Besides that holiday with the flowers, candy and doubled restaurant prices, mid-February brings something else: the onset of dry fly fever.
This is about the time of year when even people like me, who embrace subsurface nymph fishing right through the winter, start daydreaming about rising trout and the kinds of flies that might trick them into biting.
One recent Internet discussion thread centered on a terrific dry fly pattern born right here in the Capital Region several decades ago: the Dorato Hare’s Ear, named for its inventor, the late Bill Dorato of Albany. It was carried in the major catalogues for many years, and was regularly mentioned in the fishing press.
You don’t hear so much about it these days — and for me, at least, that’s one reason to get excited about it. Forgotten flies have an appeal all their own. Rediscovering a fly that used to be in everyone’s top 10 list, but has fallen out of favor is strangely satisfying, even if it does beg the question of why a perfectly good fly would be abandoned in the first place.
The Dorato Hare’s Ear (shortened on the Internet, naturally, to DHE) is from the “buggy” school of attractor dry flies. It has a deliberately scruffy appearance. Its body is hare’s mask fur with plenty of guard hairs. Its wings are wood duck, and its hackle and tail are mixed grizzly and brown — very visually busy.
Despite its mayfly-style upright wings, the DHE was designed to imitate down-winged caddis flies. It has a tail, which would seem to be a mistake since real caddis flies don’t, but the recipe calls for a much shorter tail than most mayfly imitations, so maybe Dorato just wanted something to help his fly float. The fly was usually pictured with its full propeller-style hackle, but I gather many users (maybe Dorato himself) cut the bottom half of the hackle off so the fly floated flush.
The DHE reminded some of another fly invented nearby — the Vermont Caddis, designed by George Schlotter at the old Angler’s Nook fly shop along the Battenkill on Route 313 in Shushan. It’s one of nine flies John Merwin selected to include in his book, “The Battenkill.”
The Vermont Caddis is nothing more than a dubbed body (hare’s ear is a good material) and the same brown-and-grizzly hackle as the DHE (and a number of other great “buggy” dries.) The hackle is supposed to be one size too small for the hook — that is, on a size 12 Vermont caddis, use hackle feathers you would normally use on a size 14.
“It can be coated with floatant and twitched on the surface in conventional fashion,” Merwin wrote. “Most effectively, it should be fished undressed, hanging vertically and partly awash in the surface tension like an emerging natural.”
I don’t think Schlotter’s Vermont Caddis ever became as well known as the Dorato Hare’s Ear. It seems to be more of a regional special. But both still deserve places in fly boxes here in New York, Vermont and the region — they were, after all, designed by expert trout fishermen for use on our local rivers.
I confess I’ve never given either fly a fair shake. This year, I will. I’m daydreaming about it already.
Bill Dorato’s been gone since 2000. Happily, Bill Donato’s still around, and will be among the expert fly-makers demonstrating their craft at Goldstock’s Sporting Goods Cabin Fever Fly Tying Expo March 12-13 at the shop on Freeman’s Bridge Road in Glenville.
He’ll be among the 20 or so tyers at their vises, demonstrating this absorbing hobby and answering whatever questions visitors may have. I plan to be there on Saturday. This year’s expo will include one featured tyer each hour demonstrating a specialty. There will also be a kid’s table and lots of good conversation about fishing, fly-tying and warm weather.
Maybe we’ll make some Dorato’s Hare’s Ears and Vermont Caddises.