Updated: Oct 13, 2021
We've all been there, you're fishing one of your favorite dry flies and you notice it's starting to sink as it drifts down the stream. In this article, I'll walk through my process of bringing a dry fly "back to life" so it will float again.
Dry flies float by maintaining enough surface tension to support the weight of the fly. A dry fly will begin to sink once its weight becomes too heavy for the surface tension to keep it suspended on the water.
Surface tension vs Buoyancy
Surface tension: Allows small objects like dry flies that are more dense than water (hooks) to stay suspended on the water by preventing them from breaking through the surface. A hook, or anything else that's more dense than water, cannot technically "float".
Buoyancy: Describes the actually float-ability of an object. An object's considered to be buoyant if it's less dense than water (an example would be air). In dry fly fishing, buoyancy depends on materials of the fly. Certain hairs are hollow and fill with air, and CDC creates air bubbles between its fibers.
Steps to take before you leave home to keep your dry fly floating:
1. Apply a waterproofing treatment before the fly's first use
The watery liquid soaks into the fly, and after leaving it set to dry overnight, decreases the material's tendency to absorb water.
There're several waterproofing treatment products out there, my favorite happens to be
this one from Hareline called Water Shed. (Sorry, I couldn't find a link to it for Amazon pricing.)
2. Test the Dry Fly
After the waterproofing treatment has dried, test the dry fly to make sure it floats well. While no experiment can truly mimic how a fly will perform on an actual stream, the video below gives an example how I like test them out.
Steps to keep a dry fly floating while fishing:
What keeps a dry fly floating:
It's not possible to change the actual materials (buoyancy) of a dry fly after it's been tied. To keep a dry fly floating, surface tension needs to be increased and the weight of the fly needs to be decreased.
1. Apply a silicone based gel floatant prior to making your first cast with the dry fly
Before making your first cast:
Increase the fly's surface tension by applying a silicone gel to the hackle/hair of the fly. This gel settles between the fly's fibers to increase its surface area which helps keep the fly suspended on top of the water.
Applying this gel after you’ve already fished the fly becomes much less effective because the water on/in the fly doesn't allow the gel to stick to the fibers nearly as well as it does when it's dry.
Only apply the gel to the wing or parachute portion of the fly. If it's applied to the body, the dry fly won't ride correctly on the water.
The gel tends to freeze up in cold weather and become runny when it's hot out. Bring it inside with you after a trip instead of leaving it in the truck or garage.
A little goes a long way, you won't need to apply more than an ink drop worth.
My favorite gel fly floatant is Gink. Click on the image below to check out current pricing on Amazon:
2. Remove any moss and debris before drying the fly
After you notice the fly beginning to sink: Moss and debris add weight to the fly and trap water inside. Drying the fly before removing this will only "mash" the gunk into it and make it harder to remove, so make sure the fly is clean before squeezing it dry.
The fly is dried by squeezing it with a dry shirt or fly drying patch
Cotton clothing works best to soak up the water within the fly
Using a small sharp object (such as a hook from another fly) can be useful in helping to remove the moss and debris from the fly
*A better option than a shirt sleeve is using a drying patch. My favorite budget friendly option is the Umpqua Wonder Patch. One thing I really like about this one is its hole in the corner so it can hook to my zinger. Click on the image below to check out Amazon's current pricing:
3. Apply powder floatant
While gel floatant will increase the surface tension of a dry fly, powder floatant is designed to soak up the water that the fly's absorbed. This reduces the weight of the fly and allows it to be suspended on top of the water's surface.
Don't be shy, use plenty of power for each application
This can be repeated as many times as needed, just make sure all moss and debris are removed from the fly prior to applying the powder
Power floatant with a brush applicator is MUCH BETTER than the brands that don't include one
*Frogg's Fanny is my favorite powder fly floatant. It does a great job of sucking out the water, and comes with a brush that makes application 10x easier than dipping the fly into the bottle itself. Click on the image below to check out current pricing on Amazon:
Leaders and tippet to make a dry fly float longer
Using the right leader and tippet can help keep your dry fly floating longer.
Monofilament leaders and tippet work best for dry fly fishing because they float better than fluorocarbon.
Moss and debris gathering on a line or leader adds significant weight to it, which will cause it so sink faster. Make sure you clean your line and leader at the first sign of this gunk building up.
Tie leader sections together using blood knots instead of surgeon knots. Blood knots are much smoother, which makes them harder for moss and debris to cling to.
I DO NOT use gink or any other floatant on the line or leader itself. While it may assist in floatation, it's not necessary. The biggest draw back is that it causes the leader and tippet to “shimmer” on top of the water, making it very visible to the trout.
Taking care of dry flies after they‘ve been used
Care for used dry flies should be taken after each outing to make sure they’re in good condition for your next trip. Make sure not to keep them in any container that won’t let moisture escape (i.e. a fly box).
Never put a dry fly back in its box until after it’s fully dried. Instead, store them in an open air container.
*My favorite option for drying out my flies overnight is to keep them hooked to my tacky tube. I actually take mine with me on the water and when I'm done with a fly, I clip it off and attach it inside the tube. This way I don't have to go through all my flies to separate out which ones I've used, it's already been done throughout the day! To check out current pricing on Amazon, click on the image below:
Another option is to carry a small container filled with fly drying powder. When you change flies or clip off your last one of the day, throw it in the container. You can leave it set in there overnight, and by the morning the powder will have soaked up all the water that the fly had absorbed.
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