fly testing


Active Member
I just got the idea to test some of my ties. I dropped them in a glass full of water to see how they float.
I was disappointed because most didn't float upright and some didn't float at all. Granted there was no leader attached and I hadn't added any floatant. I was expecting better.

This may sound like a dumb question but I've been tying for about 3 or 4 years and never tried this before.
Any thoughts?


Active Member
You could always post a pic of the flies and likely get some input into the design and any potential flaws. Otherwise, I'd agree with your thought and see what the fish think when they're on the end of a line.

I remember the first fly I ever tied and saved in my box for years. I tied it on in Alaska and offered it to a pod of rising grayling only to watch it being hit repeatedly without ever hooking the fish. It was floating at a weird angle and essentially useless except for making me laugh.

Shawn West

Active Member
I am curious to know what flies you were testing. It should not matter if you had a leader attached or not. Your dry flies should float without floatant. Without seeing your flies, I am figuring it could be a few things. Are you using light shank hooks? If your flies are dubbed, what type of dubbing are you using? Both of these items will have a great impact on the floatability of your dry flies. There are other factors, but these two items would be the first two I would look at.



I did a lot of pattern testing when I had an aquarium set up in the garage. I built a tiny "rod" for casting the patterns into the aquarium to simulate field conditions... it's amazing how many patterns did not float as they were designed to float.

Also, wet patterns change considerably when under water. What you see when dry is not what you get when wet.

This is why I question some patterns and how they are "supposed" to float because someone has decided they will float in that manner -- without ever checking to see if they do. Some "cripple" patterns do not float with the wing straight up and the hook bend hanging below the at a right angle. When tested, they float the same as any other hackled pattern and level to the water surface.

I've noticed a lot is taken for granted in our sport without anyone bothering to actually try their theory.
Last year I noticed my Stimulators were getting hit like crazy but no hook ups. Then I noticed it was riding on it's side. Somehow every one I had tied did the same thing. Was going crazy with the number of missed fish. Out of desperation I started trimming various parts. Guess I over hackled them because trimming the bottom flat sure helped as did thinning out the wing. So did reducing the amount of floatent on the wing which I know you didn't use in your test. I promised myself to start testing at home, NOT in the field. You're one up on me and I've been hacking my way through this game for almost 20 years.


Active Member
For the ones that float on their side:

I can't seem to get a decent picture, but I was simulating deer flies. # 14 and #12 hooks They are common in the North Cascades.
I did the abdomen with peacock hurl, thorax and head with foam wrapped with fine black thread.
Wings were cut from a conductive bag (common for shipping ESD electronic components) and black hackle.

It seems to me that tossing them in water is the right answer. I did get some improvement by trimming hackle to flatten the bottom.



Active Member
In thinking about the deer flies I was thinking about leaving the wings off. It seems to me when looking up through the water the fish don't likely see the wings.
They should notice the 3 body parts and legs. So I'm thinking shorter and less hackle and no wings.
As gene said, I think we sometimes look at a pattern or develop a pattern that looks good on paper but doesn't quite
do what it should when fished or even tossed in the sink. I used to do a lot of experimenting to get them to sit right, especially the clink hammer type or forward wing emergers, the large ones would sometimes sit correctly in the water but the smaller ones seldom did, they would just lay on there sides, no matter what I did the hook bend didn't have enough weight to brake the surface tension of the water, the good thing is, it doesn't always matter to the fish.

Derek Young

Emerging Rivers Guide Services
Materials, hook size, and even the differences between tap and river water can affect floatability and presentation. When testing new patterns, I'll do a couple tests for where they sit in the water. In this photo below, when I tied a leader onto the hook, it changed the angle and elevation of the eye above the water, and it floated just fine.
Materials, hook size, and even the differences between tap and river water can affect floatability and presentation. When testing new patterns, I'll do a couple tests for where they sit in the water. In this photo below, when I tied a leader onto the hook, it changed the angle and elevation of the eye above the water, and it floated just fine.
View attachment 25103
I haven't tried it yet, but I'm thinking about using some of these kinds of patterns with a non-slip loop knot instead of a clinch or a knot that tightens up to the hook. I think that could also make a difference on how the fly sits on the water, as your testing demonstrates the leader is a factor, I know it makes a difference in float ability.

What size flies are you using? Bigger one's 14 and larger seem to work, its the smaller ones that don't seem too.



When it comes to dry flies landing correctly, I have the best luck with parachute style patterns. I have the worst luck with traditional Catskill style patterns.

When I started testing to see how patterns actually floated and appeared in the water, I was amazed that the collar hackle fibers of a traditional dry fly DO NOT hold the pattern up in the film but sink below the surface.

To tell you the truth, when we consider all the reasons an artificial fly doesn't look anything like the genuine item, it is quite amazing that a fish would try to eat the things.


Active Member
This is a very informative thread. I'm with Ken and glad he asked, because the only test I have done is on the water. I just emailed my spouse that we need an aquarium. Boy is she going to see right through that re: my motives!


Keep some goldfish in the aquarium to keep up appearances :D

When I had mine set up, in addition to testing patterns, I used it to house aquatic bugs, small bass, sculpins and one 16-inch cutthroat that freaked every time I turned on the lights so he wasn't there long.
What everyone else said, and a couple other comments.
1) parachute hackled flies have a tendency to land right side up more often than standard hackles (as Gene pointed out)
2) I almost always trim the bottom on standard hackled flies (e.g., stimulators, as Thom pointed out), at least as far as the hook point and sometimes all the way to the bottom of the fly body. This can also help prevent the tendency to propellor and twist your tippet.
3) Be sure your hooks are appropriate for the pattern you are tying. For dry flies, always use fine wire hooks (as Bugtyer pointed out). Mark and Gene both point out that some patterns work fine in certain sizes and not in others. One of my favorite emerger patterns works great in small sizes, but when I hit 14 or bigger, they don't float, presumably because it is a very sparse pattern and the hook weighs too much.
4) Think carefully about center of gravity when applying materials. Foam is particularly easy to apply too much above the hook and result in flies that land upside down.
5) Be careful about the hackle you are using. Good quality dry-fly hackle is worth the investment. Also, be sure to strip off the lower barbs far enough up the quill to remove the webby portion of the feather, which absorbs water much more readily. When I first started tying, I recall having one pattern that never floated well for me. I finally realized that it was the only pattern that only used brown hackle for primary floatation (as opposed to a brown/grizzly mix, or hackle plus deer hair). Then I started looking at the hackle feathers I was using and realized they were the problem.

I'm curious about matching deer flies? What I call "deer flies" are terrestrial biting insects that may fly over water occasionally, but would rarely be a food for fish. Unless, of course, they were bothering me while fishing and I were killing them and they'd drop in the water and provide food for the fish. But then I think I'd run up against the rules against chumming...