Proving Patterns

This morning’s trial: blending three colors of silk dubbing to produce a good match for the Hendrickson mayfly that I hope will be hatching a month from now. I have full confidence in the CDC comparadun style of tie, and the silk body tied on a special hook will enhance translucency. I know this fly will catch trout, but will it work when other patterns don’t? Answering that question lies at the root of my experimentation in fly design. Proving patterns can take time.

I love to experiment with flies! I am never satisfied, for neither are some of the trout I encounter. I have dozens of patterns that have been proven effective, and there are certain ones that I have come to rely upon for the most difficult, selective fish. As long as I chance to encounter a rising trout that refuses everything I offer, I will continue to seek the answer to nature’s riddle.

Honestly, proving a new pattern can take several seasons. Certainly new flies will be fished, and more often than not they will catch trout. In that scenario, what I have is another capable fly, but the questions that drive me have not been answered. Is this fly better than the others? Will this pattern take the trout that refuses those others. To prove a pattern, or a design, means those questions must be answered, and that means that I have to encounter the right situation: the trout that keeps eating an insect that I can identify, yet refuses to eat the existing patterns I tie to match that hatch.

During the past two seasons I have paid particular attention to improving the translucency of my dry flies, anything but a new idea. This morning I visited the blog of an English angler and author, Robert Smith. A friend had shared one of Rob Smith’s articles with me a couple of months ago, and Mr. Smith later graciously joined one of our Catskill Fly Tyers Guild Zoom meetings. His blog, The Sliding Stream (, offered an interesting article on a British angling classic: J.W. Dunne’s “Sunshine and the Dry Fly”. Smith discussed Dunne’s efforts to maximize translucency more than a century ago. His article inspired me to tie a few flies in furtherance of an idea I have kicked around for quite a while.

Dunne came to the conclusion that translucency could be improved by painting his hook shanks white and tying his fly bodies with special, very delicate silks. Daiichi makes a dry fly hook in a “Crystal” finish, a mirrorlike silver, and I have had some of them for years. I have used them sparingly, and thought idly about tying dubbed silk bodies on them, but I hadn’t done it until this morning.

To take best advantage of these materials and Mr. Dunne’s premise, there is one missing ingredient: I would like to have some very fine white silk tying thread. I used dun colored 14/0 thread for the Hendrickson, and pale yellow 12/0 for the Yellow Dun Sulfur below. The next step will be to try some of the white 14/0 I use for tricos, assuming I can’t find some silk.

The Yellow Dun CDC wing combined with a trailing shuck and a blended silk body was my most productive fly during the spring of 2020. Sometimes the trout prefer hackle fiber tails rather than the bright Antron shuck, so this version is tied with barred rusty dun tails and the special Daiichi hook.

As Rob Smith noted in his piece, sunlight is necessary for the magic to happen, something that can be rare in the British Isles I understand. We are pretty lucky in that regard here in the Catskills, and I believe that the silk dubbing improves translucency even when daylight is more subdued. Assuming you don’t use too much wax and pressure in the application, the dubbing has a loft that wrapped tying silk doesn’t. The fibers will trap air bubbles and those bubbles will reflect the available light. Time will tell.

I hope I will get the chance to prove the new Hendrickson variation during this season’s hatch. The Hendricksons bring out as many anglers as trout, so there are usually opportunities to fish to plenty of heavily pressured and ultra selective wild trout. Having a better, more natural looking fly, ought to make the difference for some of those brownies!

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