There’s one material in fly tying and fishing that Ben Bangham couldn't do without – cul de canard. Translated this means ‘butt of the duck’, with the feathers being better known as CDC… and their properties are magical!
CDC feathers are taken from the preen gland of ducks and other waterfowl. They are the feathers that surround the gland which, when rubbed, release oil that has waterproofing properties. Ducks can then rub this oil over themselves, making sure that their feathers don’t become waterlogged. The feathers nearest the gland receive maximum exposure to the oil so have good inherent buoyancy. While the natural oils assist in repelling water, there is an added plus factor – the structure of the feathers themselves is also extremely buoyant because the fibres trap air bubbles, making them superb material for dry flies.
French fly tyer Henry Bresson is regarded as the first man to discover the outstanding qualities of the feathers during the 1950s and they are now used worldwide and can be obtained in a multitude of colours. But CDC feathers have to be carefully looked after because they lose their buoyancy when the fibres become soiled or matted and the feathers are unable to trap air. This means that you have to make sure that you keep on top of CDC maintenance or the material will just keep on sinking.
While the material is associated with dry flies, I tend to use it a lot with my nymphs, too. When you tie it on a nymph it just fluffs out underwater and gives the fly some really good movement that the fish seem unable to resist. I mainly use it as a hackle for a nymph to imitate legs but it can also be used as a tail or to make your dubbing a bit messier by putting some of the CDC fibres into it. The beauty is that all the permutations work.
Fishing With CDC
To prove how effective CDC can be when incorporated into fly patterns, I headed for Millets Farm in Frilford, Oxfordshire, which consists of two lakes totaling four acres and has been run as syndicate water by the Millet Fly Fishing Club since 1999. The two lakes are crystal clear with substantial weed growth but it is controlled brilliantly by cutting it rather than using chemicals, meaning that the natural insect life at the place is fantastic. There are frequent hatches of buzzers that keep the more imitative fisherman happy, but the trout will readily take a lure as well. There are blue trout and tiger trout; these really complement the existing stock of fantastic rainbows and browns. All the fish fight really hard and are wonderful to admire thanks to their perfect fins and great colourings. The average size is around the 2lb mark with a fair few four-pounders and the odd one topping 6lb to really keep you on your toes.
As I pulled up there were tell-tale rings on the top lake that could only mean one thing, there was a hatch going on already. I always find that if there is a hatch in the morning then it can trickle throughout the day, which means good sport for the entire session, and this was confirmed by John Webb and John Sheppard – the men who run the fishery – who declared that this was often the case at the venue. As I approached the water there were a few different insects floating about that the trout were taking advantage of.
I tackled up a 9ft 6in 5-wt rod, which is a bit of a new toy so is being used a fair bit. It’s a great rod for small still waters and I love the action. I decided to go for a 9ft tapered leader down to 6lb with about another 5ft of 5lb copolymer tippet. Because I could see most of the fish that I would be casting to, I didn't feel the need for ultra-long leaders. After spotting a few sedges flying around, I began with a nice CDC sedge with a green butt. On went the polarizing glasses and I moved to the top end of the lake.
The lake is very shallow and clear so the area where I had chosen to kick off the session was approached with extreme caution, and I stayed well away from the bank before making my way to the water’s edge. You really do need stealth on these clear fisheries or the trout will be spooked and your chances of success will be dramatically diminished.
Degrease That Leader
My approach seemed to work because the five trout frequenting the area didn't seem to change their routes or feeding frequency as I started. I singled out a nice-sized trout that moved along a small floating bank of weed then circled round out in the lake only to go along the same path next to the weed again. It was feeding along the whole route and seemed to be fairly willing to deviate from its route to hoover up any tasty morsels. I targeted it when it was out in the open water so that it couldn't bolt straight into the floating weed and snap me off. As it moved away from the bank I placed the fly in its path and it shot forward and looked odds on to engulf it when it suddenly swerved away from it! I pulled the ß y back and put some degreaser on the leader to help it sink, but I didn't bother changing the fly because the fish had shown an interest in it. I waited and watched the fish complete its full route and as it came back round I cast the fly into the same spot. Again the fish darted forward and this time it sipped it from the surface. I lifted the rod and it immediately shot off across the lake and, before I knew it, I was looking at the backing knot sliding through my rod rings just as I managed to turn the fish. It turned out to be a cracking brownie of approximately 2lb.
The scrap with the brownie had put down the other fish in my part of the lake so I moved down to where there was some floating debris. Things like floating clumps of weed or dead rushes are transformed into little havens for any insects looking for something to grab on to in open water. The trout had worked this out and were taking advantage of the floating buffet. I sent the sedge out to the ‘front line’ a couple of times but the fish didn't take too much notice of it, merely giving it a cursory look. I changed the fly to a small size 18 F-Fly in grey and put it into the middle of the debris. It was on the water for a matter of seconds before a hungry rainbow demolished it. After another spirited fight, fish number two was in the net; it was a bit smaller than the first but still a lovely specimen. I had a couple more quick fish before my stomach started to rumble and a group of us went to the farm-shop café – a bonus with this fishery – and extremely handy because the heavens opened for a few hours. It would have been really uncomfortable had there been nowhere to retreat to.
After lunch and the rainstorm the temperature had risen by a few degrees but knocked the best part of the hatch on the head, although the trout were still moving just sub-surface. I was informed that a few fish had been taken on a small, white Minkie coupled with an intermediate line but I was still convinced that the majority of the fish were feeding on nymphs and buzzers in the top couple of feet. I moved onto the other lake because the crosswind was great for fishing nymphs and buzzers round. The floating line stayed on but I decided to give a CDC nymph a bit of a swim. About halfway through the retrieve on the opening cast I saw a flash and the line tightened as a rainbow found the offering too much to resist. I had really been hoping it was one of the blue trout that had recently been stocked in this lake but they proved ultra elusive and after an hour I decided to go back to the top lake.
There were definitely more moving in this lake so with the same nymph I put a cast along the margin. The fly hadn't moved very far when something tried to rip it off the leader. I saw the buttery glint of a good-sized brown as it screamed along the near bank, trying to free itself. It was a real stunner and would have pushed the scales to just under 4lb.
Some really superb trout had started moving in the far corner of the lake, forcing another move. Even on these smaller waters it is worth keeping mobile and searching out the fish, rather than waiting for them to come to you. The decision to relocate proved spot on and it wasn't long before I felt that tell-tale thump on the line and saw the lovely arch in my rod take shape again. Just like all the others, this rainbow hurtled off at full steam because of the shallow water. However, unlike the others I couldn't stop it as it just ploughed on and on with the full line and masses of backing in tow. Unfortunately the encounter came to a sudden halt due to a tangle in my backing. Everything just locked up and the pressure – even at distance – was too much, and we parted company. It was a long and depressing wind back in. I managed a few more trout on the CDC nymphs but the weather was once again closing in and the promised big hatch never materialised.
Although I didn't connect with a blue trout, the whole place gave me just a wonderful experience while highlighting the effectiveness of CDC – EVERY fly I caught on incorporated it in some way. I really believe that you can boost your catch rate by experimenting with existing patterns and my advice is to take a couple of your flies and tie them up with some CDC. You’ll be surprised at the difference something from a duck’s backside can make.