|Dabbler-style Platte River Special|
Anybody who has been fly fishing since the 1950’s, or is familiar with the beautiful winged wetfly designs of Ray Bergman, knows that we once had a tradition of beautiful trout flies meant for swinging. And I’m not saying that has disappeared (that evidenced in the winged wetflies of Davy Wotton & Don Bastion) just diminished quite a bit with the popularity of nymphing, which has spiraled American fly fishers toward the bobber & jig as the preferred subsurface method.
Been faffing around at the vise lately, working up a batch of lures for swinging in early Spring before the hatches get going. I’ve lately become enamored of the ‘Dabbler’ design frame popular in
Ireland, Wales, & Scandinavia,
as it allows for some elegant & effective trout flies, incorporating all of
the essential elements of good soft-hackle design & good fly design in
This will probably cost me even more readers than my politics, but I’m gonna say it anyway: In our market (& writer) driven hustle to get onboard with the latest & greatest, Americans have a singular propensity to throw some damn nice babies out with the bath water. Just sayin.
That said, lets: Make Fly Fishing Great Again.
Indigenous fly-design frames are fractal, allowing for infinite variation within the proven effective frame. The ancient design frames, or ‘patterns’, are ancient for good reason, providing tyers a reliable frame of reference to start with when considering good baits for swinging. A basic shape. The broad palette of materials available invites the tyer to get recklessly imaginative dressing the frame.
The basic design frame of a Dabbler fly is thus, back to front, roughly in the order tied in: Usually a tinsel tip. Tailing is often composed of more than one material & often golden pheasant tippet in the mix, particularly in the Irish flies (traditional Irish anglers use this design pattern for everything from wee mayflies to Atlantic salmon flies). Bodies might be anything, commonly tinsel or dubbing, a bit of dubbing built up behind the hackle collars to provide body mass & flare the hackle. Dabblers are generally tied with more than one hackle & palmered over the body. Saddle hackle or shlappen make a good palmer for these. I tie in behind the hook eye (leaving room for the hackle collar) & make three or four turns before winding four or five turns down the length of the body then winding wire or tinsel forward to cinch the palmered hackle down. Generally, two hackle collars are wound, the rear hackle known as the ‘wing’. This is usually a longer hackle, extending beyond the hook bend. Barred waterfowl flank is often used for this, wound, & sometimes the upper portion of the hackle gathered up to form a clump wing over the body. Pheasant rump, marabou tips, longer partridge spades, whatever you may have that is long & soft will work for the rear or wing collar (a good use for those nice but too-big hackles at the end of a cape). The front hackle can be anything the tier thinks fit. The Irish seem very fond of the various church-window feathers taken from pheasant (& these may be dyed with a pen).
Though one may go smaller, Dabblers for trouting are generally tied on #4 to #12 hooks. They may be tied drab to simulate stream food items, but I think the design’s greatest value is in tying attractor patterns that fill the gap between wee flies & big streamers – that place winged wetflies used to fill.
The Dabbler designs are a perfect choice for Trout Spey, though a two-handed rod is certainly not essential for delivering them. These can be fished with a sink-tip or full-floating line, & in all the ways wetflies & streamers are presented, drifted, swung, & stripped.