Not dry, not wet, but designed to be fished ‘damp’ or partially submerged, these are ‘generalist’ surface flies. The idea behind them is that most of the trout’s surface food is largely emerging insects, or bugs otherwise compromised in the surface film. I’ve also found these flies to be great attractor, or searching, flies. That is, flies you use when there is no obvious hatch of insects that the trout are feeding on. In low nutrient streams, or between hatches, trout aren’t as ‘selective’ as they are cracked up to be.
Find a feeding fish. Our first consideration is whether the trout are feeding - if at all. If they aren’t feeding, or at least watching for food, you may as well throw stones at them. It’s easy to mistake a non-feeding trout for one that is “refusing” your offerings, when in fact its just ignoring them, or asleep. When there is little food in the water column, trout often go into a semi-dormant state. A hatch of mayflies or drift of nymphs will wake them up in short order.
The DHE, DHS, and SHE are tied with all-natural hair and fur, and are designed to be fished in - not on - the surface. I usually just wet the body or abdomen of the fly with saliva after I tie it on - be careful to not hook your tongue. Then, after the body is good and wet, I apply floatant to the wing - only the wing.
Don’t get floatant on the body of the fly. This is important. For some years after I first wrote about the DHE I received a few complaints that the fly floated on the surface on its side. The reason for this is that the angler put floatant on the body as if it was a normal dry fly, not an emerger.
The DHE and snowshoe hare winged version, the SHE, both fish best with just the wing above the surface. The natural hare fur body soaks up water readily and ensures the bulk of the body is hanging beneath the surface film. This makes these flies far more visible to a feeding trout, at far greater distance. Some anglers have complained that the flies sink, or float so low in the water they are hard to see - as if it was a problem - when in fact sinking is precisely what they’re designed to do. The wing is primarily a sighter or indicator, and supports the fly in the surface.
On broken water or low light the snowshoe hare wing of the SHE is very visible. Snowshoe hare foot fur has great natural floatability, having a structure similar in some respects to CDC. It also seems to have a natural brightness, showing up well in low light. A tiny size 18 shows well even at forty feet or more, with just a tiny tuft of snowshoe hare showing above the surface.
The DHS is a great all round attractor and searching fly. I use it in all sizes for all sorts of situations, from mayfly hatches to cicada and grasshopper falls. In small sizes, a skinny DHS even does great duty in a spinner fall. It floats flatter in the surface, supported by the splayed çaddis’style deer hair wing. The lack of body hackle, unlike that of Al Troth’s well known Elk Hair Caddis, rides well down or even under the surface, allowing trout to see it easily. I find it far more effective than a full body-hackled caddis pattern. In larger, full bodied versions it makes a first class cicada pattern. In very large sizes I use it for big stonefly hatches, such the western Golden Stonefly.
Use these flies with confidence. Except for a few specific prey items like the willow grub or adult damsel fly, where you might feel better using a different shape, these flies in appropriate sizes will meet most surface trout fishing situations. Having said that, I’ve done just as well with a small SHE for the willow grub as I have with a more imitative pattern. As usual, it’s mostly about presentation.
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