March Brown Comparadun – With Video

While the title of this blog would naturally tend to indicate “wet flies” I also enjoy tying and fishing dry flies as well. In fact, when I started tying commercially for Cathy and Barry Beck’s shop in the fall of 1989, my first fly order for about twenty five dozen flies was for black, winged fur ants and yellow stoneflies, all drys. It’s another story how my dog at the time, Molly, a black Cocker Spaniel-Border Collie mix, got a hold of and ate not one, but two, Grade #3 Metz capes I had bought from the shop specifically for this order. And she also chewed into two 100-packs of #20 and #22 Mustad hooks. I remember at the time finding all the #20’s, but finding only 97 of the size #22. Molly was a pup at the time, and she lived ten years. If she did ingest those three hooks, I guess she was none the worse for the wear. That was still a memorable loss of materials, even with the tier’s shop discount.

The Beck’s shop at the time was called Fishing Creek Outfitters. They sold the shop in 1992, and I continued tying for the new owner for about a year and a half, then started my own business in November 1993. Most of my commercial production in those years was tying drys. I tied primarily Comparaduns, but I also produced the shop’s version of the Marinaro-style Thorax Duns, Poly Wing and Hackle Wing Marinaro-style Spinners, and Poly Wing Thorax Duns.

The Comparadun fly was a Godsend when it came on the scene. Back then in the ’70’s, genetic dry fly hackle was a thing of the future, and it was hard to get quality dry fly hackle. So being able to tie a dry fly without hackle was a good thing. Dry fly necks that I bought at E. Hille’s, a local fly shop, unfortunately now out of business, were eight dollars for Grade AA. They were the best you could get at the time.

Initially the tails on the Comparadun were suggested by its originators, Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi, authors of Hatches and Hatches II, to be of mink guard hairs, or spade hackle fibers. I used them at first but once I tried the Microfibetts synthetic tailing fibers, I realized their ease of use and consistency in tying, especially for production tying. Ever since then, every fly I tie – almost – every fly with a split tail, I use the Microfibetts. Spinners, Comparaduns, Post-wing Thorax Duns, and Marinaro-style feather wing thorax duns, I use the Microfibetts. Barry Beck taught me to use the tying thread to divide the tail fibers, rather than a small ball of dubbing as was presented by Caucci and Nastasi, originators of the Comparadun. The thread method, once mastered, can be done in ten seconds or less. Which brings me to a point here – I just made my first home-made fly tying video this morning, tying a March Brown Comparadun. I posted it on youtube, and the video link will follow shortly.

Here is a photo of a March Brown Comparadun:

#10 March Brown Comaradun, tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

#10 March Brown Comparadun, tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

March Brown Comparadun

Thread: Dark Brown 6/0 Uni-Thread

Hook: Standard dry fly hook, #10 and #12

Wing: Natural brown deer hair

Tail: Brown Microfibetts, ten fibers split 5/5

Body: Tan rabbit dubbing

Ribbing: Made from the tying thread, reverse dubbed body, wind rib (bare thread) forward from bobbin after winding dubbing from thorax to tail

Thorax: Tan rabbit dubbing

Head: Brown

Tying Instructions:

Click here to view my (first ever!) March Brown Comparadun fly tying video:

I hope you enjoy the video!

A March Brown Dun, fresh from Lycoming Creek on May 16th.

A March Brown Dun, Maccaffertium vicarium, fresh from Lycoming Creek on May 16th. Yeah, those are my knuckles.

The tying thread ribbing is accomplished with a technique I call reverse dubbing. After attaching and dividing the tail, wind the thread to the thorax. The dubbing is then applied to the thread, the idea is to add exactly the right amount, so that you run out precisely when you arrive at the base of the tail. Then the tying thread is simply wound from the tip of the bobbin back to the rear of the wing. Practice allows you to get good at this, but also, try to employ a parsimonious use of dubbing, not heavy. (I had to add that five-dollar “College Word” for my friend Truman – he’ll definitely have to get out his dictionary on that one. On the dubbing, it’s always easier to add more if needed than to try and remove excess if you applied too much.

One dozen #10 March brown Comparaduns.

One dozen #10 March Brown Comparaduns.

The March Brown mayfly can provide prolonged dry fly fishing. In fact the other night on Lycoming Creek, it was June 4th, I witnessed the largest flight of Great Red Spinners – March Browns – that I have ever seen in my life. The spinners flew overhead, not just back and forth, but in a steady upstream flight, for well over an hour. There must have been tens of thousands of them. The number of flies that night would do justice to the productivity of some of the most fertile waters in the country. And yes, the trout turned on, and I did well with a March Brown Spinner, the one posted last year, and again recently, with the brown Sexi-Floss abdomen, moose body hair tails, and a spent wing of White E. P Fibers.

