cdc dry flies

Lemon Wood Duck, and a Few Flies

Lemon wood duck feathers are one of the most revered natural materials among fly tiers. These lemon flank feathers have long been my absolute favorite natural material to tie with. My first exposure to duck flank came early in my fly tying career in a Fly Tyer magazine, and I was immediately intrigued by the almost surreal nature of the striking lemon color and vivid barrings. I’ve since run into them many times browsing through fly patterns online, most often beautifully tied salmon flies and Catskill dries, which only fueled my interest even more. They took on a prestigious ranking in my mind, and I longed to get my hands on a few, not to mention putting a drake woodie in the duck bag. When my 12 gauge Remington connected on a drake wood duck a few duck seasons ago, I was excited to say the least.lemon wood duck feather

The trout seem to find lemon flank feathers almost as attractive as fly tiers do. The dark barring gives it the appearance of the delicate mottling found on a natural insect, a characteristic that’s hard to replicate with synthetic materials, producing a beautiful and realistic fly. The striking lemon color, the vivid barrings, and beauty of the feather have captured my interest and sparked my fly-tying imagination. Not coincidentally, wood ducks are also my favorite bird to hunt, which may or may not be directly related with the prestige of the feathers on the fly tying bench :). Over the past few winters I’ve tried to add it to almost any pattern imaginable. Here are a few bugs I’ve tied with these awesome feathers…

Some lemon wood duck from a beautiful drake woody I harvested in MN's duck season.

lemon wood duck fly tying

A great drake wood duck, fully reflecting the glory of the Creator.

A great drake wood duck, fully reflecting the glory of the Creator.

Tellico Soft Hackle

Tellico Soft Hackle

A trip out to the Smokies inspired this little Tellico nymph variation. Yellow is huge on trout flies out there, so the lemon flank feathers fit nicely.

  • Hook: #14 wet
  • Thread: Black 8/0 UNI
  • Tail: Lemon wood duck flank
  • Body: Yellow GSP or floss
  • Rib: Copper wire
  • Shellback: Pheasant tail fibers, folded over body and rib
  • Thorax: Peacock herl
  • Hackle: Rust brown/white hen hackle

Minnesota Soft Hackle

This bug is unique because the materials all originate in Minnesota. Besides the hook and thread, we harvested all the materials ourselves. A red squirrel that we bagged up north provided the dubbing, and we grabbed some hen hackle from the chicken coop out back for the soft hackle. Hopefully it will entice some Minnesota trout.

  • Hook: #14 wet
  • Thread: Black 8/0 UNI
  • Tail: Lemon wood duck flank
  • Body: Red squirrel dubbing
  • Rib: Brown 210 denier Ultra Thread
  • Wing: Lemon wood duck flank, rolled
  • Hackle: Brown hen
CDC Wood Duck Emerger

CDC Wood Duck Emerger

Here’s another fly that has great ties to Minnesota, with all the materials harvested in the state. CDC is another one of my favorites, so I paired it with lemon flank feathers and deer hair to create this nice little emerger. I absolutely love emerger style flies like this, and I’m excited to get it out on the stream and see if the trout approve.

  • Hook: # 14 dry
  • Thread: 8/0 Black UNI
  • Tail: Cream antron, clipped to half the length of the hook shank, and lemon wood duck fibers
  • Body: Red squirrel dubbing
  • Rib: Brown 210 denier Ultra Thread
  • Hackle/underwing: Natural gray CDC, palmered
  • Overwing: Deer hair
  • Head: Red squirrel dubbing

Minnesota winter trout season is right around the corner, and hopefully we’ll make it down for some fishing, but until then we’ll be tying flies and hitting the ice for some hardwater panfish. Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out our Facebook page and give us a “like” while you’re there to stay connected with all our fishing, hunting, and fly tying pursuits!

Tight lines,


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.


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