Fran Better’s Usual is one of my favorite dry fly patterns, particularly for the sulphur hatch. This is a slight variation from the original that I’ve found to work exceptionally well.
For a hook, I’m going to use a Dai-Riki #305 in size 14, but you might want to tie up some 16’s too. Start by mashing the barb and getting the hook firmly secured in your tying vise.
For thread, UTC 70 Denier in yellow is a good choice. Start your thread on the hook shank a little ways back from the eye and take wraps rearward before snipping or breaking off the tag. Relocate your thread to about the 1/3rd mark on the hook shank.
Snowshoe rabbit is a fabulous tying material and I’m very fortunate to have friends and acquaintances that send me some when they have extras, many thanks. Even natural colored specimens cover a range of tones which helps when trying to match the hatch. Dyed versions are also available and work well for some imitations. Not all feet are created equal. I prefer those with real fluffy soles and fewer guard hairs, like the one on the bottom. To prep a foot for use, I’ll hold it in this orientation, with the sole pointing up, and snip away the shallow layer of guard hairs on the side of the foot. This exposes the good, finer hairs toward the middle of the sole. To me, the best hair is located from just in front of the heel to just behind the toes. Some people like to split the toes free rather than trim off the guard hairs. The choice is yours.
Ok, back to the Usual. For the wing of the fly, we’re not interested in the longer, courser guard hairs, or the lower, short fuzzy fibers. What we really want are the fine hairs in between. Pinch a small clump of hair, and with the tips of your tying scissors, snip the clump off right down by the bone. While keeping the tips aligned, reorient the clump so the butts are in your left hand. You can use your fingers to strip out the longer, courser guard hairs if you like, but I’ve found a small pair of needle nosed pliers does an incredible job of removing them and leaving the finer hairs. Get hold of the tips of these hairs and, with your left hand, strip the fluffy stuff out of the butt ends. Pass the butts to your left hand and then measure to form a wing about a hook shank in length.
Transfer the measurement forward to the tie-in point and take three tight wraps to secure the clump to the top of the hook shank. Pull the tips back and take three more wraps just around the hook shank. Follow this with 2 or 3 more wraps behind the wing. This procedure stops the hair from wanting to spin around the shank. With the tips of your scissors, carefully taper the butt ends into a cone shape. This should help to form a nice thread ramp down to the hook. End with your tying thread right at the start of the hook bend.
Snip about 1/4 the amount of the Snowshoe hair as you did for the wing but this time keep the tips in your left hand and remove the fuzzies with your right. You can pluck out any truly wayward guard hairs but do leave a few. Measure to form a tail a bit shorter than a hook shank in length and secure it with nice tight wraps at the tie-in point. Trim off the butts to form a roughly even underbody and, once again, end with your tying thread at the bend.
Now here’s where the pattern deviates from the original. Rather than dubbing, select a single CDC feather in a shade of yellow to match the naturals. Lay just the butt end of the feather diagonally over top of the hook shank at the tie-in point and take two turns of tying thread. Gently pull the feather underneath the wraps until only the very tips of the fibers are left, then take thread wraps up the hook shank to firmly secure them. Pull the wing back and continue taking thread wraps forward leaving a small space behind the eye. With hackle pliers, get hold of the butt end of the CDC feather and, without twisting it, start taking wraps around the hook shank. You want this layer to be very thin, just a single layer of fibers. When you reach the wing, you should be getting into the thicker part of the stem and some of the fibers will begin pointing outward in random directions. Pull the wing back, and wrap the stem right up close to it’s base, follow this with another close wrap. These stem wraps will help keep the snowshoe wing supported in an upright position. Continue taking wraps with the CDC until you reach your tying thread. Then, secure the stem with a few tight wraps. With the very tips of your tying scissors, reach in and snip the excess butt end of the CDC stem off close.
Pull everything back to expose the eye and take a few thread wraps to build up a small head. You can then do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish and snip or cut your tying thread free. If you feel there are too many CDC fibers sticking out, snip off just the ones on the underside of the hook. I like to leave quite a few of the fibers as I think they add to the illusion of movement, which I believe is what this pattern is all about.
To revive a Usual after its gotten waterlogged, first rinse off any fish slime. Then use an Amadou patch or similar to blot the excess water away. Give it a little dusting of a desiccant like Frog’s Fanny to help dry the fly and add some float, then blow on the fly to remove the excess desiccant. A little fluffing of the wing and it will once again float like a champ.
If you’re a neatnik tier, the wild looking Usual might not be your cup of tea, but I personally can’t imagine fishing the sulphur hatch without one.