Get the Float Line

  • By: Darrel Martin

Get the Float Line

J. Edson Leonard’s Flies (1950) illustrates the “ideal float line,” showing a dry fly prancing on the water surface with hackle tips and tail. The hook bend and spear, which does not quite touch the water, act as a pendulum to cock the pattern.

Leonard’s illustration, however, shows a dry fly with its hook touching the surface. Nonetheless, the “pendulum proportions” still influence dry-fly design. You can test for proper proportions by tossing the fly in the air so that it lands on a flat surface. If the fly lands with wings upright (or cocked) with just the hackle and tail tips supporting it, then it is balanced. Selecting appropriate barb length—traditionally about shank length or one to two times the hook gap—is essential for the pendulum proportions. In reality, a dry fly quickly nestles down into the water surface with the tail, hook-point and under-hackle submerged. If the barbs are sufficiently waterproofed, then the buoyancy added by the tail and hackle barbs will support most of the pattern on the surface. A stiff cock hackle and proper proportions promote this float theory.

There are, of course, exceptions. Sometimes a wet hackle is a dry. With flotant, a soft body hackle can become dry. The moderately longer barb increases the surface area significantly more than a few added hackle wraps.

In fact, the longer, wider barbs of a soft-hackle, when waterproofed, may produce a superior float. The French Plumeau, suggesting the large Green Drake, has an oversize, soft-partridge hackle wound in front, supported by a few turns of short, stiff cock hackle. Usually the soft, wide body feathers, such as chukar or partridge, are used. With flotant, the long, oft barbs (as seen in the photo here) produce extensive drifts. Moreover, this design avoids the casting twirl created by large, flat wings. Due to the folded barbs, the writer Datus Proper once described it as a “bent-hackle fly.” 

Darrel Martin