Month – November 2012

DIY Fly Fishing: How to find CDC feathers on a duck

Duck season is in full swing in many parts of the country right now. Hunting has slowed down here in Minnesota, but I had a pretty good season and bagged a couple ducks. A nice collection of CDC from mallards, wood duck, and teal is sitting on my tying bench, ready for the long winter. CDC is pretty quick and easy to grab off a bird, and is an outstanding feather for dry flies.

Cul De Canard (or CDC) is one of the best feathers on a duck for fly tiers. It is found near the duck’s preen (urogypial) gland, which releases oils that a duck uses to help waterproof his feathers. Contrary to popular belief, CDC gets its great natural flotation properties primarily from the structure of the feather, not the oils. Micro-barbules extend from the fibers of the CDC feather, increasing surface area and trapping tiny air bubbles when on the water. This makes it a great material for tying flies that float well but hang low in the surface film.

Harvesting CDC

CDC is relatively easy to find on a duck. The preen gland is on the lower back just above the tail feathers. Feel around just above the base of the tail feathers, where you will find a bump. That is the preen gland. Lift up the cover feathers and there you go, CDC. Pluck all the feathers right around the gland, including the oily feathers on the bump, stopping when the feathers become just regular fuzzy down. Put them into a plastic bag, where the oils will distribute throughout the feathers. A mature mallard will usually yield roughly sixty or seventy plus useable feathers up to two inches long. Any waterfowl that ends up in your bag at the end of the hunt will be good for CDC. I favor the smaller CDC from a wood duck, especially for tiny flies that require a thinner feather shaft. Geese also have some great CDC, with some giant feathers up to three inches long that are great for larger flies.

CDC! Pluck all the feathers right around the preen gland

It’s probably a good idea to freeze the feathers to get any critters out before putting them on the shelf.  A cycle of one week in, a few days out, and another week or two in the freezer should remove any troublesome bugs. Any cold resistant eggs that survived the first session will hatch in the break, and then die in the next freeze. I have been doing this with all my fur and feathers that I harvest for a couple years now, and I haven’t had any problems with bugs.

Uses of CDC

CDC, one of my favorite materials for tying dry flies, is very versatile. The flowing fibers of CDC on a dry fly might suggest a trailing shuck, a crippled wing, or simply movement. It adds a nice trigger and floats like a cork. CDC is a great material for fooling picky trout on flat water. Feathers from a wild bird are almost always better than what you can get commercially. There is much more variety in feather types, and the quality is usually quite good.

CDC Comparadun- One of my favorite CDC flies is a comparadun-style BWO or midge, which works very well in the tail of pools when trout are slurping tiny midges. The comparadun-style wing has a great silhouette and floats fairly well.

Emergers- A down-wing is deadly on emergers (F-Fly), producing a very life-like fly that floats low in the surface film. CDC makes a great wing on an RS-2 style fly, adding some motion and life. Stick it in a dubbing loop and wrap it like hackle on a parachute to create an excellent emerger.

Bodies- You can also wrap it as a body, such as in Hans Weilenmann’s CDC and Elk. The fibers make a good dubbing, too.

Nymphs- One application that is gaining popularity and often overlooked is using CDC on nymphs. Once the feathers get thoroughly wet and the barbules collapse, it produces a very tantalizing motion to the fish in the water. It’s great for a soft hackle collar on nymphs, or to add some motion to a wing.

Rainbow trout from Missouri’s Lake Taneycomo that took a tiny #20 olive CDC Comparadun

I should also add that floatant is usually a bad idea with CDC flies. The paste or liquid stuff collapses the barbules on the feather, leaving it unable to trap air. If the fly starts to sink, just dry out the fibers really well and false cast a few times. CDC is usually best in slower water, but if you must add floatant for fishing broken riffle water, use a powder like Frogg’s Fanny or something similar. In most situations, the feathers float very well without floatant and rarely need it, and a good drying is all you need to get it floating again.

