Cul de Canard (CDC) feathers have risen to worldwide popularity over the last 2 decades. To avoid confusion about their origin I can tell you that the idea using those feathers for fly tying actually came from Central Europe. CDC has been used by a small number of anglers in the Swiss Jura for about a century. Marjan Fratnik from Slovenia popularised them in the early eighties with his publications about the F Fly series. Marjan were inspired after he read Jules Rindlisbachers book. Another great fly tier who is world famous for his superb CDC designs is Marc Petitjean. He kept the Swiss tradition high and design new patterns continuously.
The last 10 years CDC got a lot of attention, especially, in the UK and USA and suddenly it seems that there are many fly tiers who seems the inventor of the CDC fly now. I guess we all know better. In spite of several well-written stories I still think that some extensive, clear and specified tying techniques can be a great help with tying and fishing CDC patterns. My home country Holland went through a similar phase over 20 years ago, when fishing journalist Kees Ketting popularised CDC. As a result, the Dutch have been experimenting with dressings incorporation the feathers; developing and refining patterns for all types of fishing. In this article about CDC I will tell you something about my way of using CDC. I also will try to give you some detailed information about how I use and work with CDC and how some of my patterns were developed. Finally I also will explain how I fish them.
I have used CDC for more then fifteen years now and have made loads of different dressings throughout that time. Personally, my use of these flies seems to go in circles: there have been periods or even seasons when I hardly used them and at other moments I used them exclusively. Of course the old original patterns are excellent flies. Nevertheless, I still designed my own patterns. I like to experiment and improve patterns of which I am not fully satisfied. I belief it will be very hard to design a complete new pattern of CDC but some improvements are worthwhile to discuss.
My different style of fishing needs special patterns. The fact that my distance vision isn’t that good and my preference for broken water you can find back in many of my dry fly designs. I also found some very good use for CDC in still water. Today I never will walk beside a river, lake or reservoir without CDC flies in my fly box.
Floatability and mobility
The greatest problem with CDC is that still many people don’t know which feather is meant and where exactly it should be taken from. CDC feathers are found around the preen gland of ducks and similar water birds. The CDC from the wild duck seems the most popular. The colour is absolutely incredible and perfect to match many hatches. The feathers are light and naturally coated with the oil from the ducks preen gland. In many stories you can read that the natural oil makes those feathers extremely water-repellent. But further investigations prove that the structure of the feather do the damage. In my circle of friends most belief that a combination of the natural oil and feather structure makes this feather so attractive for the fly tier. When I got a very large amount of white CDC of Peking ducks many years ago I started to experiment with dyeing and I actually never had any buoyancy problems with my special designs, so I personally have a lot confidence in the structure theory. Under a loop you can see easily that each feather has a great number of barbules. Those barbules surely aid to buoyancy and are much stronger and more durable then most of us belief they are. I often compare CDC fibres with spider web thread that I use for my different parachute technique. One fibre or winding is very fragile indeed but durability improves with the number of fibres or windings. The fine fibres of a CDC feather are probably the most mobile you ever seen. I think this is another reason what makes this feather so extremely powerful. In the air they will flutter to simulate life in the slightest breeze and for this reason it makes a perfect wing imitation. The wind also has a great impact of the mobility of the floating fly. In or just under the surface remaining fibres highly improve the mobility of the pattern and gives an excellent fly life imitation. Size, shape and colour are the most important facts to imitate insect life but when I started to use CDC and reindeer hair I add mobility without any doubt. This is why I never cut the single barbules away from my fishing flies. So CDC is ideal for both; emergers and dry flies. And there is even more because I know a few fishermen who use CDC for making very mobile nymph too. Its just the way where you believe in the most I guess.
Although the original CDC flies are good floaters if they are tied well, they are not unsinkable as is so often described. Several of these patterns are tied very sparsely and will definitely become easier waterlogged after catching your first fish. If you don’t treat the fly well after hooking a fish the pattern will sink easily especially in rapids and turbulent currents. Amadou helps you to dry the fibres in a reasonable way but some of the floatants will stick the fibres together and will destroy the effectiveness of the pattern because they loose the barbules effect. Therefore I never use any floatant on my CDC. I would point out that with normal or sparse tied CDC flies it is often much easier to tie on a fresh fly than struggle to dry one in use. This finally leads me to use CDC against all rules.
