Written by: Mike Valla
The Conover is a wingless dry fly that’s been cast on Catskill streams for decades. It’s a very simple dry fly to tie, even for the beginning fly tier. Dette Flies owner Joe Fox praises this old classic that his great-grandparents tied and sold for many years. It’s still a very effective dry fly, whether fished on Catskill streams or other trout waters. In the old days, the Conover was a go-to Catskill pattern during caddisfly emergences.
“It’s the most popular attractor pattern we sell here at the shop,” Joe Fox said during my recent visit to the Dette fly shop in Livingston Manor, New York. Of all the flies Joe could have selected from the hundreds that occupy the shop’s fly bins, it didn’t surprise me that he grabbed a Conover as one of his Catskill favorites. It’s still one of my favorites, too. I have many fond memories of fishing the Conover during my teenage years on the Beaverkill.
In Tying Catskill-Style Dry Flies (2009), I told the story of how my first good Beaverkill brown trout sipped in a Conover at the tail of Barnhart’s Pool on a beautiful June day in 1972. The nice 17-inch fish took the fly while rising in shallow water against the far bank.
Still applauded today, the Conover was born back in the 1930s when a member of the Brooklyn Fly Fishers Club on the upper Beaverkill designed the pattern. Scotty Conover’s eyes weren’t so great when fishing darker shade flies at dusk. The lighter-shade badger hackle on the new fly did the trick while fishing in the last light. Fly tiers Walt and Winnie Dette tied the fly for Scotty exclusively. Over time he allowed the Dettes to fill their bins with the effective dry fly and sell it to their customers.
The Dettes altered the original dubbing blend that was originally used on the Conover. The original dressing called for a mixture of rabbit fur, seal fur, and red wool, but it’s been tied for many years with a simple mixture of muskrat and red wool. Golden badger hackle has always been used for the pattern, tied a couple of hook sizes larger than normal— almost like a small variant pattern.
While the Dettes liked to tie their Conovers with badger hackle that lacked a black edge along the outer barbs, the center of the hackle always showed the black center of the feather along the quill. While it might seem difficult for some tiers to find badger hackle, it is commercially available.
I can recall during my teenage years using the badger hackle that was often found on cheap feather dusters. In a real pinch, you could tie the pattern with ginger and then create the black center by carefully dabbing the center with an indelible black marker. Caution should be taken to prevent the black ink from wicking too high up the feather barbs. The black shade should reach just slightly above the hackle quill. You only want a black center showing on the wrapped hackle, just as is found in a badger hackle.
Mike Valla is the author of several books on flies and fly tying. He lives in Upstate, New York, a stone’s throw from the Battenkill.
Hook: Mustad 94840, sizes 12-18.
Thread: Tan UNI-Thread, 8/0.
Tail: Dark cream or straw-colored ginger hackle.
Body: Gray muskrat fur blended with a small amount of red wool.
Hackle: Golden badger, preferably without the black edges.