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Floatant 101

You think to yourself, does anyone really think about floatant? Heck, in this industry, Gink is a noun and a verb! Most people come in, say I need some floatant, we hand them something and off they go. Looking at flies or doing something more important than thinking about the stuff that keeps the fly floating. But as everyone who’s been in a fly shop knows, there’s a lot more to think about than the old tried and true. And keep in mind, as we talk about this stuff, it might be used for the same purpose, but it’s different stuff in the bottle. Each of the different floatants we carry have their champions. If one isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to try something else. Of course, nothing is going to keep a dragging fly afloat, so keep that in mind as you tend to your leader!

Of course Gink works. So does Aquel and High and Dry gel floatant. Those are the ones we carry, and there’s a lot more out there as well. They all work, and they all work pretty much the same. You start with a DRY fly. That means a fly that hasn’t gotten wet yet. Because all these paste floatants work in the same way, they waterproof the fly. The best way to use them is to get a little on the tips of your fingers, and lightly coat the fly with the paste. You’re NOT trying to saturate the fly with these pastes. You can waterlog a fly with Gink as easily as you can with water. Resist the temptation to squirt a dollop on your fly and work it in. It will make the fly sink.

Fairly new to the consumer market are the liquid floatants, like Fly-Agra and High And Dry Liquid Floatant. Angler have been mixing Mucilin and lighter fluid for years and using that as a liquid floatant as well, but truthfully, these work a little better. First off, the bottles actually seal, so the stuff doesn’t run all over your vest. Mucilin and lighter fluid leaves a permanent stain, and no matter how tightly you seal the baby food jar, the lighter fluid eats at the seal and at some point, it leaks. The newer liquid floatants don’t have that problem.

To use a liquid floatant, you take a DRY fly, attach it to your leader, and dip it in the bottle. Swish it about a bit, and pull it out. Shake the excess back into the bottle, and give the fly a few quick flicks through the air and give it a minute to dry. The liquid evaporates quickly, and the fly is completely coated with floatant. That’s the difference between Fly-Agra and Gink. The main ingredient in Fly-Agra evaporates, so your fly isn’t saturated any longer. Gink doesn’t evaporate, so a full soaking doesn’t get it done.

Fly-Agra can be used on the water because it dries so quickly, of course. But it’s even more effective when you pre-treat your flies the night before. Some of our Missoula fly shop guys keep a wide lid jar on their tying bench about half full of Fly-Agra. Once you’ve got a few flies tied, take a pair of forceps, clip the fly by the hook bend and dip it in the goo. Pull it out, and then rattle the forceps off the inner edge of the jar. This knocks the excess off. Then use the forceps to stick the fly in some sort of drying rack (We often use a Styrofoam cup with something in the bottom to keel it) and let it dry. DO NOT forget to put the flies in your box the next morning. We’ve never done that, of course, we just read about it in a magazine!

It works better because most of the actual floatant stays on the fly. No matter how gently you flick your fly on the water to dry it, your fly is traveling at a tremendous speed when the fly curls back during the cast. Applying High And Dry Liquid Floatant prior to use allows all the floatant to stay on the fly. Hareline makes a product called Watershed that is specifically designed for pre-treating flies at the bench, and it’s fantastic.

You can also buy different dessicants, which is fancy for a dust that absorbs water out of the fly. They seem to have started with people taking the crystals packed with electronics and grinding it up. Boy does this stuff work on a saturated fly, defined as a fly that’s become waterlogged, or worse, schmucked by a 4” Squawker! The dust will pull the moisture out and revitalize the sodden fly.

 If you’re using a fly with CDC in it, the dust is almost a necessity. Paste floatants don’t always work well with CDC, because if the paste is over applied it will matt the CDC feather, rendering it useless. Fly-Agra and other liquids will work on CDC, but you really want to flick that stuff out on the drying casts, again to eliminate matting. The only exception to this is Lochsa Floatant, by Loon. It is absolute magic on CDC, and is what many in the shop recommend for CDC flies. That stuff really works.

We carry a couple of different dessicants, Shimizaki and Frogs Fanny, and they are used in a completely different way. The Shimizaki has a wide lid- you drop the fly in, close the lid, and shake the bottle around. The dessicant pulls the water out of the fly. As the Shimizaki gets a bit grainy, meaning the fine powder has been removed, Missoula’s best fly fishing guides will pour a bit into the palm of their hand, rub the fly against it in their palm, and return the unused portion to the bottle. Shimizaki is designed that way. If it was all dust and no granules, it would over adhere to the soaked fly, and not last as long. The larger Shimizaki chunks are designed to crumble into dust as the bottle is shaken.

Frogs Fanny is a different style of dessicant. It resembles flakes, and comes in a bottle that has an applicator brush in the cap. Hold your soaked dry fly, dip the brush into the bottle and use the brush to push the Frog’s Fanny into all the nooks and crannies of your fly. The brush gets the Frog’s Fanny into places the dust doesn’t always penetrate. A good thing. Frog’s Fanny is very light, and on a windy day, it sometimes feels like no flakes get from brush to fly. A bad thing. Again, both have their adherents. Both standard Shimizaki and Frogs Fanny are white, and the dessicating process leaves a white dust on your fly. Not a bad thing with PMD’s and Golden Stones, but they do turn your Ants, Beetles and BWO’s a bit lighter in color, which some find annoying. Shimizaki us available in a dark dun color, so when the fly leaves the bottle, it’s the correct color. Some use the Shimizaki because it doesn’t blow away in the wind. Others use the Frog’s Fanny because the brush gets the dust where it needs to be, and uses less on larger flies. Again, try them out and see how they work for you. But, it must be said that the Shimizaki lasts longer than the Frog’s Fanny.

A quick note on Frog’s Fanny. It also has a refracting quality about it that works as an attractant to fish. Many times we will hit a fly with Frog’s Fanny, and have a fish take on the next cast. Re-Frog, and another fish. Take this a further step, and it applies to nymphing as well. Many of the Tungsten Jigs, like the Howell’s Shuck It Jig or the Tactical Fast Water Prince are collared with CDC hackle. If you take the time to dress your nymph with Frog’s Fanny, the CDC retains its air capturing qualities, and is more attractive to the fish. It can be a bit of a pain in the tuckus, dusting every 4-5 casts, but in that perfect seam, or when the fish have lockjaw, every little bit can help.

There are certain flies that require specific applications of floatant, such as a Half Down Stonefly or a Sprout. (Flies For June)These are flies where only half the fly receives floatant. The paste floatant has traditionally been used on these flies, as it is a lot more accurate in its application. However, some have taken to putting Fly-Agra into an old Frog’s Fanny bottle, giving them a brush to apply the liquid floatant to specific areas of a fly. Pretty good thinking, as far as we’re concerned. The Frog’s Fanny itself can also be applied to specific regions of a fly as well, utilizing the brush.

So when you stop by our Missoula Fly Shop for floatant, we may just hand you a bottle and say good to go. And you will be! But there are a lot of floatant options out there. Each one is extremely good at what it does, though they don’t all do the same thing. You’ll find the best guides fishing in Missoula have 2 or 3 floatants with them at all times, and there’s good reason for it. While one will get the job done, it might pay to expand your floatant selection. You’ll find your fly floating longer and higher if you do!

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