Pale Morning Dun Comparadun

The Pale Morning Dun mayfly, Ephemerella excrucians, generally a mid-western and western mayfly, is in the same family as our popular eastern Hendricksons (Ephemerella subvaria) and some of the sulphurs (E. invaria). The former rotunda genus of Ephemerella sulphurs has been combined by the entomologists with the invaria genus and they are both recognized as the same bug.

Furthermore: from

Recent work by entomologists determined that it (E. excrucians)  is actually the same species as the important Western Pale Morning Dun (prev.Ephemerella inermis), and the lake dwelling Sulphur Dun of the Yellowstone area, (prev.Ephemerella lacustris). Since all three are considered variations of the same species, they have been combined into excrucians, being the original name for the type species reported as far back as the Civil War.”

The first and last time I encountered Pale Morning Duns, or PMDs, was in August of 1982 during my first – and last – gotta rectify that! – trip to Montana’s Bighorn River. The Bighorn had just been published in Fly Fisherman magazine in 1981, having been formerly closed as Indian property. When my brother Larry and I went there, it was on the tail-end of a two week trip. At that time the Three Mile Access was not there, and only about a half-dozen guides were working the river. Indeed, when Larry and I fished at thirteen mile, the only angler we saw all day was a float-tuber that drifted down the river around 3:00 PM. We went upriver in the evening, below the afterbay dam, and again, only one other angler cast his line besides us in that entire long stretch below the boat launch. My, my, how times have changed! The Bighorn has since become one of the most heavily fished and crowded rivers in the whole country. And I have some wet fly stories to tell you about that…another time.

On that August 1982 evening on the Bighorn, there was a heavy black caddis hatch, and it was like a blizzard of insects. They got on our clothes, on our faces, in our ears. Trout in the several hundred yard long stretch rose aggressively. There were probably over two hundred rising fish in a hundred yards of river. But not to the caddis. Among the black caddis, we noticed that there was a small, about size #16 mayfly, light olive in color, drifting along on the surface. It was this fly, a much easier mark for the trout than the caddis, that they were feeding on. But we didn’t realize it. That was over thirty years ago, and at the time and place of my fly fishing experience – mt first trip west, we were not prepared for this. Considering there were scores of trout rising, and we took only a handful of trout, I finally tied on a black Wooly Bugger in desperation and a sink-tip and caught a few more really nice trout until we quit for the night. When we walked up to our car we spoke to the man who had been fishing a couple hundred yards above us. He repeatedly had a bend in his rod. It was he who told us about the PMD and that the trout were keyed in on them, not the black caddis. When he found out we were from Pennsylvania, he said, “You could have tied on a #16 Light Cahill and caught these trout.”

I have been tying PMD patterns for over twenty years, both commercially and for custom orders. Here is my most recent, latest version (three days old) of a PMD Comparadun:

Pale Morning Dun Comparadun

Pale Morning Dun Comparadun, #18. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian. This pattern is another mayfly using the Sexi-Floss for the abdomen. Look at the color – believe it or not, that’s Tan Sexi-Floss wrapped over Danville Flymaster 6/0 #61 Light Olive nylon thread. The fact it turned out “so olive” demonstrates the translucence of this material.

PMD Comparadun

Hook: Standard dry fly hook; generally a #16 is used for PMD’s, but my customer requested size #18

Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 #61 Light Olive

Wing: Light natural deer hair

Tails: Light Dun Microfibetts, six fibers – split 3/3

Abdomen: Tan Sexi-Floss

Thorax: Light Olive rabbit dubbing

Head: Light olive

Tying Instructions:

1) Start thread on hook, place wing halfway between hook eye and point.

2) When tying Comparaduns, practice tells fly tiers how much deer hair to use on hook sizes, also the texture of the hair is an issue to be considered. The most important aspect when tying Comparaduns is that the wing must be set at maximum thread tension, as AK Best says about 95% of all tying, “…with the thread just below the breaking point.” The wing height equals hook length when using standard dry fly hooks. Clip a section of hair, comb out the underfur, use a hairstacker to even the tips, and set the wing on the hook with seven tight wraps. Then trim the butt ends on an angle. If your wing moves in response to thread tension after being trimmed, you did not tie it in tight enough.

3) Wind thread to hook point, attach tail fibers. Next wind to hook barb, flare the fibers with left thumb and index finger, and divide the fibers 3/3 with a series of two figure-eight wraps (four wraps total).

4) Wind thread to thorax behind wing, attach Sexi-Floss, s-t-r-e-t-c-h the Sexi-Floss and wind thread to tail and back to thorax.

5) Wrap Sexi-Floss over thread underbody. Secure with three wraps, stretch and trim excess.

6) Dub thorax and finish head of fly.

A dozen PMD Comparaduns, ready to fish!

A dozen PMD Comparaduns, ready to fish!

I vow one day to return to the Bighorn or other river with a population of Ephemerella excrucians mayflies, and fish a PMD hatch. I’m prepared now. That’s one benefit of experience. It teaches you to be ready for the next time.