A Tale of Nymphs, CDC, and Fly Fishing Snobbery

Enhance your favorite subsurface flies using cul de canard.

[by Scott Hanson]

AFTER A 10-YEAR-LONG HIATUS FROM FLY FISHING—a time that was filled with mountain bike racing, dashed professional golf tour dreams, my first doomed stint at college, and totally unsuccessful attempts at charming the opposite sex— I relearned how to fish a dry fly.

It was early in the fall of 1997, and the hatches in the streams of western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota were incredible, or at least plentiful enough for me to always catch a few fish on drys. I quickly became a dry fly snob, eschewing nymphs and streamers as flies that were beneath me. In all reality, I fished exclusively drys because I had no idea how to use nymphs and streamers, but I wasn’t going to let anyone know that. I caught a few large trout on my dry flies, but I always suspected that I could catch larger ones if I had the gumption to fish below the surface.

I was afflicted with this dry fly snobbery for several years. Finally, one cold winter afternoon on a lovely little stream in Northeast Iowa, where there was absolutely nothing hatching and no fish feeding on the surface, I decided to tie on a nymph and see what I could do. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, and my indicator kept fouling, and my nymph kept snagging on rocks, I actually caught a handful of trout, including a lovely 12-inch-long rainbow. Right there, on that frigid day, I realized there really must be something to nymph fishing.

That was about 2003, and in the years since, you could say that I have become a kind of nymph-fishing snob. One of my favorite trout streams does not have very many dependable hatches, so I started ignoring almost all hatching insects (unless there is a blizzard hatch). Following this snobbery, I keep fishing nymphs and catching just as many—if not more— trout than I did using dry flies.

The Spearfish Special

HOOK: Your favorite 1X-long nymph hook, sizes 16 to 10.
BEAD: Copper bead.
WIRE: Nontoxic .020-inch weighting wire.
THREAD: Rust 8/0 (70 denier).
TAIL: Pheasant tail fibers.
ABDOMEN: Pheasant tail fibers.
RIB: Small copper wire.
HACKLE: Natural dun CDC feather.
THORAX: Olive-brown or peacock Ice Dub.

Tying The Spearfish Special

Cul de Canard for Better Nymphs

I fish with CDC-enhanced nymphs during hatches. I do fish these flies a lot when there are no hatches, but they are especially effective during hatches. And it doesn’t matter what is hatching; they work equally well during mayfly, caddisfly, and even midge hatches. Several well-known anglers have written that cul de canard feathers trap air bubbles, making flies look like insects rising to the surface to hatch. I don’t know if that is accurate, but it sounds like a good theory. Whatever the case, adding CDC to my nymphs has really improved their fish-catching ability.

The best thing about using cul de canard on nymphs is that it doesn’t matter how slimy the feathers get when you catch fish. Unlike with a dry fly, the nymph is going right back under the surface on the next cast, so there’s no need to dry it out and “de-slime” it, if that’s a word; as far as I’m concerned, removing the slime from CDC on my drys and emergers is one of the least fun things about fly fishing.

The very first CDC-enhanced nymph I developed was a variation of a PheasantTail Nymph. As you know, the standard Pheasant-Tail Nymph is one of the most popular flies in the world, but I have never had very good luck using it. I was at my fly tying vise, trying to devise a pattern that might catch more trout, when I wrapped a piece of CDC as a collar on a Pheasant-Tail. Thinking that this new pattern looked pretty good, I made half a dozen and put them in my fly box.

CDC-Enhanced Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear

HOOK: Your favorite 1X-long nymph hook, sizes 18 to 10.
BEAD: Gold bead.
WIRE: Nontoxic .020-inch weighting wire.
THREAD: Gray or tan 8/0 (70 denier).
TAIL: Pheasant tail fibers.
RIB: Small gold embossed tinsel.
ABDOMEN: Hare’s-ear or Hare’s Ear Plus dubbing.
HACKLE: Natural dun CDC feather.
THORAX: Hare’s-ear or Hare’s Ear Plus dubbing

Tying the CDC-Enhanced Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear

I didn’t give my new Pheasant-Tail much of a chance while fishing locally, but I tried it during a weeklong fishing trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. I was on a stretch of Spearfish Creek that I love. I wasn’t catching fish, and decided to use my new fly. I caught the first nice brown trout of the trip on my second cast, and continued catching fish all afternoon. Because of my success that day, I named this pattern the Spearfish Special, but it has proved highly effective everywhere I fish. The original version had a peacock herl thorax, but in the past few years I have switched to using olive-brown Ice Dub; it seems to work just as well, and dubbing is more durable than herl.

With the success of the Spearfish Special, I started adding cul de canard to other nymphs. Wrapping the CDC feather as a collar is the most effective and attractive method, so this has become one of the common features of all my CDC enhanced nymphs. A little cul de canard goes a long way, so I use only one or two wraps.

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