Category Archives: Dry Flies

May Break – 05/06/2020

May Break 05/06/2020 Photo Album

My first ever guided fishing day occurred on the Frying Pan River in the early 1990’s, shortly after we moved to Colorado from Pennsylvania. During this wonderful day my guide introduced me to the western green drake hatch, and seeking this exciting hatch has been an annual quest ever since. The guide set me up on the right side of the river and pointed out a nice trout that periodically surfaced along a current seam to crush the large mayflies attempting to become airborne. He tied an odd fly on to my line that struck me as a poorly tied mayfly dun. Apparently the trout thought the fly was expertly tied, because several fine Frying Pan browns sucked it in with no reluctance. I asked my guide what the fly was named, and he said it was a green drake cripple.

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookTMC 5212 Size 12 or 14
ThreadLight olive 6/0
TailPearl krystal flash and olive and gray marabou
AbdomenLight olive and gray marabou barbs
ThoraxPeacock herl
Thorax shroudDun antron fibers
WingNatural deer hair
HackleDun dry fly hackle

As I browsed through the scanned patterns in my iPad, I encountered a fly called a May break from Southwest Fly Fishing. This fly looked very similar to the green drake cripples that enabled me to enjoy some success during my first guided fly fishing trip on the Frying Pan River. I decided to manufacture a few to determine if they still possessed the magic of the early 1990’s. I reviewed the materials list and determined that I possessed all the materials except for gray marabou and dun antron fibers. I concluded that I could substitute the gray fluffy feathers from the base of a game bird feather for the gray in the tail. For the twisted marabou abdomen I elected to simply use light olive marabou since that color matched the body of a green drake, and I substituted some gray-olive antron for the dun antron thorax shroud.

A May Break

Upon completion of five May breaks, I examined my output, and I was quite pleased with the flies on my tying bench. They closely resemble the green drake cripples from my memory, and I am anxious to give them a trial on western streams during green drake emergence time.

A Bit Closer Look

Royal Wulff – 05/05/2020

Royal Wulff 05/05/2020 Photo Album

The royal Wulff is allegedly one of the most popular flies in the world. It was created by Lee Wulff as a visible high floating attractor, and it certainly matches that description. I tend to gravitate more to flies that are intended to imitate something, although I am not sure how I explain my love affair with the hippie stomper and Chernobyl ant. At least in those instances I can envision a likeness to a terrestrial or large stonefly. The shape and key triggering characteristics of a royal Wulff clearly fall within the range of a mayfly with a tail and upright wing, but how does one explain the peacock and red floss body?

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookStandard dry fly hook
ThreadBlack 6/0
TailDeer hair
WingsCalf hair
BodyRed floss and peacock
HackleBrown neck hackle

I rarely fish a royal Wulff, because I generally default to a stimulator or adult caddis as my large searching dry fly. However, I have friends who knot a Wulff to their line more frequently, and they report decent success. One of the flies that popped up on my iPad, that I scanned from Fly Tyer Magazine was the royal Wulff. With recovery time on my hands after surgery, I decided to spin out five.

Another Angle

The most difficult aspect of a royal Wulff, in my mind, is the calf hair wing. Calf hair is more slippery to work with than deer hair or feathers, so pinching and figure eight wraps are a necessity. I managed to overcome the wing challenge and produced five respectable royal Wulffs, that I added to my fly box. Hopefully I remember these new ties, when I wade into a mountain stream in a few months.

Five Ready for Action

Squirrel Tail Comparadun – 04/15/2020

Squirrel Tail Comparadun 04/15/2020 Photo Album

I browsed through my collection of scanned fly patterns from back issues of my various fly fishing magazines, and I encountered the squirrel tail comparadun from Fly Tyer Magazine. I am a huge fan of comparaduns, and I recalled having a thirty year old squirrel tail that was given to me by a friend, while I lived in Pennsylvania.  Why not give these a try?

Nice Side View

I searched through my zip lock bag of natural animal hair patches and quickly snatched the squirrel tail. A quick inspection revealed that it remained in prime condition, so I placed it on my fly tying bench. I also grabbed my muskrat patch for the body and then shook some size 16 standard dry fly hooks on my magnet and threaded some gray thread into my bobbin. I was now prepared to experiment with squirrel tail comparaduns.

Five Completed Next to a Squirrel Tail

I made five, but I must report that squirrel hair is harder to manage than coastal deer hair. The five flies turned out to be quite respectable comparaduns, but the hair is fine and slippery and difficult to cock as an upright wing. The stiff squirrel tail fibers served as excellent outrigger tails, but microfibbets are an equally effective stiff tailing material. I gave them a try, and I embedded a pair in my fly box. It will be interesting to see how they perform compared to my usual gray deer hair comparaduns.

Desperate Caddis – 03/30/2020

Desperate Caddis 03/30/2020 Photo Album

As outlined in my 03/29/2020 post regarding the better woolly bugger, I initiated a project to tie new flies that intrigued me, when they appeared in the many magazines that I subscribe to. The next item in my scanned fly pattern queue was the desperate caddis. The designer of this fly promised that it was a very quick but effective tie, and after producing five at my tying bench, I am inclined to agree. The fly only requires four materials including the thread and hook. The designer’s main revelation is to eliminate a dubbed body on a fly that has dense hackle wound around it, because the body is barely visible to the trout. In the desperate caddis design the thread suffices as a body.

