Extended Body Mayflies
September 20, 2014
Shortly after I moved to southcentral Pennsylvania I became fascinated with the large Drake (brown, yellow, and green) and Hexagenia extended-body mayflies that I found on many of the region's trout and bass rivers. I was impressed with the sheer numbers of these insects and the fact that the area's fish refused my large Wulff and deer-hair-winged patterns that worked on my previous home waters in northern New York.
Many of southcentral Pennsylvania's waters are calmer and smoother than those in northern New York — the Ausable River, for example — and the fish get a good look at an insect as it drifts overhead. The fish see a detailed profile, one that impressionistic attractor Wulff-style patterns don't provide.
At first, I modified my "New York" patterns, but the fish weren't interested. I needed a dry fly with better definition, a general pattern that could represent the dominant characteristic of the large mayflies — the abdomen. This quickly led to a variety of extended-body patterns, which I had read about but never had the need to learn to tie.
Most of the established extended-body patterns appeared complicated and didn't appeal to me for one reason or another. They either didn't float, cast, or feel the way I wanted. So I tried various methods of tying extended-body flies until I found one that worked.
The pattern I settled on uses some of the best qualities of my Catskill-style flies — the wings and the hackle — tied in front of an extended single- or multiple-colored deer-hair body. The fly sits deep in the surface film, giving the fish a good look at the realistic fly body, but still floats well because of the Catskill-style front end. It's a compromised blend of the fully-developed dun and the emerger.
It takes from 10 to 12 minutes to tie one fly, but when tied right, it holds its shape even after catching several fish. I developed six different extended-body flies to match the naturals I found in the area's water. I'm sure this tying style can be used to imitate other naturals.
Improving Your Skills
For the rest of the fly, I employ typical Catskill-style wings made of duck flank feathers and hackles. The insects have large wings, and the pattern's wings should be longer than the conventional 3/4 length of the hook shank and have more bulk. I use two flank feathers for each set of wings to make them more pronounced. The longer, heavier wings are more than offset by the extended body, so the balance of the fly is not compromised.
Dub the front half of the hook shank with a dubbing that matches the color of the body (bottom color). The dubbing makes the diameter of the front half match more closely the diameter of the extended body.
To make the wings, strip away the fuzzy material at the bottom of the feather and cut the center stem out of the tip of the feather. Lay the two feathers over each other with their tips evenly aligned (concaved). Fold the feathers in half. The length of the wings should be a little longer than the entire hook shank. Secure the feathers in the center of the dubbed area on the front half of the hook. Add a little more dubbing in front of the wings to stand them up. Use your right thumbnail to press the wing bundle back over the dubbing and body. If done right, the body will separate the feather bundle into wings of equal size.
Use the tying thread to separate the wings with figure-eight wraps and then post each wing separately. By doing so, the wings can be left standing upright in a classical dun position, or you can easily reposition them onstream to a flat, spent-spinner angle.
Tie the hackles in behind the wings and wrap forward in a typical Catskill manner. Tie off the hackles and form a neat tapered head. Whip-finish and apply Flexament to the head.
Craig Hull works at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. He lives in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.