So, next time you bag a few ducks, or you have a friend that hunts, grab some CDC. It just might become a standard in your dry flies. A supply of CDC from about two mallards should easily last you the winter of tying.

Tight Lines,


The DIY Fly Fishing Series

We make a lot of our gear here at 3 Brothers Flies. We tie our own flies, build fly tying tools, harvest and preserve fly tying materials, and tie our own leaders. It is common to over-analyze fly fishing and gear. Sometimes simpler is better. This DIY fly fishing series shows that a lot of fly fishing gear can be built by yourself for very little money and time.


11-3…October Caddis, A Small Stream, and Dry Flies

Whenever I think of fly fishing in the Smokies, I think of dry flies. Beautiful, pure wild trout eagerly grabbing a small, well-tied dry in some pocket water. I, like most fly fishers, find dry flies to be one of the most exciting aspects of the game. The thrill of watching a trout rise up to the surface and eat your fly just never gets old. As I looked at it more and more, I realized that the places more cherished, talked about, and dream-inspiring than any other fishing destinations revolve around dry flies. For me, the Smokies have always been a fly fishing dream, and maybe that is why.

On the last day of the trip, we experienced some dry fly action. The target was a small rainbow trout stream with some awesome plunge pools. The weather had warmed up enough to bring out a small hatch of giant October caddisflies. If we were going to get any dry fly action, this was going to be the day. Braden and I got in at a small stone bridge and started the climb downstream over the rugged terrain. Almost immediately, Braden tied into a small rainbow on a #20 pheasant tail.

As I waded downstream, I spotted a pool on the opposite bank that just screamed trout. A plunge pool flowed under some overhanging brush and rubbed against a large boulder, creating a nice dark hole. I got into position downstream and carefully placed my orange stimulator at the head of the pool. As the stimmy drifted through, a flash of silver rose from the depths, but the trout missed my fly. The next cast produced a violent slash, and a beautiful six inch wild rainbow was soon in the net.

Braden and I continued to pick up fish in almost every pool. A few trout took our pheasant tail or Greedo BWO droppers, but most crashed the dry flies. We could have gone forever. Around each bend, a seemingly-endless series of plunge pools full of good trout lies cascaded down the mountain. Casting was difficult in the canopy of rhododendrons that crowded the creek, but a well-placed cast was usually rewarded with a wild rainbow.

We moved on to another spot further downstream. A lot of the trout were a bit too small to take down my #12 stimulator, so I switched to a #16 tellico-style dry, which quickly got a splashy rise from a 4″ rainbow. The bows were wild and ruggedly beautiful, kinda like the streams they live in. Braden’s Adams Wulff variation got some attention, too. He caught around seven more in the last hour of the day, all wild rainbow trout ranging from four to ten inches. Braden found one particularly good pool at the bottom of a four foot waterfall, where he pulled out a few rainbows from the current seams.

It was a great end to an awesome trip. Winter is here in Minnesota. It’s time to tie some flies and restock the boxes. Ice fishing will be here soon, and hopefully we will get some solid ice this year.

Tight Lines,





11-2…Little River Rainbows

Today Braden and I fished a stream in the Little River watershed. It was still pretty cold, so we tied on tungsten hare and coppers to get down to the fish followed by Chocolate Greedo droppers, all under an indicator. Braden caught two scrappy rainbows on the Greedo, one at about 6″ and the other a little baby 4 incher, but that was all the action for the day.  

Fishing was slow in the colder water. I fished for about two hours without even a bite. I found myself wanting to fish the deep bend pools with undercut banks, more like the brown trout water I’m used to back home, rather than the fast seems and pockets that these rainbows seem to like. Lost a few flies, but still had a fun day on the water.

Like all Smokies streams, the water was beautiful. The creek had a lower gradient, but still had some awesome falls. Great day to be on the water, even though the fishing was slow.

