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Fly Patterns
Dry Fly Basics


Designed by Len Halladay



Hook:        Daiichi 1170 #10-#18

Thread:     MFC 8/0 UTC 140
Tail:          Moose Body Hair

Body:        Adams Grey Antron Dubbing or Natural Muskrat

Hackle:     Mixed Grizzly and Brown

Wings:      Grizzly Hackle Tips


The Adams is a classic Catskills dry fly designed by Len Halladay for lawyer Charles Adams in the early twenties and has become arguably the most well known fly pattern across North America.  No fly selection would be complete without a handful of Adams.  Although most often thought of a consummate mayfly imitation the original Adams was intended to suggest caddis. 


The Adams, as with most classic dry flies looks painless to tie.  But as most can attest, balanced standard dry flies can be tough, driving some to fits.  Perhaps the simplicity causes complexity? Traditional dry flies are proportionally demanding. Those who set high proportional stands reap the rewards of their investment, discovering dry fly skills and discipline transfers to other pattern styles including nymphs and streamers.


Dry fly tyers must understand hackle.  What constitutes quality dry fly hackle? Where to find it?  Not all hackle is created equal.  Dry fly hackle has stiff barbs free of web, the exact opposite of wet fly hackle. Stiff hackle barbs are the primary support mechanism for the fly.  Quality dry fly hackle combines with the tail, forming a tripod of sorts, allowing the fly to perch upon the meniscus without collapse.


Quality dry fly hackle hails from North America, genetic roosters specifically grown for their hackle.  Hen hackle is too soft, unable to support a fly.  Other than for wings hen hackle is not suitable for dry flies and is best left for wet flies.  Although Chinese and Indian hackle comes from roosters their feathers are the best dry fly choice. Chinese necks have inconsistent width and the barbules are too long for trout sized dry flies.  Indian necks possess some dry fly hackle for larger dry flies but their feathers are inconsistent and short.  Use Chinese and Indian necks for steelhead patterns and smaller wet flies. 


Fly tyers have the choice of capes or saddles.  Each has their pros and cons. Capes come from the back of the neck just behind the roosters head.  Prior to recent saddle patch development capes were the preferred dry fly choice.  Capes offer a wide range of sizes, from #28 and smaller through #8.  This diversity comes with a price.  Literally, quality genetic capes can retail for over $100.  Cape feathers are shorter than saddle feathers. Their stems are also thicker which can be problematic for some.  Saddles come from the middle of the roosters back, roughly where one would sit to ride one.  Saddles offer a narrower size range, often 2-3 hook sizes only.  Their feathers are long supple and easy to wind due to their narrow stems.  Some patches feather feature hackle lengths of close to a foot.  Years ago saddle barb length was longer, typically sizes 12 through 8.  Hackle science has progressed and saddles below size 16 are common.  Most favour saddles verses capes as they are less expensive. Hackle producers use various criteria to grade their hackles, either by number or Olympic medal status.  A number one or gold cape or saddle is the pick of the litter.  Each producer has their own grading method.


Most flies are tied from tail to head.  Dry flies are different, appearing to jump all over the map.  This tying order and its related proportions has a method to its madness and is critical to proportional success.  Start by covering the front half of a light wire dry fly hook with tying thread.  Position the tying thread at the mid point of the covered shank.  This simple method locates the s mark on the shank, the correct dry fly wing location.  Standard wing proportions are shank length.  Long wings cause flies to face plant .  After the initial wrap all additional securing wraps must be made towards the tail.  Winding forward shortens the wings altering the proportions.  Proper wing location is critical as all other components build from this.


Once the wings are in place cover the rear half of the shank with tying thread.  Tie in the tail.  Tail proportions vary depending on material choice, hair or hackle.  Stiff hair tails are shank length, hackle tails can be as long, up to 1.5 times the shank.  Govern thread when tying in hair tails.  Too much causes tail flare.  With the tail complete form a body covering the rear half of the hook.  Do not proceed past the mid point of the shank.  Dubbed bodies should be slender.  Twist the dubbing onto the thread creating a natural opaque look.  Adult insects are not as translucent as their nymphal or pupal forms. 


