one of the simplest patterns of all, I don’t use it frequently but when you need an ant then you need one badly. Flying ants have the ability to hook fish into selective feeding more than any other natural on our streams. The fish simply love them and you can sometimes break a hatch with an ant if you can’t copy the actual hatching fly. Trout will deviate from established feeding patterns to take ants and they represent a great trick to have up one’s sleeve. The Compar-ant is made entirely of synthetic materials, a poly-yarn wing and superfine dubbing body, has a superb and uncomplicated profile which I think better imitates the key segmentation of the real insect. It is well established that the thin waste and distinct thorax and gaster of the ant act as a trigger to the fish, one doesn’t want to mask it.

All the above flies can be varied in terms of size and colour to suit, with a few colour and size variations in each of the above you will still be carrying hundreds of flies, but they won’t take long to manufacture or replace, they will catch you fish almost anywhere that you go and you won’t break into a cold sweat of panic if you lose one in a tree.

Guide Flies are essentially simple and quick to tie, inexpensive, durable and effective. You need to be able to whip them out by the dozen but still fish them with confidence.

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