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Catskill "School" of Dry Flies


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#1 Red Owl

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 09:41 PM

What exactly makes a "Catskill" fly different or unique?  I think I have some ideas and I'll state what I think I know. One is a wing, usually divided of Wood Duck Flank feathers. So far I've been using a yellow"ish" color but I think a gray shade is also traditional- I'm not sure. I've made one trip to the museum in L.M. but I should have looked more closely.  The body of the flies seem to be very thin- not much more than the diameter of the hook. One issue I have with that is dubbing thread with too much material.  On the hackle, I think I read something by Theo Gordon that blue dun simply could not be matched, the best choice in many situations.  On the Quill Gordon, my quill just doesn't seem to have the two tones or shades that gives the intended effect and a lot of commercial ties are "just quill" without a noticeable banding effect which I think was the idea. On the tail fibers- I'm confused on the material and whether "a bunch" of fibers were used or a number selected, whether they were splayed out or bunched together.

   Although these flies are old patterns I'm wondering if they are not still good choices. When you look at the natural and then many modern flies, today's flies seem to have too much material. I'm wondering if the delicate nature of the Catskill types did a good job. My off hand feeling is, in order to get the fly to ride dry and not cocked, etc.- and tie it sparse- might have required a lot morh skill. I put together some stuff that looks okay at the vise but doesn't float square.  



#2 KeithD

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 11:44 PM

I think a Catskill style dry fly is basically characterized by upright wings, stiff hackle, and the ability to ride on the currents of Catskill rivers. That was the basic intent of Theodore Gordon when he first tied flies based on imitations from English chalkstreams whose currents are not as turbulent. I like the thinner profile and tie most of my dries that way. I just feel it presents better on the water and picky fish are less so. That's just my two cents. If you want the real run down, talk to our host. There is a tying lineage there that goes back a long way and you will get it first hand.

#3 Red Owl

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 08:10 PM

I think you are right on the hackle part, if I recall that was a big issue but it may have been because it was right at the beginning of the dry fly appearance here in the US.. I always grease my flies to float but it has always seemed if the fly really rides on the tips of the hackle- why grease?

    Sort of switching gears.....when nymphs first got going, how deep did they sink?  In other words today with weighted nymphs, beadheads, etc. we can get a nymph pretty deep but I'm wondering if a lot of the early days the nymph was only an inch or two below surface-actually almost an emerger.

    The Grey Wulff- I always thought that was tied for the tumbling water in the Ausable but was wondering if iit was more or useful on Catskill water- any one use it a lot?



#4 catskilljohn

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 10:50 PM

Its a style, a style that has changed since its inception over a hundred years ago but still [hopefully] recognizable to the folks who know it.

Harry Darbee wrote of its characteristics in his book, and to sum it up, space behind eye, wood duck divided wings, sparse body of fur or stripped quill, stiff glossy hackle, again sparse as you mentioned.  It is said Rube Cross altered the early Catskill flies to the style we recognize today, and many have been tying in that tradition since. 

 

I chuckled a little when I read your line of flies "riding on their hackle tips".  While the Dan Baily catalog years ago famously showed a Royal Coachman riding on a surface of water with the hook, tail and hackle tips holding it up, this is not how our flies in reality ride a streams surface.  Its a simple test really, fill a glass with water and drop one of your "best" dry flies in and watch what happens.  If you don't have the time I can tell you...the bottom 180* of hackle is submerged, the tail is flat on the surface and the body is holding the hook up.  This is in a glass of standing water, no leader to weight it down and dropping it in from a few inches, far softer than a cast into moving water produces. 

 

Few, if any flies ride on their hackle tips, maybe a thread body variant on a #18 3X fine wire hook, and then only for a few feet.   

 

Nothing wrong with that though. If you have ever seen the old, really old Catskill flies from the turn of the century [not the last one, the one before] you will notice 3 or 4 wood duck fibers for the tail, heavy [soft] hackle up front and heavy cocked wings.  If anything, these flies sat in the water almost like emergers, with the body submerged and only the hackle and wings holding them up. 

 

And the Grey Wulff...great Catskill pattern, even in smaller sizes. I mean, come on...Lee invented it and he lived there!    CJ



#5 Red Owl

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Posted 03 April 2015 - 03:14 PM

Thanks for the mea culpa. I too have done the glass of water thing.  My flies riding cocked- I'll tear off the hackle and re-tie- but like you said, most just don't ride on the tips of the hackle and if you look at some originals, "sparse" hackle. I've often wondered "how did they get those flies to ride on the hackle? Maybe they didn't.

   If you haven't read Lee Wulff's "Trout on a Fly"- lots of really good stuff, such as mayflies always have their upright wings tight to one another and yet we all divide the wings into a V, and a lot of other "common sense" things most of us never think about. I tried his oval- continuous cast and it works.