But before I will discuss with you about my own patterns which are surely no light dressed ones, you never should misunderstand the thoughts behind the extremely light dressed CDC patterns from the experts and from old days. They can be extremely successful at times and in certain waters. Just like a good Yorkshire ‘spider’ that loses its power if overdressed. With many CDC flies it is not different. During the years I discovered that some of the old traditional CDC patterns are actually fished better just under the surface film and today I still use them in this ’emerger’ role, in preference to them floating on the surface -particularly in still waters.
My first ‘cul de canard’ experience
While river fishing with small, lightly dressed CDC flies, I often had difficulty spotting them in fast water. As a result, I tended to use them in rivers with a slow current or on still waters. My ideas were transformed; however, following my experiences with a Swedish pattern called the ‘Rackelhanen’.
This ‘Rackelhanen” was not only the source of my own L.T. series of flies, but resulted in such tying skills as I have acquired today. The first real breakthrough with my own CDC flies occurred when I tie a Racklehanen mainly from CDC. The natural colour of the CDC was perfect to imitate some dark grey sedges. I named the pattern the Rugged Caddis and it was built up in 4 sections, each includes 4 CDC feathers. A very expensive fly if you have to buy it. The pattern originally possessed a long big wing of at least 16 CDC feathers, mainly because I assumed that the more CDC used, the better the pattern floated. To create the sedge shape I simply cut the feathers to form the wing. How funny it may sound but I mainly used the pattern for catching Atlantic salmon in northern Norway and at that time it was rather good too. However, as I began to experiment with smaller sizes and the length of the wing I reduced the amount of CDC. Then I discovered something surprising. As I shortened the wing, I got better results. In the end I was using a pattern that had a wing of only half the length of the fly body, and it was still floating almost as well as one with a full wing. The fly was difficult to see but because of the aggressive takes I didn’t loose too many fish. When I finally started to use smaller hooks and add a hackle the Culard sedge was born!
This is the dressing I used since 1985
Hook : Daiichi 1180 and 1182 size 18-24
Thread : Uni-thread 8/0 black
Body : Herl fibres of a black wing feather of a peacock
Rib : Extra fine gold wire or yellow pearsalls silk
Wing : Four CDC feathers pull together and cut 1/2 way the body length
Hackle : Dark blue dun very fine and much smaller as usual or starling body feather for the types I used below the surface film
My tying technique is definitely against all rules. I keep the stiff quill(s) of the CDC feather in the middle and do not take only the soft hackles as many tiers suggest and prefer. I agree with them but I have my own ideas too. Many people said that CDC feathers should never be cut but I still do and must confess that I prefer it above all the other tying methods I have use in the past. After tying in the feathers I trim them. However rebellious, this is the technique that suits me the best. This is the great secret behind all my CDC patterns. Because this technique the stiffer wing dries and “fluffs up’ with only one or two false cast and that’s my biggest argumentation for it. This is not easy possible when only fibres are used. The filamentous feather tips tend to mat together and are almost impossible to dry by false casting. At least when you are not familiar with CDC! In my patterns the quill provide this. The resultant Culard has become one of my best and favourite flies among my little ones. The pattern is not only an excellent fly in the rivers in Central Europe but also works very well under high summer or low water conditions high up to the North. In still water the fly work great on the surface but sometimes it is even more deadly deeper in the surface. In still waters most of the time I moistened it and fish it as an emerger just under the surface.
During one of my tying demonstrations I discovered another secret of the Culard just by accident. It happened when I dropped one of the ready-made Culards in a glass of water to show how it floats to the public. Under the wing a nice bubble of air produces a fine halo effect what could be another reason for the unbelievable success of this tiny little CDC pattern.
Step 1: Wrap the shank in the thread and secure a piece of extra fine gold wire or yellow silk.
Step 2: Tie in some fibres from a black peacock wing feather.
Step 3: Put a some varnish or wingcement on the shank and wind the herl fibres back towards the eye and secure with the gold wire or silk with 7 or 8 windings in the other direction. Be sure there is some space left for tying in the wing and hackle.
Step 4: Tie in 3 or 4 CDC feathers
Step 5: Tie in a small dark blue dun hackle onto the top of the hook shank
Step 6: Give only two hackle windings and tie off the fly. Cut off the CDC exactly in the middle of the body.
