Fly Fishers' Republic

Daddy Long Legs

August 24, 2006

by Raif Killips

Daddy Long Legs

The editor looks at the patterns and techniques needed to catch when the fish turn on crane flies.

Though crane flies appear sporadically throughout the fishing season, late summer sees the peak of emergence. And while the small numbers seen in earlier months elicited little attention from the fish, late summer and early autumn sees a turn of events that puts a wholly different complexion on our prospects. At this time, the waters are beginning to cool, and while many fish may have been somewhat lethargic through the dog days, they’re now turning up their feeding dials. Crane flies, or Daddies (Daddy-long-legs) as they’re popularly known, are going up on the fishes’ menu!

Of course, before you can hook up with these fish, you’ve gotta find ‘em! And for that you’ll need a combination of two pieces of knowledge. Firstly, you’ll need a loose understanding of the life cycle of crane flies, and secondly, you’ll need to know something about air movement and how it effects a fall of daddies.

Though some crane flies have aquatic larval stages in their life cycles, a large proportion of late summer crane flies are entirely terrestrial. Their larvae live in the soil feeding on plant roots (much to the dismay of the gardeners amongst us) and after pupation, emerge from the banks and surrounding land. Scrub and heath is the natural habitat of many terrestrial crane flies, but cultivated grassland and pasture is often favoured. After emergence, many adults take shelter in tangled bank-side vegetation. If you look closely, you’ll find them hiding from sun and wind. When they take to the wing they’re easily blown from windward shores, and where their numbers are large enough, the fall soon catches the fishes’ attention.

fishing the seam

Feeding activity amongst the fish will be greatest where the falls of daddies are most concentrated; so having focused on what constitutes productive bank-side habitat, next, you need to figure where the heaviest falls will occur in relation to hatch sites. Starting at the windward shore, look for seams between bank-side becalmed water and rippled water. This is produced in the shoreline’s wind shadow and it’s here that wind borne insects frequently drop onto the water. Especially heavy falls occur where downdraughts develop over windward banks. Headlands, escarpments, and dam walls can all produce this effect. From the seam, the daddies may be blown along the surface into open water, sometimes concentrated in wind lanes. Fish will feed along the seam when daddies build up there, while other fish will pick off insects carried out into the main body of water.

bank cover

So, having located the heaviest falls and the fish feeding on them, the question remains, “how you gonna get some fish?” The best method will depend on the specific scenario that presents itself. Where the seam occurs within casting distance of the bank, walk and wade fishing will cover the situation, but when the fish are feeding further into open water, you’ll need some kind of craft. When afloat, you can either fish from anchor concentrating on the seam, or alternatively with a traditional rowing boat, or a johboat (at a push), you can set up a drift using a couple of drogues, fishing over the front using shortline presentations, taking in wind lanes and open water. With the aid of controls you can fish along the seam, but UK anglers should be careful what methods of control they employ. Rudders and leeboards for instance, are strictly controlled by individual fishery rules. If you’re tubing then you can fin along seams and wind lanes very effectively. For the specifics of boat and tube control, Steve Parton authored a useful publication, The Modern Fundamentals of Boat Fishing and Floattubing.

Gear for boat fishing, is ideally, based around a rod between 9 and 10 foot long, while bank fishing is covered by slightly shorter tools. A matching floating line is all you require thereafter, finished with a simple tapered leader. Daddy patterns are quite wind resistant, so avoid really long (17 foot plus) leaders unless you’re something of a casting expert. A 10 – 15 foot leader should avoid spooking fish – just concentrate on making a quiet presentation. If you really do need a very long leader to avoid spooking fish see the notes section in the side bar.

Dry Daddy

dry daddy

Hook: 10 – 12 Curved sedge hook
Thread: 140 White UTC
Body: Extended deer hair
Legs: Knotted pheasant
Wings: Honey or Dun hackle points
Hackle: Brown cock

( The basic tying technique for the body of this fly can be found here » )

B.H. Daddy

Gold bead-head daddy-long-legs with green body and trailing legs

Hook: 10 – 12 Down eye
Thread: White 6/0
Body: Fine tan dubbing
Legs: Knotted pheasant
Hackle: Furnace hen
Head: Gold bead

( You can use other colours for the body. Pale green is an effective alternative )

Muddled Daddy

muddled daddy

Hook: 10 – 12 Curved sedge hook
Thread: 140 White UTC
Body: Furled tan wool
Legs: Knotted pheasant
Wings: Honey or Dun hackle points
Hackle: Brown cock
Head: Natural deer hair

( For a step by step illustrated tying guide for this pattern look here » )

There are several patterns you can try when the fish are on crane flies. They fit three main categories: dry flies, wake flies, and wet flies. The regular dry daddy is fished static on stillwaters, or using a drag free drift on rivers. Conversly, twitching the fly occasionally is a technique that can often stimulate a strike when none were previously forthcoming. This doesn’t put the fish down because the naturals quite often struggle on the water’s surface causing significant disturbance. However, if you have a relatively short leader, 8 or 9 foot for instance, then disturbance caused by the fly line may become a problem. Consider lengthening your leader for twitching flies or using wake flies. While a heavily hackled dry can be used as a wake fly, a Muddled Daddy, can be made to work even more effectively. Try wake fly patterns when the fish show particular preference for the moving fly. This technique can work well in a small wave. On stillwaters a submerged crane fly pattern, like a Bead-head Daddy, twitched slowly through the top two feet of the water column can also work well on occasion, so keep a few if only as standbys to ring the changes if things should get tough.

Nice Rutland rainbow trout

So, armed with the right tools and fishing the right spot, you could be in for some fun. But just before I sign off just one last word – especially for stillwater anglers. Fish rising to daddies, will sometimes swamp the fly first before actually taking it. If you strike quickly and find yourself missing fish, try delaying before setting up on the fish. Unfortunately, figuring just how long to leave the strike is learned only through experience, so I’ll leave that to you. It may require a split second or it may take a couple of whole seconds. Best go and see!


Leader Construction: Turning over large flies can be a taxing! In an ealier article, Andrew Petherick describes his solution for fishing large drake mayflies. Take a look here at his article, "Wiggle It!"