CDC is possibly one of the greatest fly tying materials God ever created. It really is brilliant stuff. The only problem seems to be obtaining decent quality CDC. That to my mind is our greatest challenge in this country. The stuff available commercially leaves a lot to be desired in most cases. Occasionally I find some really nice CDC, but CDC quality by and large is very inconsistent, even within the same brand as it were. One actually needs to sample the stuff before you buy it by checking it out very well. To the neophyte this can be problematic. After all, it all looks the same right?
Wrong! Look a little closer
Decent quality CDC has the following attributes
Dense fibre count along the feather stem
Fibres which are long and unbroken with many tiny barbules attached to each individual fibre. The feather has a fluffy full fern like appearance to it. CDC feathers float because of their structure, and the more fibres and barbules on the individual feather the better. These trap micro bubbles in turn helping the fly to stay afloat
In some cases, like when tying shuttlecocks or F-flies, feathers with super thin stems are called for. Thin stems in this case are desirable.
The feather type you use depends on what you are tying
Click in images to enlarge them
This photo depicts different CDC feather types from left to right as :
The feather on the extreme left, is a larger, fuller-stemmed feather with longer fibres that are great for split-thread applications. The stems of these feathers are thick and cumbersome when tied conventionally, but when used in a split thread this problem evaporates.
The two middle feathers are smaller, thin stemmed feathers, better for things like Shuttlecocks and F flies. These feathers are also better in terms of a hackling with them or twisting and wrapping them for bodies.
The smallest feather on the extreme right is what we call puffs. They are great for really small flies and the lack of a feather stem is great in that it helps the tier to eliminate bulk. I love using them for small ants and midges. These little feathers are highly underutilised in my opinion.
I like to sort the CDC I buy into these different feather types; in this way I know where everything is before I tie and I don’t need to sift through bags of feathers looking for what I’m after whilst I’m actually tying.
The question I’m most often asked when it comes to CDC is what CDC to buy. The answer to this question is complex, since quality varies so considerably. Sometimes poorer quality is the only thing available. These feathers can still be used but since they lack the structure of better feathers one needs to stack a few of them on top of each other to compensate for the lack in quality. This stacking of feathers will help considerably. I can sometimes stack up to four feathers on top of each other.
The best option however is to get a hunter to collect CDC for you.
We have a great many birds in this country with great CDC. Egyptian geese are plentiful and their CDC is not bad at all. Mallard ducks also provide one with decent CDC. A while back I came across a dead Galanule on the N2 highway on my way to Cape town. I picked the bird up and discovered it had fantastic CDC, thin-stemmed feathers which were very fluffy and black, the darkest natural CDC I have ever seen. Most water birds, regardless of whether they’re ducks or not, have decent CDC.
Feathers collected from over-wintered birds are often fluffier and of better quality than those collected in summer. The birds are less active in winter and don’t damage their feathers as much. That said, CDC feathers do get a lot of abuse from the ducks bill so even when the quality is good, one will get a few damaged feathers which you need to remove. The preen gland of the bird sits at the base of the tail, or in that general area at least. There are not that many feathers surrounding the gland, thirty or forty at most. The feathers will have a lovely pungent smell to them. When buying CDC, natural CDC will cause a slight dimpling effect on the plastic packet housing the CDC. This is caused by a chemical effect that the CDC oil has on the plastic. The oil is not all that important though. Its main function is to aid the conditioning of the feathers. The main thing with CDC is structure.
The best commercially available CDC I’ve ever used was Trouthunter CDC. It was very similar to the stuff I have got from Egyptian geese, but unfortunately it is not available in this country and is hellishly difficult to get into the country legally hence its absence. Polish CDC is said to be good too. I have bought some really good stuff from Upstream in Cape Town, nice large fluffy feathers. I have also purchased polish CDC via a mail order company and the stuff that arrived was not great at all, both Polish CDC, one packet great, the other not. This further supports the notion that one cannot merely buy CDC on brand name alone. One needs to look at the actual quality of the individual feathers before you buy. Feathers are a product of nature, so quality can differ from batch to batch, or even from bird to bird.
Most commercial CDC’s, like Petejean’s, come from Grand Canards, large French meat ducks. These feathers have thick stems which can be problematic if one is looking for thinner feather stems for patterns like F-flies and Shuttlecocks. There is a way around this. By adapting tying techniques one can achieve the same results using these larger feathers by eliminating the use of the feather stems. I’ll discuss this in further detail later in this series on CDC though.
A simple ant
The first pattern I’d like us to tie is a simple ant. Ants are very important flies in my opinion, especially when fishing streams. Ants have saved me on numerous occasions. In the beginning I’d tie a wide range of complicated ants which all looked good; some even performed exceptionally well. I did, however, find tying these imitations tiresome. The ant featured here is a stripped down pattern, stripped down from a tying perspective, but still every bit as effective as some of the more complicated ant patterns. I find that fish will take this fly even when ants are not around. Perhaps they take it for a small beetle or even a midge, who knows, who cares, the point is they eat it and that is kind of the point after all now, isn’t it.
This ant consists of two materials (well if you don’t count the hook and thread), namely dubbing (I mix a bit of synthetic peacock dubbing with a softer black hare’s dubbing, just to tone down the sparkle a bit) and a single white or grey CDC puff. I tie it on a light wire, dry fly hook, #20. The CDC helps one track the fly well in the drift and is highly visible, helps the fly present as softly as an angel’s kiss and is just the perfect thing to keep the pattern glued in the meniscus where ants who’ve drowned tend to chill. The patterns takes less than thirty seconds to tie, economy all around, minimal materials, minimal time, minimal fuss. What’s not to like?
Lay a foundation of black Gordon Griffiths sheer 14/0 thread on the hook shank. This thread foundation will help seat materials effectively and will render the finished fly more durable.
Being very conservative with the amount of dubbing you use, dub a small round abdomen.
Run the thread forward ending where the wing will be tied in. This thin thread section simulates the waist of the ant.
Select a white or grey CDC puff for the wings of the fly.
Using a pinched-wrap, tie this in with the small feather stem facing in the direction of the bend of the hook.
Apply more dubbing to the thread, remembering that less really is more, subtlety is a beautiful thing and dubbing is no exception.
Holding the wing back dub in front of it to create the front body section of the ant.
Whip finish and cut the wing to shape getting rid of any sign of a feather stem and walla, simplicity at its best.
Don’t let looks fool you, this fly might not be a looker, but it does catch fish and plenty of them too.
This is just one example of the power of the puff, but CDC puffs have many different uses. I tend to reserve them for the smaller flies though, as fibre length more often than not is a limiting factor.
Fly for now…