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Waterwisp®


FFM Staff

Reprinted from FLY FISHERMAN
July 1995


A professional fly tier from Kenya has turned fly tying upside-down and backward, and his flies, which were introduced this spring to the U.S. market under the name Waterwisp, may change our view of floating naturals and how we imitate them.

For centuries mainstream dry-fly tiers have put the hackle at the hook eye or somewhere along the shank of a hook with the point aiming down into the water. The hackle keeps the hook from sinking and eventually drowning the fly. There's a long-standing controversy over the extent to which a bare hook in plain view underwater scares off selective trout, and many anglers would prefer a point that the trout can't see.

Fly designers have tried to get around that problem in two ways. Some have designed flies with the hackle near the bend of the hook, tying the fly backward to increase floatability and improve the imitation's profile. More than a century ago designers also patented flies with an upturned hook. Contemporary upturned-hook fly designs include John Goddard and Brian Clarke's upside-down (USD Paradun) flies described in their book The Trout and the Fly (1980, Nick Lyons Books); Gary LaFontaine's Dancing Caddis; and Dick Pobst's Keel Dry Fly. All have hooks up and hackles tied forward.

What Goddard and Clarke wanted in their hook-up, hackle-forward-and-down design was a fly with a dressing that would keep the body aloft from the water, create the starburst of dimples caused by the feet of a natural in the surface film, and have wings that break into the trout's window of vision in a manner similar to those of a floating natural. Goddard uses the USD Paradun for tough-to-catch trout.

But the backward ties and the upside-down hook ties have never really caught on for two reasons: They are considered difficult to tie; and there's a feeling that such flies have poor hooking power. Water currents in a fish's mouth, some fly fishers argue, force the fly away from the upper jaw. The argument goes that hooking fish in the upper jaw requires a fairly slow hook-set, which puts undue strain on anglers accustomed to the quick strikes of nymphing or slashing rises.

Waterwisp Evolution

Giuliano Masetti, who spent a decade designing flies in the United Kingdom before moving to Kenya five years ago, got tired of watching selective trout refuse perfectly good presentations with well-tied conventional drys in the right size, pattern, and color, so he set about to outwit trout by re-engineering the dry fly. Starting with an upside-down hook to improve the underwater profile, he experimented with positioning the hackle at different points along the shank.

To his surprise Masetti found that tying the hackle at the bend of the hook gave the best balance and floatability. He also developed a special tying technique—including the use of cul-de-canard feathers—that helps the fly float long and high and makes it exceptionally durable.

But getting the right hook remained the big problem. Masetti tried every standard model with unsatisfactory results. Faced with the prospect of having to abandon his project, he decided to redesign the hook. After a year of intense experimentation, working with Partridge of Reddich, England, he developed an upturned hook expressly for his purpose. He designed a special gap to accommodate the hackle and provide hooking power and durability. He angled the shank for balance and to mimic the shape of a mayfly body. He also rotated the eye 90 degrees to make tying easier and reduce tippet microdrag.

The net result, he says, is a fly with a hookless profile that lands upright and floats and skitters on the water like a natural insect. Hence the name he gave to the fly—Waterwisp.

Masetti says that a Waterwisp is a forgiving fly; even a bad cast usually lands without a splash. Trout tend to take Waterwisp mayflies in the classic English chalk-stream style, with an unhurried head-to-tail rise. Thus the fly is most effective when fished in the same way: You pause while the fish takes the fly down and then set the hok with a gentle lift of the rod tip.

Fly Adantages

What differentiates Waterwisp from conventional flies? Masetti says his fly looks more natural when viewed from underwater than a conventional fly. The position of the hackle promotes a delicate presentation and makes the fly virtually splatproof, and due to the design the fly almost always lands upright. With no hook point to break the surface tension of the water, and through innovative use of cul-de-canard feathers, the fly floats considerably longer than conventional mayfly patterns, and its parachute configuration is highly visible even in poor light. The hook is weedless, a consideration in cress-filled spring creeks.

Masetti says the Waterwisp usually hooks trout in the center of the upper jaw; thus it usually takes less time to land them. Since there's less lactic acid buildup, they're likely to suffer less damage while being played and thereby recover faster than if hooked with conventional flies.

Three questions remain. Will Waterwisp raise more fish? Does it have hooking power? Are the flies durable?

To answer those questions, last year guides tested some Waterwisp prototypes for two days on the San Juan and Green rivers. Both rivers have clear water, long glides, and pods of fish that have been heavily fished—excellent laboratories in which to observe the reaction of selective trout. At that time the only Waterwisp patterns available were Adams, Blue-winged Olives, PMD, Griffith's Gnat, and a tan and a black caddis, all #16.

Rick Hooley guides on the San Juan about 200 days a year. He would normally fish #20s on the San Juan during the time of year that the testing was done, but he tested the Waterwisp #16 PMD, Griffith's Gnat, and Blue-winged Olive patterns for two days on midging trout. On the slower water the Waterwisp flies consistently outfished conventional drys, despite the size and pattern discrepancy. In the riffles the Waterwisp caddis produced about double the rises to conventionaal flies. Hooley landed 15 rainbows on a single Waterwisp caddis before it finally disintegrated.

His verdict at the end of two days? "They're awesome! Waterwisp brings fish up like nothing I've ever seen. They have terrific hooking power."

During a two-day test of the flies last year Green River guide Steve Horton floated conventiona #20 flies and then a #16 Waterwisp Adams over a pod of rainbows holding motionless in midwater. No movement. Repeating the effort with a Waterwisp PMD and Griffith's Gnat drew no takes, but when the Waterwisp Adams was presented again, one 20-inch rainbow lazily detached from the pod, gently swam downstream, turned, rose to the surface, and took the fly with a head-and-tail rise.

After two days fishing the Waterwisp flies Horton concluded: "These flies are not just funky. They're incredible. They outfish conventional drys by a wide margin."

Waterwisp may be the most lifelike dry fly currently in commercial production. Masetti has received a design patent on the fly and has one pending on the hook.

Available in 17 patterns and four sizes, Waterwisp flies should arrive in some fly shops around the U.S. this spring, says one of Masetti's American partners, Jim Greene of Chevy Chase, Maryland, head of Mayfly Enterprises, P.O. Box 151028, Chevy Chase, MD 20815. The hooks, tying materials, and a tying video on the fly should be availabe next year from Waterwisp, Greene says. The flies are retailing for $2.50 each.

Copyright 1995 FLY FISHERMAN


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