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Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre

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The Truth About Duns

Mayfly duns are perhaps the most romanticised of all insect emergences related to the art of trout fishing. For centuries anglers have marveled at their beauty and the sometimes-frantic feeding activity they induce from otherwise wary brown trout. While we as anglers have strived for perfection in all facets of the sport the art of tying flies to suit has lagged well behind in this avenue, at least in this country. But this is changing and changing rapidly. The rest of the country is finally realising that parachute tied imitations of the mayfly are the solution.

I cannot recall how many times I have traveled to other fly shops over the years only to find that very few of them carried parachute tied dun imitations, and of the ones that did there were hardly any in the correct sizes. They were seen as a bit of an offshoot, an irrelevant tangent brought about by some tiers attempt to reinvent the wheel. But parachute ties are not only easy to tie but are the most effective way of targeting fish taking the newly hatched mayfly.

A fly tied with a parachute hackle has a major advantage over other patterns in that they ALWAYS land the correct way. While this doesn't sound like too big a deal think about when you last used a fly with divided wings like a Royal Wulff. How often when fishing flies like the wulff or others with traditional wings like the Greenwell's Glory, do the patterns fall over rendering the presentation ineffective? The answer for those of you who don't know is most of the time.

While these flies may look pretty, they fail to present correctly making them suitable for use behind a glass cabinet rather than to a 'selectively' rising fish. Just the mere fact that a parachute dun sits correctly every time, guarantees the angler at least 100% more effective fishing time on the principal that it is landing the right way at least twice as much. In actuality the percentage rate would be much higher than this.

Comparison of photos highlighting the differences/similarities of a traditional styled dry fly hackle, a parachute hackle and natural mayfly dun

So what some may ask? Well a fly that rides in 'natural' way only part of the time must surely be seen as useless. I am not saying that the Royal Wulff is not a great fly. It is! In the right time and place. In fast, heavy water and as an indicator under which a large beadhead is fished, it is without equal. But when fishing to trout rising in a hatch of mayflies it falls way short of the mark. In fact a fly riding incorrectly on its side over a selectively rising fish can actually put it down altogether.

Next time you are on the water towards evening take a look at the duns drifting in the bubble lines. If you cannot see too well find one in a slow backwater, wade out and observe. Despite popular belief these insects sit low on the water, abdomen leaving quite an imprint in the meniscus. Fish get a very get look at the size, shape and colour of the natural. Parachute duns allow the fly angler to mimic this very well. Because of their parachute hackle these flies sit in an identical manner, body in the surface film like the natural. If you have the size and approximate colour shading correct a take is almost assured (remember colour is the least important part of the equation).

Also many divided wing patterns have a heavy hackle that cause the fly to sit high off the water, more closely resembling a mayfly spinner than a dun. There is no body profile to target. The tips of the hackle and tail keep the body of the fly above the surface. This is not how a mayfly dun appears to a trout. Antony with a fish taken on the parachute dun  on the Swampy Plains River - Nov 2003

Let's look at the major trigger when fish are on duns. For those of you who have never donned a face mask and had a look up during a hatch it is quite simple. The first thing the trout sees when the dun approaches are the imprint of the body in the surface. While from this distance the rest of the underside of the surface is a mirror reflecting the stream bottom, the abdomen and legs pushing into the surface tension can clearly be seen. This is the first indication that food is on the way. As discussed previously this is well mimicked by the parachute tie and low riding body.

Secondly, and equally as important is the view that confirms to the fish that this is indeed a dun drifting down occurs as the fly enters the actual field of vision or window above the trout. Assuming that you have the size right, the large ridiculously oversized looking wing and low riding body give the correct shape signals. The wing of the dun is probably the main trigger in getting a fish feeding on duns to rise for a closer examination. While divided winged flies do suggest this they are incorrect and a poor imitation at best (please excuse the pun). Mayflies drift with their wings in a vertical position above them. While they will pump them to help dry them out for flight, most of the time the wings sit above at rest. The parachute dun also imitates this about as well as an inanimate object like a fly can.

So the trout has first sees the imprint of the insect in the meniscus before it comes into its window. This is the first cue that an insect is on its way. The fish may even start the movement up to take it at this early point. As the insect gets closer it comes into the fishes window of vision and it is here that the take is sold or lost. The fish can now see much greater detail of the size, shape and even though not as important, the colour. Even a correctly sitting wulff will work far less frequently than a parachute dun. The bulky hackle and incorrect wing position are very obvious at this point. However a parachute dun drifting along has everything going for it. As long as you pick the correct size and get a good drift a take is almost assured. The upright wing and low riding body that always sits in the correct is the most effective option.

While perhaps not as formal as it sounds this is what it all comes down to. The silhouette of body and wing is right, the size is pretty much right and the colour must be reasonably close. While perhaps not the colour so much as the tone i.e. light-dark. Achieving this result is something not easily done with a traditionally hackled-divided winged fly.

Parachute flies have a few other advantages. They are simple to tie. Once you get over the initial paranoia of tying a hackle in a horizontal fashion it soon becomes second nature. The trick with tying them is a very simple one and it is this. Get someone to show you how straight at up! Walk into your local flyshop and ask them to tie one up for you and explain it. Pay them for the fly if you have to, but watch how it is done. You will soon see it is very easy a technique to learn. Also parachute flies are durable. The wing is tied in first in and has no fiddly bits; hence it is impossible to pull out. The main problem comes from over zealous use of the forceps to remove it from the fish. Use barbless hooks and a gentle but sure movement with the fingers will quickly remove the fly undamaged from the fish. Parachute flies when finished off properly are as strong as any hackled fly out there and I have yet to have one of mine fall apart of its own volition. Bo with the rewards for getting everything right!

We have been using these flies as guides for the past eight years now and have never looked back. While others lament not being able to consistently catch fish during the dun hatch our clients (and us!) continue to take these so selective fish. There are many other styles of tying dun patterns. There are no hackles, comparaduns, thorax duns, each with their own particular strong points and weaknesses. But it is the humble paradun that wins for ease of tying, durability and the ability to catch fish rising to duns in just about any location the world over.

So tie a few up or buy some today and find out what the rest of the country's fly fishers are just discovering. The instructions are simple. Take three duns nightly. Just add water. I guarantee that you will not regret the decision.

~Antony Boliancu



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