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookStandard dry fly hook
Thread6/0 gray
HackleSize 16 grizzly saddle feather.
WingElk hair

Size 16

I sat down at my vice and created five desperate caddis. I chose gray thread, which yielded a gray body, because I find gray to be universally effective in caddis adult dry fly situations. The Adams is a great example of a generally imitative dry fly, and it possesses a gray body. The desperate caddis is a very simple dry fly that should fool numerous greedy trout in the coming year.

Bring Them Closer

Spin Doctor – 03/27/2020

Spin Doctor 03/27/202 Photo Album

I subscribe to at least six fly fishing magazines, and before I dispose of an issue, I flip through it and scan any fly patterns that stir my interest. With my fly boxes replenished with all my favorite patterns, I decided to review my scanned patterns for new additions to my ample supply of flies. Of course tying new flies is only a first step. I tend to revert to favorites, and it takes extra commitment to provide a fair test for a new pattern.

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookDry fly hook
Thread6/0, color to match body
Overbody1MM foam strip
AbdomenDubbing, color to match natural
WingsPoly or organza, white or clear
IndicatorSmall orange 1MM foam strip
ThoraxDubbing to match abdomen

If you follow this blog, you know that I am a big fan of Andrew Grillos, the king of foam. One of the fly patterns that I scanned with the intention of trying is called the spin doctor. This fly is essentially a conventional spinner; however, Andrew incorporated two sections of 1MM foam to provide improved buoyancy and visibility. Because I normally fish during the late morning and afternoon, I rarely encounter strong spinner falls. Mating mayflies and spinner fall events tend to occur in the early morning and evening hours in the west, since these times generally coincide with the calmest hours of the day.

A Different View

One notable interaction with pale morning dun spinners took place on the Conejos River during a July 2016 trip. For the full story check out my post of 07/20/2016, and scroll toward the end. On this day I was camping near the river, so after dinner and clean up I wandered to a nice nearby hole and began to fish. As luck would have it, a pale morning dun spinner fall commenced, but when I frantically searched my fly boxes, I was disappointed to learn, that I did not have spinner imitations of the appropriate body color. I subsequently remedied this oversight and stocked a variety of spinner flies, but at the time I shifted into improvise mode. I plucked one of my size 16 cinnamon comparaduns from my box, and I mashed down the deer hair wings, so they parted in the middle and spread out at ninety degree angles from the hook shank. If you read my post, you learned that the ploy paid dividends, and I enjoyed some fine action over the remainder of the evening.

Zoomed on the Bunch

Despite this improvisational success story, I realized that I had not tied spinner flies in quite a while, so I decided to create some spin doctor patterns in pale morning dun body colors. I crafted two with light amber, two with a light olive body, and two with the aforementioned cinnamon. I am anxious to give the spin doctors a test during the upcoming season.

Damsel Adult – 03/21/2020

Damsel Adult 03/21/2020 Photo Album

With the corona virus necessitating self quarantines in Colorado, and a snowstorm placing a freeze on outdoor activities, I decided to return to my vice. During the winter I cycled through all my mainstay flies, and I was now positioned to undertake some experimental patterns. But before I forged into the new and untested, I remembered a day on a Frost Creek pond, when I was frustrated with my inability to hook trout in spite of the presence of abundant quantities of large rising fish. Rising is really an understatement, as most of the trout were aggressively slashing at surface food. My post of 07/12/2019 describes the discouraging day on a Frost Creek pond.

The obvious food that the Frost Creek trout craved was adult damsel flies. Hundreds of delicate blue aquatic insects fluttered about and perched on the reeds along the shoreline. At the time I vowed to remedy this lack of matching imitations, and with the completion of my standard tying for the upcoming season, I prepared to tie damsel adults. I started with an on line search of damsel adult patterns, and I began with one of my favorite tiers, Charlie Craven. I was pleased to discover that Charlie had a parachute damsel adult on his web site, and I promptly decided to make this pattern my first prototype.


Unfortunately the recipe called for a braided damsel body material, blue 2mm foam, and blue dubbing. I possess drawers full of tying materials, but the color blue is totally absent. I made the drive to Charlie’s shop in Arvada, and Charlie himself help me find and purchase the necessary materials. He was out of blue damsel body braid, so I bought white and a blue marker and colored my own. This actually worked out quite nicely, when I finally sat down to make my first batch of adult damsels.

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookSize 12 Tiemco 2457
ThreadGray 6/0 (blue prescribed by Craven)
AbdomenBraided damsel body
Thorax2 mm foam
WingsLarge grizzly hackle

A Batch of Five

The Craven parachute adult damsel is actually quite easy to tie, and I quickly produced five for my fly box for the 2020 season. In Charlie’s introduction to the tying steps, he mentioned the teneral stage of the adults. This refers to the stage of the adult when it first emerges from the nymph while clinging to vegetation along the shoreline. The adults are pale yellow to olive at this time and very vulnerable to getting swept into the water by gusts of wind, and this circumstance is not overlooked by the nearby ravenous trout. In preparation for encountering this event, I tied two additional adults with a light olive braid, foam and dubbing.

