It is a somewhat surprising fact that few British anglers actually fish to the size of the flies they are imitating. Consider a typical Midland reservoir where for much of the year the staple trout food will be chironomids, perhaps averaging in size to the equivalent of a number 14 hook. Most anglers will approach buzzer fishing however, with size 12 or even 10 imitations. This applies to either dry fly or imitations of the pupae or larvae. Also, it is only in comparatively recent times that British anglers have dressed down in terms of fly materials, such that the flies are generally more representative of the food forms they are intended to imitate, rather than bulky and over-dressed. On the river we are probably more likely to fish sizes of fly closer to the actual size of the food forms we are imitating, but still the general approach is with slightly (at best) oversized flies.
• Some of the Americans with their highly imitative approach, particularly with dry fly, are famous for dressing down to actual size of the naturals, such as tricos, midges and even micro sedges. It has been the Europeans, however, who in recent years have made the greatest advances, perhaps not so much in terms of imitation, but presentation.
• On every river I have fished this year, in Spain, Poland and Britain, I have been generally disappointed with the ephemerid hatches. To be more precise, since the welcome appearance of reasonable hatches of March Browns (persisting into early May), supplementing the reliable Large Dark Olives, the hatches have mostly been of small ephemerids, which are very difficult to identify. These actually correspond to perhaps a size 20 hook, at largest. These are micro dries – indeed anything in the size 30 to 20 range might be considered ‘micro’. Before anyone mentions it, I am using sizes rather loosely here. A 20 in a Varivas, say, might seem like a 16 in a Tiemco. Even different patterns of hook within the ranges of a single manufacturer vary according to the ‘standard’ scale, which is not too helpful.
I claim that it is not too important to be strictly imitative when we are tying such small dry flies. A general impression of size, shape and colour is just fine. On the other hand, the structure of these flies considerably affects their presentation – their attitude on the water’s surface – and I think we need to pay a lot of attention to that aspect of their construction. CDC is an outstanding material for dry flies, because its structure lends itself to the qualities of the naturals themselves, particularly wings. I cannot go into the sort of detail I would like here (but watch this space or one very nearby!), though it is enough to say now that CDC is a crucial component of the micro dry flies in use today, mostly dressed in shuttlecock-style, upwing-style, or flat over the back (in the style of F-flies). Each of these methods of tying in the wings of a dry fly alters not only its appearance, but the attitude of the fly on the surface. Shuttlecock-style sits the abdomen and hook down below the film, while the upwing style, particularly for a fly incorporating a tail, leads to a fly sitting horizontally in the film. You might feel that such subtle differences in such tiny flies can make little difference. Let me stress that with grayling particularly (though I would add wild brown trout, dace, roach, rudd and several other non-salmonid species to this list), I know that it is absolutely crucial to both the acceptance of a fly by a fish, and the hooking capability of that fly.
One common problem I have noticed with the tying of micro dries is that too much material is often used in their construction. You will never need more than a single CDC plume tip (or sparse bunch of fibres) in a fly smaller than a 16 or 18. Any more will certainly kill the appearance of the fly and will not overly benefit its floatation properties. Also, whatever material is used in the body of the fly – mole or hare’s fur dubbing perhaps, or fibres of pheasant tail or heron herl, it should be ultra sparse. Look at it like this: for a size 20 (such as the utterly reliable all-purpose light weight hook from World Class, Fulling Mill) no more than a single strand of heron herl, or two strands of cock pheasant tail, are required to completely form the abdomen and thorax regions of the fly, including a wing case if this is added; and there will still be material left over! For tails, if these are included, we are using just two micro-fibbets or synthetic quills, or strands of hackle such as Coq de Lion, split so as to give the V-effect, which stabilises the attitude of the fly in the surface film.
Tiny little balls, or knots, of dubbing material in the thorax region, with a single
CDC plume tip tied in over the back, make great all-purpose micro dries. Green or black wool as the dubbing are good aphid colours, while mole fur can yield a slender body, suggestive of all manner of insects such as reed smuts. Hare fur is outstanding, of course, again for general representations; but care should be taken with the guard hairs which can give overmuch bulk to the fly, and can also obscure the gape of such small hooks. In all cases, the dubbing should be but a tiny ball.
Provided the dressing of the fly complements the size of the hook, and attention is paid to the manner of the dressing, as above, so that we produce the effect we need, we are in a position to present the flies to the difficult fish for which they are intended. I will go into this presentation in the next part of Fishing on the Frontier.
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