"I wish you could see them! I never saw so many rotten flies in my life. I was literally astounded. You know the stuff - Mills'Best and a bunch of English flies. Of all the miserable soft hackle, lathered on in bunches! It is no wonder that he became such a magnificent caster. If he hadn't learned to put those flies down so carefully they would not have floated". A fellow angler critiquing the dry fly selection of the GREAT dry fly fisherman George LaBranche from Catskill Rivers by Austin M. Francis
It seems that I've been seeing,in print,and hearing the proclamation that a dry fly that has hackles wound around the front of the hook shank is a CATSKILL style dry fly. The great Catskill tiers, Gordon, Christian, Steenrod, Cross, Jennings, the Darbees' and the Dettes would have all objected to such a simple minded statement. They developed and refined the Catskill style but were not the first to tie a dry fly that way. Here's the story:
Theodore Gordon communicated via letter to the great English fly tiers of the day, Fredric Halford in particular, (early 20th century) and was able to secure instructions AND materials to tie English dry flies. Their dries, created decades before American dries, had hackles would around very close to the eye of the hook and Gordon copied that but objected to the poor quality English hackles and the fact that these flies copied English insects. The other great tiers mentioned above changed everything. First, they insisted on the stiffest hackles. Second, they moved everything BACK from the eye of the hook and Third, they tied a slim, sparse dry fly much different from the English style. That is the Catskill style as seen in the photo above of a Light Cahill which, as the story goes, was first tied by Dan Cahill, a brakeman with the Erie Railroad. Cahill has another claim and that is that he was the brakeman on a train that had a load of rainbow trout from California. The train broke down and he convinced the crew to save the trout by dumping them into Callicoon Creek, a Catskill stream, where they established themselves. The rest is history.
God only knows how many trout have been taken with this style. We do know one thing and that is that this imitation of an adult mayfly is not as popular as it was decades ago. That's probably because we know now that the rises that we see are rises for the emerging insect and not the adult. Also, this fly will get beat up after a fish or two. I switched over to the comparadun over 30 years ago because it represents the adult and, with it's body stuck in the surface film, the emerging insect too. It will float forever! It also survives riffles and fast water very nicely, a fact that is still not accepted in dry fly circles.
I fish comparaduns but love the look of a traditional Catskill Dry!!!