Olive Color

Hopefully the corona virus will pass before the summer fishing season, and I will be prepared to cast my damsel adults on Colorado lakes and ponds.

Yellow Sally – 02/26/2020

Yellow Sally 02/26/2020 Photo Album

For many years I viewed the yellow sally as a summer hatch that did not occur with enough density to attract trout to the surface in great quantities on major rivers. Sure it was a good searching pattern on small high country creeks, but for hatch matching I carried some just in case but did not use them frequently. That line of thought shifted dramatically after several blizzard hatches on the Eagle River in recent years during the post run off season. If the reader is interested in a vivid description of one of these outings, check out my 07/03/2017 post on the Eagle River. I described a blizzard hatch of yellow sallies, although you will note that I fished an iron sally and hares ear nymph through the hatch and did quite well. Nevertheless, I do not anticipate encountering another similar hatch without access to some yellow sally dry flies. Fish on larger rivers such as the Eagle, Arkansas and Colorado do tune into the plentiful supply of small yellow stoneflies.

Is It Real?

With the improved ranking of the yellow sally dry fly in my fly choice hierarchy, I took a quick inventory and concluded that I could use four additional size 14’s. My size 16’s were adequate, so I positioned myself at the tying station and cranked out some additional imitations. I have experimented with other patterns, but I concluded that the basic deer hair version works as well as any. Only three basic materials are required; yellow dubbing, yellow deer hair and ginger hackle. I feel prepared for the next yellow sally hatch that greets me on western waters.

Size 14 Yellow Sallies

Klinkhammer Blue Winged Olive – 02/23/2020

Klinkhammer Blue Winged Olive 02/23/2020 Photo Album

I counted my CDC blue winged olive supply and determined that adequate quantities were present in my bins for the upcoming season. Over the last several years I settled on three different styles of blue winged olive flies to match the ever changing emergence of these diminutive mayflies. In most cases the CDC olive is my first option, but quite frequently, especially on windy days, the trout ignore the CDC version, and this circumstance forces me to experiment with alternatives. A craven soft hackle emerger without a bead occasionally produces on difficult and windy days, but I apply floatant and fish it in the film, and this presentation is very difficult to track. A larger leading fly assists with visibility, but the wet fly fished as a dry is my third and final choice.

Not Bad

Several years ago I experimented with a Klinkhammer BWO pattern. You can view a materials table along with some narrative about this fly in my 01/09/2018 post. A link to an instance when the Klinkhammer justified my confidence is contained in my 02/22/2019 post.

Four New BWO Energers

My supply of Klinkhammer blue winged olives lagged my other versions, and this condition is probably related to its late addition as a mainstay fly in my arsenal. I remedied this situation to some extent, when I visited my fly tying station and churned out four new size 22 models. Hopefully the Klinkhammer will continue to be a productive addition to my fly box in 2020.

Deer Hair Caddis – 02/16/2020

Deer Hair Caddis 02/16/2020 Photo Album

My post of 11/28/2011 provides a materials table and an account of my early adoption of the deer hair caddis as an effective producer. Another post on 12/01/2011 documents the effectiveness of the deer hair caddis possessing a dark olive-brown body. An update of the deer hair caddis is available with my 02/24/2019 post.

A Row of Caddis Between Green Drakes and Stimulators

My caddis tying efforts generally follow pale morning duns, so I gathered my supply boxes and counted my carryover inventory. I was once again pleased to realize that adequate quantities of size 16 and 18 caddis occupied my storage containers in the common body colors of olive-brown, light gray, yellow, and tan. I accepted my good fortune and moved on to the next dry fly category to evaluate.

PMD Comparaduns – 02/15/2020

PMD Comparaduns 02/15/2020 Photo Album

Upon completion of green drake patterns, my winter fly tying routine normally transitions to pale morning dun imitations. After many years of success I settled on two patterns that generally fulfill my needs during a pale morning dun hatch. Comparaduns represent an accurate low riding likeness, and cinnamon and light gray bodies seem to cover nearly all pale morning dun scenarios. Another variable in the pale morning dun hatch matching game is size, and I typically stock size 18 and size 16 comparaduns, and these two sizes and colors seem to satisfy all my needs.

Cinnamon Size 16 Comparaduns

I collected my fly storage containers and counted my supply of cinnamon and light gray comparaduns in the two prevalent sizes, and I was pleased to determine that I possessed adequate quantities for the upcoming season. This raised the question of why I did not deplete my supply during 2019. The late and heavy run off during 2019 overlapped with the normal hatching time period of pale morning duns on freestone rivers and streams. I sat out the high murky conditions, and consequently missed the bulk of the pale morning dun hatch activity. Another dependable provider of pale morning dun entertainment is the Frying Pan River, but for some reason I never made the trek to the popular tailwater in the Roaring Fork Valley in 2019.