Tight Lines,


11-1…Wild Rainbows in the Smokies

This week the crew is on vacation in the Smoky Mountains for a week of fly fishing, hiking, and hanging out. Fly fishing in the Smokies has been a dream of mine since I became a fly fisher. Maybe it’s all the videos of trout eagerly crashing dry flies in small streams, or the pics of beautifully colored wild rainbows, but the small, rushing streams of the Smokies have always captivated me. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has hundreds of miles of cold mountain streams ranging from tiny high elevation brook trout streams to small rivers with larger browns. I was pumped that we were actually there.Weather has made things tough. For the first few days we were stuck inside as Sandy dumped over two feet of snow on the mountains. The road through the mountains has been closed most of the time since Sunday. While the rain poured down, we hit the Orvis shop in Sevierville and got the latest fishing conditions and the hot flies. The snow pretty much ends any hopes of fishing high elevation for brook trout, so we will hit the lower elevation creeks for wild browns and rainbows. Wednesday was the first day it wasn’t rainy and freezing cold, so we got out for about an hour in the evening and fished almost until dark. Noah and I didn’t catch any, but Braden nymphed up a great 9″ wild rainbow. The water out here is beautiful, mostly pocket water flowing swiftly over moss covered rocks and boulders. It’s a trout fisher’s dream. There is something like 900 miles of streams in the Smokies, each containing endless pockets and pools that hold trout.

We stopped at the Smoky Mountain Angler in Gatlinburg for some fly tying stuff on Thursday. It’s a great little shop. The guys were very helpful, and pointed us toward some great fishing spots. We sneaked in another couple hours of fishing before dark on Thursday. I spotted a few fish in a huge pool, so I crept into position and sent my tungsten hare and copper through the pool a few times. I hooked a small rainbow for a second, but my hare’s ear was getting mostly refusals, so I tied on a #20 Chocolate Greedo nymph dropper (its like a Greedo BWO, but brown). A few drifts later, my indicator twitched, and I set the hook into a hard fighting rainbow. After a good five minute battle on 6x, I got my first Smokies trout into the net, a fat 17″ rainbow! From what I understand, the rainbows don’t get very big in the park, so this was a great fish. This fish was in great shape, very strong and thick shouldered. I released him, and we called it a day.

So far, the trip has been great. Even though they often don’t correspond with good fishing in high elevation, snow covered peaks are a dramatic background for fly fishing. The cold water will make things a little tough, but the bite should pick up as it gets warmer towards the end of the week.

Tight Lines,


10-26…White River Brown Trout

Today Braden and I hit Lake Taneycomo, Missouri’s portion of the legendary White River system. If you’re not familiar with Taneycomo, the “lake” is actually a tailwater flowing from the massive Table Rock Lake. Taneycomo is famous for its monster browns and rainbows, but is subject to an unpredictable generation schedule from Table Rock Dam. High generation makes wade fishing very difficult, if not impossible. We passed up the “combat” fishing at the hatchery outlets and found some solitude further downstream. We were greeted by a gentle Taneycomo at low generation and a multitude of visible trout.

Table Rock Dam

I started by tossing some streamers. I tied on a small beadhead chickabou bugger style fly and quickly found a willing rainbow. It wasn’t a bad fish at around twelve inches, but it was nowhere near the size Taneycomo is famous for. I played with a few different nymph rigs and hooked a few fish, but didn’t land any. A few midges started hatching later in the afternoon. Midges are the bread and butter on Taneycomo, which gets midge hatches almost every day.  Braden tied on a cdc midge and nailed a nice rainbow around the same size as mine.

Taneycomo rainbow on a dry fly

They started running water on us later in the afternoon, so we packed up and hit the outlets, which had emptied out a bit by then. Surprisingly, I got old outlet number three all to myself. I hooked a few rainbows on a scud, but nothing stuck. Braden caught the fish of the day, landing two nice browns in the fifteen inch range on a hare and copper.

Taneycomo brown trout

Today was tough, but fishing on the White is always a fun experience. Next up we are headed east for some mountain fly fishing to wild rainbow trout in the Smoky Mountains.

3 Brothers Flies © 2014 Frontier Theme