May 03, 2022
Danny Lane is a 34-year-old fishing guide and commercial fly tier. He was born and raised in Idaho and has two beautiful daughters, a lovely, badass wife, and an ugly but lovable teal green Adipose drift boat. I first met Lane online, then later in person, when my wife Lisa and I went over to fish with him for a few days on the South Fork of the Snake. We all immediately hit it off and settled into that comfortable familiarity that makes fishing fun.
Lane has been guiding for eight years and spends most of his time on the South Fork, Teton, and Henry’s Fork rivers. Eastern Idaho is home to an awful lot of water, and the size of the Snake is simply breathtaking on first viewing. The scale is something to behold. The Snake’s springtime flows are around 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), which we loosely calculated to be more than the total combined flows of all the commonly fished rivers in my home state of Colorado.
The Snake River is a veritable bug factory and churns out impressive hatches of caddis, stoneflies, Yellow Sallies, Green Drakes, and Pale Morning Duns, along with pretty much every other bug you can think of. You can fish the banks from a moving boat with any variety of dry flies dangling a dropper, or anchor up on any of the hundreds of riffles to settle into slightly more technical dry-fly fishing. Beautiful cutthroats and rainbows are the norm here, and while the fishing can sometimes be easy, there are more than enough haughty fish in those riffles to make things interesting and even humbling.
Lane is my favorite kind of resolute fishing guide—the type who guides all summer and ties flies all winter, showing his commitment on both fronts. It didn’t take me long to pull out my list of questions I ask anytime I fish with anyone new. When I asked Lane what he thought his best fly design was, he immediately opened the hatch on his boat and began rooting through about a thousand little green fly cups. It didn’t take him long to find the cup he was after—which was impressive in and of itself—and he popped the lid, stirred the contents with the tip of his index finger, and finally pulled out a fly.
The pattern he handed me said a lot about Lane, both as a guide and a fly tier. What I held in my hand was very clearly an adult Green Drake pattern. What struck me most was how well Lane had melded old and new techniques, skillfully mixed in a prominent feature of his own, and streamlined the pattern to keep it simple enough to tie late at night after a long day of guiding. I was instantly interested to hear more about his fly—and silently thankful that he didn’t hand me a Perdigon.
Over the next couple of days of fishing, Lane went on to tell me about the design process for what is now known as the DJL Drake. It seems he designed it specifically to solve the age-old problem of trying to show the fish something just a little different. As big as the Snake is, there can be a tremendous number of boats on it, and you can very quickly lose confidence that you’re showing the fish something different than everyone else.
Like all good fly tiers, Lane took this as a challenge and went to work at the vise. And after more than a few failed attempts, he finally dialed in this pattern to produce this clean, simple, and refreshing design. He ties the DJL Drake to match Green, Gray, and Brown drakes and likes them in sizes 10 and 12—though I am sure this pattern would transfer over for other big mayflies such as Hexagenia just as well.
Starting with a short-shank, wide-gap Tiemco 2499SP-BL to maximize hooking capability and eliminate the liabilities of a long-shank hook, Lane builds an extended body on a needle to create the abdomen of the fly. Lane uses deer hair on his patterns and Danville 6/0 thread in light olive, but I struggled with both and found the fly much easier to manage using harder elk rump hair and the relatively new Semperfli Nano Silk thread in 18/0 (30 denier). The Nano Silk is very thin and super strong, and its slippery texture makes it work perfectly for sliding the extended body off the needle.
Lane hit a stroke of genius in using the butt ends of the hair as an anchor to attach this extended body to the hook without a giant lump or bump. This technique works perfectly, and impressed me with its creativity. Lane then dubs the thorax and leaves the thread hanging in the center after creating a band of thread over the dubbing to form a base for the hackle, wing, and legs. He goes on to tie in the hackle, then a simple cow elk-hair wing on top of this thread band.
The legs are the feature I love most about this fly, and they really set it apart from the crowd. Lane uses two strands of Perfect Rubber—a silicone material that floats—spread in a wide X-pattern to replicate the burly and prominent legs of a Green Drake mayfly. The robust legs of the naturals have always struck me as a key feature in adult Green Drakes, but honestly it never occurred to me to try to incorporate them into a pattern until I saw Lane’s fly. The Perfect Rubber is an ideal material to use here and adds realism to the profile, as well as one more right thing about the fly.
I’ve always believed fish don’t see the things that are wrong with a fly as much as they do the things that are right, and the more right things you can incorporate, the closer you get to a perfect imitation. The legs Lane has used here are among those right things.
Lane goes on to wrap the parachute-style hackle under the wing butts, pinching and squeezing it in place between the hair and the thorax. This limited space makes for a slightly disheveled-looking hackle, but also creates a wide base to keep the fly upright. And I honestly feel it adds to the profile of the bug.
