The Evolution of the Mayfly Dun

21_Mar_2022 this page is mostly notes to the author (me) at this point. This is not a finished draft.

The Mayfly Dun as a Dry Fly has dominated fly fishing's prime attention for over a century now, largely because of Frederick Halford who did his gentlemanly best best to not only promote dry fly fishing but also to discredit and even to ban fishing with anything other than "cocked mayflies" riding proudly on the surface. There were perhaps other ways to catch fish in Halford's time, but not if you were a proper English gentleman.

Halford was so thoroughly preoccupied with what it meant to be a gentleman I find myself wondering if he wasn't for some reason worried about his own status in that regard. Halford did write quite a few books about dry fly fishing. Modern awareness of dry fly fishing as a practice starts with Halford. Was an exaggerated sense of propriety married to a bullet list of forbidden practices Halford's real legacy?

Perhaps it does't matter. Gentlemen don't exist anymore. Not in the Montana I'm familiar with anyway, where rowdy and rodeoing are still considered family values. Dry fly fishing when the mayflies are fluttering and the water is dimpling is indeed as fun as it gets. With a Cheshire Cat grin reminiscent of my old friend Tom I agree with that much. Even with Frederick Halford.
Halford is sometimes seen as The Father of the Dry Fly


Halford's Work
_21_Mar_2022 this page is mostly notes to the author (me) at this point. This is not in any way a finished draft.
Frederick Halford was a fly tier but the engravings above may not represent flies he actually tied. Late 19th century engravings were made by tradesmen who almost certainly were not fly fishermen.


These engraved prints show hackle fibers consistency longer than the hook sizes to hackle lengths used today, but these are just engravings, made by craftsmen who almost certainly were not fly fishermen, so it's hard to be confident about any conclusions drawn from these images. Halford was a fly tier. Did he supply examples for the engravers to work with?


Theodore Gordon's Quill Gordon
The USA's adaption of the original British style mayfly started with Theodore Gordon.


"I much prefer to use small floating flies," said Theodore Gordon. He also said "Cast your fly with confidence. Prejudice is the work of little minds." I've been re-reading the Gordon Garland I . What a cool guy Mr Gordon was. I have a first edition copy of the Gordon Garland given to me by my Godfather Wilbur Downs, who was a biologist in Port of Spain Trinidad during the Second World War. Wilbur had good stories about Tarpon fishing in Trinidad during the 1940s. Life is way too short.


A Classic Catskill style Quill Gordon
As tied by Art Flick himself


Theodore Gordon's work eventually evolved to what is now our more familiar Classic Catskill style dry fly, as exhibited by the work of Art Flick and many others.


A Typical Clipped Hackle Dun
Hackle clipped on bottom only


Tiers who want the Classic Catskill model to perch closer to the water's surface--perhaps more like a real mayfly dun--sometimes clip the underside of the hackles.


The Perfect Dun
As invented but not tied by Datus Proper


Belgrade Montana's Datus Proper (later in life anyway, at his home o Thompson Spring Creek) used a long front to back back figure eight wrap to spread the hackles on the underside--in order to achieve the desired low to the water's surface posture without clipping any hackles.


The Parachute Mayfly


There are debates about who first invented the parachute dry fly. Was it William Brush of Detroit Michigan or was it a woman from Scotland? Does it matter? The Parachute is a great fly. The Adams Parachute is the most popular parachute dry fly in the Rocky Mountains. They work well for PMD hatches too. They do tend to push the body of the fly down into the surface tension rather than riding on top.


Harry Darbee Two-feather Drake
...change this image it's Frankenfly


Harrop No-hackle


Fran Betters may have invented the no-hackle idea quite a while ago (1930s? 1940s?). Swisher/Richards further popularized this pattern in their book Selective Trout. Rene Harrop in Last Chance Idaho popularized this fly out West where it is now a Henry's Fork favorite. No-hackle dries are a bit hard to cast. They sometimes make an audible fluttering sound as you false cast them. Once you've caught a few fish the wings lose their sculpted shape and become like soft miniature paint brushes rather than finely sculpted wind scoops. At that point they become easier to cast, and they catch fish just as well. They are very good flies. I like them best after catching a few fish first.


The Comparadun


This Swisher/Richards fly had no rooster hackle but it did gain considerable flotation from its side-splayed deer hair wing. The Comparadun is a better floater than its no-hackle cousin.


Craig Matthews Improved Sparkle Dun


The Compara Dun was a big step forward for Mayfly Match the Hatch enthusiasts but it wasn't in any way a fast water floater. Craig Mathews added a Zelon tail, which looks like a trailing nymphal shuck and made it a better fast water floater.


John Betts all synthetic Blue Winged Olive


This probably isn't John's best work. It is a fly one of John's Denver area neighbors gave me back in the mid-1980s. Its flotation does come from a tuft of Zelon underneath the thorax. How John accomplished his bottom-mounted hackle tuft isn't clear and I did not want to cut the fly apart. I ran with this idea and conjured the world famous Right Hackle idea, as shown in and upcoming in the Pittendrigh section.