Select two hackles with barb lengths 1.5 times the gape of the hook.  Vise mounted hackle gauges are a good dry fly investment. Sizing hackle using hooks is inefficient.  Some producers offer sized hackle packs that are worth investigation. Remove the flue and wider hackle fibres at the base of each feather.  The prepared feather should be the same width from tip to butt.  Lay the feathers on top of each other convex to concave side.  Pinch the hackles positioning the feather stems against the near side of the hook, the concave or the dull side of the hackle facing the tyer, dry fly style.  Dry fly hackle fibres leans forward, resisting collapse providing support.  Tie the feathers in place with a short length of stripped stem exposed. The stripped stem aids feather positioning.  Hackles may be wound individually or together.  Winding the hackle together produces dense hackle trapping fewer fibres and is a personal favourite.  Hackles can be wound y hand or with the aid of hackle pliers.  There are 3 main styles; English tear drop, rotating and simple electricians pliers.  I prefer the English style.  Rotating or articulated pliers are ideal for parachutes.  Rather than attaching the hackle pliers right away place a half turn rotation in the hackle by hand so it hangs straight down. Position the hackle tight against the body with no feather twist, dull side facing the hook eye. Now attach the pliers.  Wind the hackle forward removing any hackle twist after each wrap. The finished hackle should occupy the front half of the hook, perpendicular to the shank, wings peaking out of the mid section.  Three wraps of each hackle fore and aft of the wing is a good proportional measure. Place a wrap of hackle at the rear and front of the wing base to reinforce and support the wings. 


Good dry flies take practice, patience and perseverance.  Choose the correct hackle adopt ruthless proportional guide lines.  Remember to the fly in the following sequence; wing, tail, body and hackle.  Do not be shy, try a dry!

Tying Instructions

1) Cover the front half of the hook with tying thread.  Position the thread so it hangs at the mid point of the thread covered front half of the hook, the 3/4 point on the shank   Take 2 grizzly feathers and place them convex side to convex side tips running away from each other.  I prefer the wide round tips of grizzly hen saddle. Tie the paired feathers in together at the s mark on the hook creating a shank length wing.  Each securing wrap should behind the previous to avoid shortening the wings.  Trim the excess and cover the butts with tying thread.  Raise the wings and place additional securing wraps at the base to stand them.  Figure 8 wrap through the wings a few times to secure and divide them.  Trim any errant fibres and apply head cement to the wing base for added security.



2) Cover the rear half of the hook shank with tying thread.  Return the tying thread to the mid portion of the hook shank.  Prepare and stack a small clump of moose body hair.  Tie in the prepared moose body hair at the mid point of the shank and secure back to the bend of the hook. Use firm thread wraps to bind the tail in at the mid point.  Reduce the thread tension as the moose body hair is secured down the shank to avoid tail flare. Make sure the tips extend behind the hook no more than shank length.  Trim and cover the butts of the moose body hair.  Do not go past the mid point of the hook.



3) Twist a sparse amount of dubbing onto the hook, essentially enough to change the thread color.  Dub a neat slender tapered body forward to the mid point of the shank.  As with the tail, do not go past the mid point of the hook.




4) Take 2 appropriately sized dry fly quality brown and grizzly hackles and lay them one top of each other, convex side to concave side.  Pinch and hold the feathers together and remove the flue and long fibres at the base of the feathers.  Tie in the prepared feathers together dry fly style, convex or least prominently marked side of the feathers facing the tyer.  Remember to keep a small portion of the stem is exposed.  This small section of exposed stem helps position the feather during the initial wraps.



5) Using hackle pliers or fingers wind the feathers forward, either one at a time or together forward to the hook eye.  When using hackle pliers take one half turn of hackle and attach the pliers when the feather is pointing straight down.  This positions the hackle so it is perpendicular to the shank.  Remove any twist in the feathers after each wrap.  Once complete the wings should be in the mid portion of the hackle, tips peaking out.  The goal is to place 3 hackle wraps of each feather behind and in front of the wings.  To reinforce and help stand the wings place the initial hackle wrap at the wing base when coming forward.  Avoid crowding the head area.




6) Tie off the hackle feathers and trim the excess.  Pull down slightly on the bobbin to apply tension and sweep the hackles back to expose the hook eye.  Bobbin tension ensures the hackles are not accidently pulled out when sweeping back.  Build a neat tapered head.  Trim any errant fibres.  If the hackle has been wound in a perpendicular manner there should be few if any fibres to trim.  Apply head cement allowing it to run back into the hackle added durability. 








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