#6 Ellen

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Posted 08 April 2015 - 05:52 PM

The Catskills type of tying probably goes back to England.  In the early stages of dry fly fishing, flies were most often tied with silk thread or Quills as fur soaks up water and fly floatant was most often deer fat or that new product, Vaseline.

Gordon adapted the English school of tying using quills.  Gordon placed wood duck wings on an old English pattern called the "Blue Upright" and a new pattern was born.

As for the length of shank on a dry fly, a book came out in 1923 saying the major turle knot is easier to tie if the fly is tied further back on the hook.

Another thought is that people early on noticed that sparse tied flies caught more fish,  Take a trip to the fly fishing center-there are some classier Catskill ties there and those flies were made to fish, not show off,

The manner on which we tie our flies today is in the style of Gordon. He was the first to tie it in at right angles and the first to talk about the need for stiffer hackle to float on our fast flowing rivers.

                                                                                    Dennis



#7 Red Owl

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 03:47 PM

I didn't explain the hook thing correctly. A lot of the early flies had an upturned eye- makes sense since it increases hook gap and maybe helps you hook more trout BUT all the flies today seem to use a turned down eye. I'm thinking maybe the turned down eye rides better on the water?



#8 Red Owl

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Posted 12 April 2015 - 06:17 PM

Well, not to answer my own answer but.......On the Hendrickson from what I've been researching the original tail was Wood Duck but it soaked up water more than hackle fibers so dun hackle was later on used. Have any of you used both and decided one is better?

   On winding the hackles....I sometimes get barbs trapped under the quill. I went back to the books and one says to have the hackle facing away from you with the barbs pointing front and back and then use the left hand to gently hold back the barbs as you wind. How do most of you wind hackles to prevent some barbs from getting trapped under the main shaft/quill?



#9 Randyflycaster

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Posted 29 June 2015 - 01:51 PM

If you can spend the money, I highly recommend Mike Valla's book, Tying Catskill-Style Dry Flies.

One of the reasons I love the book is because the author shows many of the different techniques

Catskill tiers used to tie the same fly.

Randy



#10 catskilljohn

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Posted 29 June 2015 - 11:25 PM

On winding the hackles....I sometimes get barbs trapped under the quill. I went back to the books and one says to have the hackle facing away from you with the barbs pointing front and back and then use the left hand to gently hold back the barbs as you wind. How do most of you wind hackles to prevent some barbs from getting trapped under the main shaft/quill?


I face them both the same way, concave side towards the rear ["good" side forward]. I attempt to leave a tiny space between the quill when wrapping the first hackle, so that the second one has a groove to sit in. When wrapping the second hackle, I move it slightly front to rear as I wrap, this helps part the fibers making space for the quill.

Here is a #12 Fifty Degrees on an old Bergman gold label hook...

026-1.jpg

I like the tail and wing a little long, everyone does them a little different. CJ

#11 Gene

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Posted 30 June 2015 - 12:34 AM

Very nice CJ, haven't done many catskill style flies in a while. One of these winters I need to tie an assortment of Flick patterns.

#12 lpette

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Posted 01 July 2015 - 02:00 PM

Valla's book Tying Catskill Style Dry Flies does a good job describing the history, style and technique of the Catskill Fly. CJ ties some of the nicest Catskill flies I've seen. I like the longer tail and wings as well when tying in this style. The flies are still very productive and I use them most of the time with success. 

 

Years ago they didn't have the consistent stiff quality hackle they have now and some of those flies, while tied by the "masters" and originators don't look as nice as the ones you see tied today. Don't be so critical of yourself Red Owl. My flies are nowhere near perfect(most look crippled or injured!) and they still catch fish and are fun to tie.

 

Practice in the beginning with Mallard flank instead of the really nice wood duck. There are many techniques for tying in the wing but the simplest method is to cut the quill at the tip of the feather to make a little V, tie it in so it is about a hook shank in length when upright and divide the wings with figure eight wraps. Again there are other methods. Also the larger the Peacock eye, the  better the quills seem to be.

 

Read up a little on the Catskill Style fly and practice. More importantly, have fun.  Save the perfect ones for the walls. The less than perfect ones with uneven wings, short or long tails and untidy whip finishes will still catch 'em!

 

Here's a quill bodied fly I tied a while back that I thought came out pretty good. It has Mallard Flank for the wings.

 

I think the Catskill Style of tying has varied with different tiers through the years. You can drive yourself crazy trying to duplicate the exact style or fly.

 

Leif

 

Picture061.jpg



#13 Gene

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Posted 01 July 2015 - 02:19 PM

Very nice Leif, they are certainly fun to tie. I fish and tie parachutes most of the time, occasionally a Compara dun.




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