The arising of the Once and Away
The next pattern I want to talk about is the Once and Away. This fly I personally find one of my best and most beautiful emerging patterns I ever made and is especially designed to be almost unsinkable. So it is suitable for all kinds of water. Unfortunately the fly is tied completely wrong by most people and need some special attention. This is a pattern I developed about 15 years ago during a few days fishing on one of our private rainbow-stocked reservoirs in Holland. The fish were fairly “educated” as they have been in the water for several months. On the first day of my trip, there was a lot of wind and fish were hard to catch. After a few hours without any success, I decided to try in front of some trees where I could stay out of this terrible wind. Here I saw some fish jumping and even some showing in a head and tail rises, especially where the wind hit the water. Immediately, I started to fish with my Klinkhåmer, which is usually such a deadly fly for head and tailing fish. I saw some reactions and missed one fish when I tried to play with the fly in the surface. I was still convinced that those fish were rising to small flies that were being blown from the trees onto the water. After another half hour with no fish, and just when I started to doubt myself, a big rainbow came up to the surface just a few feet in front of me. He took something, hit the surface and disappeared into the depth again… There was only one explanation for this behavior: This fish was feeding just under the surface. I changed the fly for the Culard fished it as an emerger below the surface and managed to catch nine fish that afternoon.
Still I was not satisfied because too many fished refused to take the fly and turned their head when they came close to the fly, so the next day I caught some of those remarkable emerging insects which I still couldn’t determinate today! I concluded that their bodies were thin but the thorax seemed big and larger than usual. Walking back to my car, I tried to tie some suitable imitations. This was not easy as I had very few things with me. Without bobbin or hackle material I eventually managed to put together a fly with some CDC feathers that I had plucked off from of a dead duck I found beside the road that morning.
After a few attempts I decided on a tying that I thought might be successful. It was with considerable interest that I tried it out. My confidence in it was established within the first few casts. In the same time as it had taken me to catch fish on the previous day I caught many more. I called the fly the “Once and Away”, since I had a great deal of difficulty in getting the pattern to float again after it had been dragged down by a fish. When I came home. I change the dressing to a better-looking and more durable pattern. To find a reasonable solution was not at all easy and drove me almost crazy. Finely after three months it were the thoughts behind the Rugged Caddis and Culard, which give me the answer. It is still funny to say and confess that just a simple cutting operation on the fly design cost me months to find out. Again I developed a pattern were CDC has been used against all rules.
MAKING THE WING
I take several CDC feathers as wing and wing case and cut them after finishing the tying process. I cut the wing in the middle to intergrades the stiff quills into the bunch of very fine fibres. With this technique the fly is not only very easy to dry but floats really well. The visibility is unbelievable and because I use curved hooks, the hooking power is much better. There are no casting problems and a perfect landing ensures that this pattern always hangs in the surface film. The other benefit of this pattern is that it has a similar effect as a real parachute fly.
USING THE WIND
This fly can do a lot more with some good casting and making use of the wind. With a little exercise you can play around with this fly all the time, especially in still water. Let the wind give this pattern some extra action and movements and I am sure you will be amazed. I prefer to fish this pattern in or very close to a wind-lane. The wind will bring it to the feeding fish.
Today I use the Once and Away in rivers and in still waters. Even the strongest current could not swallow this fly from the surface.
THE ONCE AND AWAY
Hook :Daiichi 1160 and 1167 size 12-20
Thread : Uni-thread 8/0 Black
Body : One peccary fibre
Thorax : Three strands of peacock herl
Wing : Four large cul de canard feathers
Wingcase: Same cul de canard feathers as wing
Tying technique: Once and Away
Fix the hook in the vice and wrap the shank with the tying thread.
Tie in the peccary or any fine quill fiber as substitute to form a nice tapered body. Just make a few patterns only using tying thread as body and see how they run out!
Tie in four large CDC feathers together with three peacock strands.
Wind the peacock herls to form the thorax
Pull de CDC over the thorax and tie them down just behind the eye with just two tight windings.
Pull the feathers into an upright position and secure them this way with a lot of tying thread in front of the wing. When you prefer using varnish. Take care that nothing will come into the fine rump fibres. Trim the feathers into a tuft, the size depending on the size of fly or your preference. I like a tuft about 1 1/2cm long.
The mighty Midge
This is a smaller version of the Once and Away and an excellent Midge imitation. It is my best imitation when large fish is feeding after midges.
Hook : Daiichi 1130 size 20 and 24
Thread : Uni-thread 8/0 Black
Tail : Two very fine tips of the smallest blue dun hackle
Body : None
Thorax : Two small strands of peacock herl
Wing : Four very small cul de canard feathers
Wingcase: Same cul de canard feathers as wing
Same as Once and Away except without body. The tails are tied just after the thorax.