Friday, March 8, 2013

The Best Fly in the World

The best fly in the world is the one that catches the most fish.  It doesn't need to be switched out when the going gets tough, but it's also versatile and catches fish across a wide variety of conditions.  The best fly in the world catches trout when other patterns fail.  The best fly pattern is easy enough to tie that I don't cringe at the sight of a near-empty fly box compartment.  It should be relatively inexpensive, requiring only 3 or 4 materials and about as many tying steps.

Okay, I guess that's all well and good, but I don't really have a single pattern that exactly fits all the criteria.  I do have a few dry flies in my repertoire that are versatile, reasonably durable, simple and cheap to tie, sit low for a good presentation, but float for a long time, catch little brookies as well as pain-in-the-ass browns, and require just a minimal bit of general maintenance.  I can even tie them down to a #24 without needing to alter the pattern to make it possible...

So what am I actually talking about here?  Well, before I keep going, let's backtrack a hair over a dozen years ago, to the late days of the '90s and early 2000s....

After a few of my rookie influenced teenaged attempts to plump up my fly selection, I took the Comparadun fly that I used so often with good success and bought a few of the new to me CDC feathers from my local shop after seeing an SFOTF episode.  I tied up a small variety of Comparadun styled flies using some #16 light wire hooks, hackle fibres for a tail, either ginger or olive CDC chopped up for some rough dubbing, and some paired white or dun CDC tips for wings.

The result?  A supremely cheap, easy to tie mayfly, that floats well in a decent chop, can float a small nymph below it if it came to it, and after rinsing the fly off in the water, squeezing it dry with a handkerchief, and adding a tiny amount of CDC oil, lasted forever.  This thing worked wonders and accounted for a lot of trout during my misspent youth.  Well, not really misspent because I was fly fishing after all, but you know...

I caught a lot of small stream trout on those simple CDC flies, trout that had already seemed to wise up to the attractors being used by an onslaught of fly fishers that joined the ranks back then.

Okay, back to 2013, where there are more fishermen than ever, less good public water, smarter fish in many streams, not to mention less dry fly hackle thanks to some sort of recently deceased fad that involved horrendous prices and Steven Tyler. 

Re-enter CDC.  I would have to say that for any kind of dry fly, save for the largest hoppers, stones, attractors and the like, this is possibly my favourite material.  You can buy a bag of dun/dark beige Petitjean CDC for around ten bucks: enough to tie well more mayflies and caddisflies than you could reasonably expect to go through in a normal year.  You can even use it for hackle on an Elk Hair Caddis type pattern, and those long, mobile feathers just scream "life-like."  I like to collar some of my nymphs with it; it traps air bubbles, flows extremely well, and moves just right.

And trout are suckers for that.

I guess I would encourage people to try CDC if you haven't yet.  I know that CDC is one of the most popular dry fly materials in much of Europe, but it is often on of the last-resort type of fly tried out here.

I'm thinking of a story here, that happened early last fall on the Bow River.  I was working my way back to the truck in the late afternoon.  I'd sight-fished a mile or so or river edge, and slowly worked my way back down, picking up a couple of the trout I'd flubbed the first time and maybe a couple others ones too.  That part isn't really important.

I came across a couple anglers standing high on the bank looking at either a slow back bay or trying to see into a shallow riffle about 70 feet off the bank.  It was difficult to tell from a hundred yards away.

As it turned out, they were doing both.  There were a couple trout rising out in the riffle, and another one slowly cruising in the back eddy.  I guess they had fished the eddy for a while with no luck; I told them I had a similar experience earlier in the day, and encouraged the guy who was actually holding a rod to go try for the active risers.  He said he had been, but hadn't gotten a take.

Taking the situation into account, I suggested a slightly longer leader (I think he was using a total leader/tippet of about 9 or 10' to 4x), including a 2.5' 5x tippet and a low floating caddis.  There were caddis around us, but no fresh ones.  The rises were slow and deliberate, meaning the bugs in question weren't moving much, probably caddis that finished laying their eggs upstream a little ways, then just sort of sat there drifting until either time or a trout finished them off.

As it turned out, the flies he had tried were popular but heavily hackled and high floating caddis dries.  I offered the guy a Henry's Fork Caddis; it's made of a biot body, a CDC (and mallard flank, if you are into following the original recipe to a T) wing, and a medium dun hackle over a peacock herl head.  Brilliant, easy, and a great trout-fooler. 

The result?  A perfect 18 or 19" Bow River rainbow on his first cast.  He was happy, I was happy, and when he told me he had recently taken up tying, but had never used CDC before, I offered another H.F. Caddis as a model.  It isn't like I suggested he do something off the wall or bizarre, but a low-floater with CDC sure seemed to work well, and I was genuinely pleased that he caught that fish. 

A week or so later, Andy and I caught a few nice Bow River rainbows during an evening hatch, again using CDC caddis (well, at least I was).  Later in the fall I caught more than a few browns from a small spring creek near (sort of) where I live on a Stalcup Biot Dun (a size 18 of the blue winged olive variety).

For some great patterns, Rene Harrop and Shane Stalcup are well known "local" tyers who generously created patterns with CDC.  There are tons of great European CDC tyers, probably most notably Marc Petitjean. If this interests you, check out the book Fly Tying With CDC

I would say that the best, or at least some of the best, flies to tie if you're going to start tying with CDC would be the Henry's Fork Caddis (Harrop) and the CDC Biot Dun (Stalcup).  Both flies are simple and use roughly the same ingredients to complete (some Superfine/fine antron dubbing, turkey biots, CDC, and some half decent cape hackle.  I've substituted the original peacock herl for dubbing on the caddis' head, with no noticeable ill effects).  They also both catch fish.  The only concession I make to the fly, and subsequently the speed at which they can be churned out, is the small layer of Zap I lay over the thread-base before wrapping the biot; it's simply a matter of better longevity and fly survival rate.
Henry's Fork Caddis.  A very productive Rene Harrop fly.  #14, olive body with a grey wing.

Stalcup's CDC Biot Dun, minus the mallard quill overwing. #16 Pale Morning Dun.
As far as Marc Petitjean goes, his flies are even more simple, but no less effective.  He ties caddis flies that literally use nothing but hooks, thread, and CDC.  I tie them and use them, and they work really well.  His patterns just have this great bugginess to them that trout, especially clear water trout, cant get over.  You're also likely to see a pile of specialty Petitjean CDC tying tools, and while these are certainly nice, just as certainly they aren't absolutely necessary to tie great CDC flies. 
Petitjean Caddis. #16, grey/tan (marketed as beige), and just awesome-as-hell looking.

Happy tying.  Only a few more weeks guys.  Hang in there.