It is not a question of which is better, to fish dry flies effectively you need both a powder based floatant (desiccant) AND a gel based floatant.
They both fulfil different roles and need to be applied in a particular order to a waterlogged fly: first the powder, then the gel.
The powder dries the fly and then the gel based floatant coats with a water resistant compound (we explain how below). Doing this in combination gets soggy flies floating brilliantly.
Powder based dry fly floatants (dessicants)
Dry fly shake style floatants are really desiccants – the name for a compound that absorbs water. All these products contain silica (or silicon dioxide) – the material that you see in those little sachets you get that come with electronic goods for absorbing water in the air during transit or storage.
There are a few different types of dry shake floatants:
- Ones that come in a bottle that you put the fly inside before shaking it (Tiemco Dry Shake, Loon Top Ride and Loon Blue Ribbon). These contain silicon dioxide in the form of hydrophobic fumed silica powder as well as silica gel crystals.
- Ones that you brush onto the fly with a little brush (Loon Dust Floatant, Frogs Fanny). These contain purely the hydrophobic fumed silica powder.
See here for our review of all these products.
Whichever way you apply the floatant, it pays to give the fly a quick blow at the end to get rid of any loose powder.
Gel based floatants for dry flies
Most anglers are probably more familiar with the gel or silicon based dry fly floatants that you squeeze out of a little tube onto your fingers for application on to your fly or tippet. They are very effective with all but the most waterlogged flies, where you really the combination of a powdered and a gel floatant.
Remember, particularly if you are fishing emerger flies, to only apply floatant to the bits of the fly that you want to float. An emerger is more seductive to a trout if the abdomen and tail are poking down through the surface film so no need to apply floatant to these bits.
And remember above all that gel based floatants cannot be used on flies that use CDC such as the CDC Emerger and the F-Fly and numerous other deadly patterns for trout.
Final Word on Floatants
Floatants are vital to dry fly fishing success and we recommend you go down the route of getting both a dry shake style powdered floatant and a gel based floatant. Loon has handy caddies that can be used to carry both these products and put on a lanyard or a zinger on your vest. You can see our set up in the image below.