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Fly Tying: Wirght’s Fluttering Caddis

Fountains of Youth – Classic trout flies that have withstood the test of time … flies that remain “forever young”

by Rusty Dunn

Which is more important when fishing dry flies to ris­ing trout:  A good presentation?  Or, a fly that imi­tates prevailing insects?  The correct answer is “A”, a good presentation.  Quality presentations are more important than everything else combined when it comes to fooling trout.  Fly size, pattern, and color are important, but excellent presentations will al­ways bring trout to hand, even with flies that look nothing like the insects du jour. On the other hand, you’ll rarely catch trout when your fly drags or floats unnaturally, no matter how perfect the imitation. 

This principle of dry fly angling descends from the teachings of F.M. Halford, probably the greatest and certainly the most influential dry fly practitioner ever.  In Halford’s own words:

Place the fly lightly on the water so that it floats accurately over the fish without the slightest drag“.  –in Floating Flies and How to Dress Them (1886)

Halford advocated dead-drift presentations in all cir­cumstances, but he fished the fertile chalk streams of Eng­land, which are astonishingly rich in mayflies.  In less fertile waters, such as the majority of North America, caddisflies are often more important to trout than mayflies.  Caddisflies often violate Halford’s rules as they flutter, skitter, and flop on the surface during emergence, or dap and skim the surface during egg laying.  In both situations, caddis dry flies pre­sented with subtle jerky movements imitate naturals better than those that drift quietly.  Such presenta­tions can make the difference be­tween a good day and a great day.

The undisputed champion of fishing dry flies with movement was Leonard Wright, Jr. (1922 – 2001).  His 1972 book Fishing the Dry Fly As A Living Insect articulates principles of when, where, and how to ma­nipulate a dry fly to entice a loafing trout.  Wright was a New York advertising executive who sum­mered in the Catskills and honed his skills on its heavily fished waters.  He recognized that caddis were often more abundant than mayflies, but he found little detailed in­formation in the angling litera­ture on how to fish them.  After studying the flop and flutter of caddis emergers, Wright experi­mented with flies and pres­entations to imitate their erratic motion.  He discov­ered that dry flies fished with movement can be more effective than those drifting freely.

“Movement” is not the same as “drag”.  A dragging fly is one whose movement is out of control.  The cur­rent pulls the fly constantly, and it glides across the stream.  An active fly is one whose movement is un­der con­trol.  The angler jerks the fly abruptly, and it should twitch a short distance in the  upstream direc­tion.  Watch emerg­ing caddisflies sometime.  Their stuttering attempts at flight are always directed up­stream.

Wright designed his Fluttering Caddis specifically for active presenta­tions.  Its magic lies in the presenta­tion.  Wright cast the Flut­tering Caddis across and slightly down­stream, with the fly line curving up­stream.  He mended line as needed to prevent drag and to coun­teract intervening currents.  As the drifting fly ap­proached a rising fish or likely lie, Wright raised the rod tip sharply and gave the fly one quick little nudge.  He called the maneuver “the sudden inch“, because the fly darted upstream (or up-and-across) about that distance.  Any other direc­tion identifies the distur­bance as a fraud.

Wright was not the first author to advocate active presentations of dry flies, but each generation of an­gler benefits from being reminded of age-old princi­ples.  Leonard Wright did just that.  He reminded us that trout often judge the movement of potential food to separate the meat from the chaff.  Wright’s method is a proven winner, and not just for emerging caddis.  You would be wise to get a little twitchy when casting dry flies over suspicious fish.

Copyright 2017, Rusty Dunn

Wright’s Fluttering Caddis

Hook: Dry fly, #12 – #18
Thread: 8/0, color to match
Body: Pheasant tail feather barbs or other feather fibers, color to match the natural.  Keep the body slim.
Body: Several strands of peacock herl, twisted with thread for reinforcement
Ribbing: Fine gold wire, counter-wrapped
Wing: Rooster hackle barbs or mink tail guard hairs, length about twice the body.  Form a bundle over the upper half of the body, veil­ing it slightly.
Hackle: Rusty dun rooster hackle, tied bushy