Closed cell foam floats like a cork and is a great material for fly
tying. The only real problem here is that it's so big, it's only useful
in large flies like hoppers and crickets. If all you want to tie is
hoppers, your search has ended. But, if you want to tie the rest of the
patterns, you need to learn the other type of floatation.
Most dry flies float by the miracle of nature called surface tension.
The surface of any body of water has a tension that will float a needle
if it lands on the water lightly enough. This same tension forms a
barrier the pupa and emerging nymphs of most aquatic insects must break
though to "hatch" into adulthood.
Standard dry flies are light and have many surfaces that rest on the
surface tension (also known as surface film) and support the weight of
the fly. As long as the materials the fly is made of don't absorb water,
the fly will usually float a long time on the surface tension of the
water. If the fly tilts to the eye of the hook, is pulled through the
surface tension by the current, or absorbs water, it will sink. That's
why proper proportions and using the right technique to apply the hackle
and tail are so important.
Properly tied, a dry fly will float forever as long as another force
doesn't force it through the surface tension. So, let's take a look at
the parts and proportions of standard dry flies.
First, there are certain parts of a dry fly you need to know. The tail
is usually made from hackle fibers or stiff hair. It should be about the
same length as the hook shank.
Depending on the type of dry fly, the body should be between 1/2 and 2/3
the length of the hook shank and tapered slightly to look like the taper
of a real insect. To minimize water absorption, the body should be made
from a fine, non-water-absorbing dubbing material. Angler's Choice Pure
Silk dubbing is the nicest dubbing material I've used for dry flies.
It's super fine, twists very smoothly around the thread, and won't absorb
The hackle should be stiff and free of web. Webbing in the hackle will
absorb water and cause the fly to sink. As a general rule, the hackle
barbules should be approximately 1 1/2 times the hook gape. You can
measure this using a Griffin hackle gauge,
or by pulling a hackle feather up under the hook and looking at the length of
The hackle barbules should generally curve toward the eye of the
hook to prevent the fly from tipping on the hook eye.
There's a difference between quality hackle and cheap
hackle. The bargain hackle feather on the left has longer barbules, less
barbules, the barbules are softer, the feather is webby and shorter. It
won't work very well as a dry fly hackle. The feather on the right is
excellent hackle material with a high barbule count, short stiff
barbules, less web, and it's longer.
Quality saddle hackles are a great choice for dry flies
if you're tying a large quantity of the same size fly and you can find a
saddle with hackles in that size range (usually size 10 to 18).
Since saddle hackles are longer, you can tie as many as
four or five flies with one feather. You can see by the picture, it's a
far better bargain to buy quality than economy. All three of these
feathers will tie the same size fly. For the best economy, buy a quality
neck with its full range of sizes or a quality saddle if you are tying a
lot of flies in one size.
The wings on many flies are there to please the angler and serve no
other purpose. In some cases, the wings serve to make the fly more
visible to the angler. In a few cases, the wings are there to support
the fly in the surface tension. We'll look at those flies later.
Tied properly, standard dry flies rest on the surface tension by
balancing on the hackle and tail. The more hackle and tail that come
into contact with the surface tension, the more support the fly has and
the better it floats. The weight of the hook bend serves to keep the fly
riding upright. You should be able to draw a line between the hackle
tips and the tail and find the hook bend just touching the water's
In the case of thorax flies (also considered standard), the fly rests on
the wide stance of hackle that has been trimmed on the bottom to increase
the amount of hackle in contact with the surface tension. The tail of
thorax flies is usually tied in a V shape to increase the amount of tail
fiber in contact with the surface tension and add balance to the fly. In
this case, the hook point and bend penetrate the surface, but the
increased contact with the surface tension that the hackle and tail gives
the fly keeps it on top of the water.
Although thorax flies tend to look more natural to the fish, it's nice
to have a variety of flies in your fly box. Since wings usually aren't
necessary to fool a fish, the first fly we tie won't have wings. This
will give us a chance to work on basic proportions for a while.
List of materials: Gray Dun
Hook: Standard dry fly; Mustad 94840, Tiemco 100, Eagle Claw L059,
Daiichi 1180. Size 10 - 22.
Thread: 6/0 to 10/0 Gudebrod or equivalent, color to match body or
Body: Angler's Choice pure silk dubbing, mink under-fur, muskrat
under-fur, or any other synthetic or natural fine dubbing. Color to
match the body of the insect you want to imitate.
Hackle: Quality neck or saddle hackle, webby parts removed and 1/16"
of the remaining stem stripped of barbules. Color to match natural
insect or any pattern you want to tie. (In this case, a gray dun.)
1. Start the thread and tie in a tail about the same length as the hook
A slight upward pressure on the tail fibers while
tying them down will minimize the tendency for the fibers to turn around
2. Wrap a dubbed body to approximately 1/3 of the hook shank back from
the hook eye. Create a smooth tapered body.
3. Tie in a prepared hackle, curvature (dull side) facing up or forward.