Making sure your dry flies float is vital in fly fishing for a couple of reasons.
First, it makes sure that you are presenting the fly as it is meant to be presented.
And secondly, it helps you stay in visual contact with the fly so you can strike if it gets eaten.
We’ve shared our thoughts on the best gel floatants on the market to keep your dry flies riding high when you are fly fishing. (For our thoughts on the best powder based desiccants and floatants click here).
Best Dry Fly Floatant: Our Top Five Picks Reviewed
We’ve used Gink for ages as a dry fly floatant. It’s the oldest floatant on the market having been around for 40 years. The half ounce bottle is well designed allowing you to squeeze a small amount on to your fingers to apply to the fly. On contact with your fingers, Gink turns from gel to liquid, which is handy for ensuring you can working it into the body of the fly and that it coats synthetic wings and fibres as well as feathers (not suitable for CDC though). The only thing to watch with Gink is that it flows from the bottle a lot quicker in hot conditions.
Loon Aquel (pronounced Ak-well) is another silicon based gel floatant that is very popular. We’ve used Aquel and it’s worked well. In our experience, it is more temperature stable that Gink, so that’s probably an advantage on hot days but also means you have to work a bit harder to work it into the body of the fly. Loon says it also masks human odours – not sure how that works or how important it is, but there you go! Again, be aware this gel floatant is not suitable for CDC flies. Like Gink, it comes in a 1/2 oz bottle.
Loon Royal gel is a similar to Loon Acquel, but has an iridescent finish that can add a shimmer to flies. It’s intended to mimic the clear wings of mayflies and other hatching insects. It’s a temperature stable floatant and silicon based, just like the Acquel, but with this added visual characteristic. It’s great for fishing dry flies during dan hatches and spinner falls. Again, this floatant cannot be used on CDC flies. It comes in the same 1/2 oz bottle as Loon Aquel.
Now we get into a gel based floatant that CAN be used with CDC flies. This is important for me as I use CDC flies a lot and believe that they are deadly on trout in a wide range of circumstances. Lochsa is a premium floatant that won’t mat dry flies made with CDC and has the same temperature stable characteristics of the Loon gel floatant range. It comes in the same 1/2 oz bottle as the other Loon gel floatants.
Tiemco is a Japanese tackle manufacturer that make superb floatant products as well as fly tying hooks. Tiemco Dry Magic is another premium gel floatant that works with CDC flies too. This is many people’s favorite floatant, although it costs a little more than Loon or Gink products and is in a different shaped container (relevant for many of use who have caddies for Loon/Gink products on our lanyards).
Other tips to make dry flies ride high
With floatant, it’s important to use it correctly to get the most out of it. We’ve given our golden rules for using gel-based floatants on your dry flies here below.
Apply before you use the fly
The best way to keep a dry fly dry is to not get it wet! The only way to prevent the fly absorbing water is to apply the floatant right at the outset when you’ve taken the dry fly out of your fly box. Floatant applied to a bone dry fly is more effective and lasts longer and pre-treatment is the strategy we adopt for all our dry fly fishing.
Dry the fly first before reapplying
Eventually, though, all flies become a bit waterlogged and you’ll need to reapply floatant to get the fly up on top again. Our advice on this is to false cast the fly dry first (or squish it into your shirt if you are wearing a quick dry wicking fishing shirt). This means you are essentially applying the floatant a pretty dry fly rather than one that’s soggy or waterlogged and it won’t have as profound effect.
The other option is to use Dry Shake or another type of powdered floatant/dessicant to dry the fly out before reapplying the gel based floatant. This combination of dry shake plus liquid floatant is a very effective way to get a fly floating nice and high.
Apply the floatant to the right areas
While some anglers really like to daub the whole fly in floatant when dry fly fishing, we reckon it pays to be a bit selective, particularly with emerger patterns. For emergers, you really want the abdomen and tail of the fly dipping down below the surface film (hence why these flies are tied on curved hooks). So if you are fishing emergers, sure coat the wing, hackle and thorax, but don’t put floatant on the body as it won’t ride in the way it is intended to.
Change the Fly
The final tip to recognise when you are beaten. Sometimes a fly becomes so waterlogged, or coated with slime from inside the trout’s mouth, that even the application of both a dry shake and a gel based floatant leaves it still riding low in the water. That’s when you need to retire the fly temporarily so it can dry overnight in your fly box. This is why it is important to tie up a bunch of the same type of flies to have in your box. There is nothing worse than dialling in to what the fish are eating when you are dry fly fishing only to run out of the ideal fly to match the hatch!
Final Thoughts on the Best Floatants for Dry Fly Fishing
A bottle of a reliable gel floatant can be critical to your success when fishing dry flies. Fishing with a waterlogged fly that’s riding low in the water has cost us big fish on a number of occasions – especially when fly fishing in fast water when the fish has snatched the fly from beneath the surface. So we always use gel floatants when fishing dry flies and the five products listed here all do a great job. For our companion article on the best dry shake style floatants, click here.