As many of you know by now, I am not easily impressed in my old age, and the hardest part of writing Fly Tier’s Bench for Fly Fisherman is finding something compelling, different, and interesting to write about. Lane made my job easy this time around.
DJL Drake Recipe
HOOK: #10-12 Tiemco 2499SP-BL
THREAD: Yellow 18/0 Semperflfli Nano Silk
EXTENDED BODY: Olive-dyed elk rump
THORAX: Mix of 40% olive Arizona Simi Seal, 40% golden olive Arizona Simi Seal, and 20% Hareline Micro Fine PMD Olive Dun Dubbing
WING: Natural cow elk body hair
HACKLE: Dyed yellow grizzly rooster saddle
LEGS: Perfect Rubber, motor oil color
Step-by-step Tying Instructions
Start by clamping a thin sewing needle into your vise with the sharp end exposed. Start the thread with a short but firm jam knot about ¼ inch from the tip of the needle, making sure to leave a long tag end. This tag end will become important later.
Cut, clean, and stack a robust clump of elk rump. Measure the clump to just shy of ¾ inch and tie it to the needle on top of the jam knot with a tight, narrow band of thread. The hair should flare on both sides of this band.
Pull the hair tips down taut along the needle, and move the thread about 20% of the way toward the hair tips by making one long angled wrap across the top of the hair clump. Create the next segment by building another vertical thread band, then continue this process, creating a total of five thread bands. I make each segment decrease ever so slightly in size as I approach the hair tips.
Once you reach the tips, flare the hair well in place and reverse the crossing process to move the thread back to the butt ends of the hair. The thread crosses should all be along the top of the extended body. Whip-finish on top of the first thread band and clip. Note that the tag end of the thread is now hanging out of the end of the body.
Grasp the hair firmly in your fingertips and pull it off the end of the needle. Once the body is free, pull the tag end of the thread to remove all the slack, then clip the excess closely. This will tighten up the thread wraps from the inside out, and firm things up.
Place the hook in the vise and build a thread base from the eye to about halfway between the hook point and where the barb would be. Put a small drop of Zap-A-Gap on the thread base and place the butt ends of the hair on top of it, with the first band of thread lined up right at the end of the thread base and the thread crosses on the top of the body. Anchor the extended body in place with several tight turns of thread, then work the thread tightly forward through the butt ends of the hair, flaring them as you go. You are attaching the extended body by wrapping through the butt ends of the hair, so make sure to wrap tightly to lock the body in place on top of the hook.
Trim the remaining butt ends as flush as you can, then apply a thin layer of dubbing to the thread. Dub the thorax from just behind the hook eye to the base of the body, and finish with the bare thread hanging in the center of the thorax. Make an eight- to ten-turn band of thread to serve as a base for the wing/legs/hackle combo.
Prep an appropriately sized hackle feather by trimming the butt end to leave short, exposed barbs along the bottom of the feather, then tie in this feather with the inside facing up on the top near side of the thorax. Be sure to anchor this feather tightly so it doesn’t pull out later.
Cut, clean, and stack a clump of cow elk hair and measure it from just in front of the tie-down band to just about even with the last segment on the extended body. Clip the butt ends of the hair to length.
Place two turns of thread over the hair just behind the butt ends and, while holding the hair firmly in place on top of the hook, pull down on the thread to flare the hair in place. Follow with a couple of tight turns to make sure it isn’t going anywhere. The butt ends should be relatively short, but long enough to work around and under with the hackle later.
Tie in a short strand of Perfect Rubber on either side of the thorax, just slightly under the base of the wing and right through the same thread band you built earlier. The legs should form a wide X-shape.
Note the placement of the legs here, and the tiny bit of space separating them from the base of the wing and allowing room for the hackle wraps. Begin wrapping the hackle by coming forward with the feather in a horizontal plane and bringing the first turn under the butt ends of the wing. Then continue wrapping all the way around, keeping the feather wraps between the hair and the thorax.
Make about three turns of hackle between the base of the hair and the thorax. Pull the tip of the feather down on the near side of the hook, then pick up the thread and make two or three tight, horizontal turns of thread under the wrapped hackle to tie it off around the base of the wing. Clip the excess feather tip close.
Whip-finish by sweeping the hackle back and up in your fingertips and sneaking the wraps in behind the eye. Clip the thread. Trim the legs to just a touch longer than the hackle barbs, and add a shot of head cement to the end of the body as well as to the base of the wing, just to make sure everything stays tight.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado. He is the author of four books, most recently Tying Streamers: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books, 2020).