What Is Fly Fishing Floatant and How to Use It

Fly fishing is loads of fun and quite relaxing, but there are so many confusing products and accessories to buy and use.  What about Floatant?

The Short Answer to What is Fly Fishing Floatant

Dry fly floatant is a combination of a wax and carrier in a liquid state.  It is intended to keep your dry flies from absorbing water, to keep the fly floating.  Floatant normally has a waxy substance that coats the dry fly and a lighter liquid that acts as a carrier for the waxy substance that evaporates. 

The lighter liquid serves the same purpose that paint thinner does in house paint.  Paint thinner is a carrier for oil and pigment for your house paint.  Just like paint thinner, the liquid substance in floatant quickly evaporates leaving only the waxy substance behind.

What is the purpose of floatant?

The purpose of dry fly floatant is to keep your dry fly floating on the surface of the water.  Dry flies are intended to simulate insects that sit on top of the surface tension of a body of water.  If the fly is sinking, even a little bit, it will not look realistic.  Fish have incredibly good eyesight and can spot a sinking fly a mile away.  If the dry fly is not floating on top of the surface tension of the water, the fish will not bite.  Get the fly floating properly, and you can catch fish all day long.

Different Types of Floatants

Gel Floatants – These are the most commonly used type of dry fly floatant.  They have been around for decades.  The best way to use gel floatants is as a pretreatment.  You must apply the gel to a dry fly that is completely dry right out of your tackle box.  Any moisture and you will actually make the fly worse and cause it to sink faster.  You also need to be sure and remove any excess gel before you start fishing.  You want just enough gel to coat the fly.  Anything extra will make it sink.  You can false cast a few times (which I do anyways) to knock off any extra gel from the fly.  You should go for one of the new CDC friendly gel floatants so it can be used on all flies.  For those that do not know, CDC is a particular type of duck feather used in tying certain dry flies.

Powder Shake Floatants – These are perfect products to be used once a fly has gotten too wet.  Shake floatants are meant for larger flies and are very easy to apply.  The mouth of the container is large enough that you can just drop the fly inside the container and then shake it up.  Keep in mind that shaking a fly in powder floatant will dry and lightly coat the fly, but this is a temporary fix.  You will only have a few casts before you must apply the powder again.  One other option is to apply more gel floatant after you apply the powder floatant.  This takes quite a bit longer, but in the end it will save you time.  You will not need to apply your powder nearly as often.

use fly floatant

use fly floatant

Brush-On Floatants – These products can treat both wet and dry flies and are fine for smaller flies as well.  They will last through more casts than shake on floatants, but they are not ideal for large flies.  Brush on floatants must be brushed on, so the process is a bit more time consuming.  That is why using this on small flies is better.  There is less area to cover.

Spray-On Floatants – Spray floatants are becoming more popular because of ease of use.  These products can be used as a pretreatment and also after the fly is wet.  Just pull the fly out of the water and spray it down.  You are good to go.  Sprays work better for large flies as the coating is more even.

Dip and Dunk Floatants – These products are also fairly new and are becoming more popular.  Dip and dunk floatants are a combination of different chemicals that make this product the perfect pretreatment for flies.  They do work best if the fly is completely dry.  Your best use for this product is to completely submerge the dry fly and then let it dry for at least five minutes before it hits the water.

Paste Floatants – Pastes are similar in composition to gel floatants but are much thicker. This makes the products ideal for large flies, indicators, and fly lines.  Pastes will last much longer than gel floatants but cannot be used on small flies.

How to Use Floatant

As you can see above, every type of floatant is used in a slightly different way.  However, they all serve the same purpose.  If you are using a dry fly intended to simulate a surface water insect, a floatant of some kind is needed.  If the dry fly gets saturated and sinks, it is completely worthless.  Your best bet is to pretreat your dry flies with one of these products.  Then keep another product with you in the river to reapply as the day goes on.  If you notice your fly is not staying on top of the water, stop what you are doing and reapply one of these floatants.  This will ensure you keep bringing in fish all day.

Can I Use Floatant on a Fly Line Leader?

There would really be no purpose in applying a floatant to the leader itself.  Most leaders will float on their own.  I have even known some fly anglers to apply a sinking product to their leaders to get them off of the surface of the water.  Opinions vary on this.  Some people think that a floating leader will deliver a more natural presentation of your dry fly, while others think that it makes the leader more visible to fish.  Either way, applying more floatant to the leader is not needed.  However, you may want to apply floatant to your indicator or fly line.

Can I Make my own Floatant?

Yes, you can make your own dry fly floatant.  Anybody that has access to white gas and paraffin has everything they need to make their own floatant.  Start with an aluminum water bottle and add ½ cup of white gas to the bottle.  Use a cheese grater to grate thin curls of paraffin onto a piece of paper.  You will want between two and three cups of shavings.  Use the piece of paper as a funnel and add half of the shavings to the water bottle.  Close the bottle and put it inside of a gallon zipper plastic bag.  Place it in the sun on a piece of black plastic for one hour.  The paraffin should be dissolved.  Add the rest of the paraffin shavings to the bottle and place it back in the sun for another hour.  You should have a slushy consistency at this point.  Add a bit more white gas to the bottle.  Give it one more hour in the sun and you should have a smooth consistency.  A good way to dispense the product is to use an eye dropper to add a few drops to your fly and work it in with your fingers.

Floatant VS Desiccant

A floatant is a product designed to be used on a completely dry fly to make it float.  A desiccant is a crystalline product designed to actually dry the fly and then keep it afloat. Desiccants have crystals that absorb moisture and wick it away from the fly.  That makes your powder shake floatants a great example of a dessicant.  My suggestion is to use both products.  They both have their place and are both needed to keep your dry fly floating properly throughout your fishing day.

Which Floatant is Best?

There are hundreds of floatant products on the market today, so it can be difficult to tell which products to use.  Here is a guide to help you pick the ideal product for your needs:

  • Gel Floatants – As mentioned above, I suggest CDC friendly products. Loon Lochsa Floatant and Tiemco Dry Magic are your best options for CDC friendly gels.
  • Powder Shake Floatants – Loon Top Ride,Loon Easy Dry, Loon Blue Ribbon, and Shimazaki Shake all work great.  They vary in cost, so shop around a bit.
  • Brush-On Floatants – Try out Frog’s Fanny, Loon Dust, and Fly Duster.
  • Spray-On Floatants – Good options are Shimazaki Dry Shake Spray and Loon Spritz II.
  • Dip and Dunk Floatants – For best results use Loon Hydrostop or XXX-Agra.
  • Paste Floatants – I like Loon Payette Paste or Mucilin.

Over the years I have found that proper use of floatant makes a huge difference when using dry flies.  There are plenty of fly fishing accessories that you can take or leave, but floatant is a must.  In addition, it is important that you use these products in the right way.  If you apply the wrong product to a dry fly that is wet, you will just make it sink faster.  Take the time to follow this guide and apply these products, and you can be sure that your fly looks like a perfect meal for the fish you target.