CUL DE CANARD - Carateristics and fly tying techniques



  • What is cul de canard?
  • Structure of the feather
  • What is the cul de canard for?
  • Useful tips for CDC flies
  • Fly tying techniques of the cul de canard


The cul de canard is a particular feather that is found on the back of the duck, near the preen gland. This gland, present in many birds, secretes a greasy substance which is then distributed by the animal over all the plumage through the beak, with the aim of waterproofing the feathers.

The fact that they are constantly soaked with this natural grease means that these feathers have extraordinary floating properties, so much so that you don't need to add any floatant products to make your CDC dry fly float. Generally, natural feathers are the most floats, because the feather colouring process can remove some of this natural grease. This does not mean that coloured CDC feathers do not float, on the contrary! Let's just say that natural feathers have an extra edge.

Duck while distributing the grease on its plumage

While it used to be quite difficult to find these feathers in specialist shops, nowadays this is no longer the case. There are selections of various qualities in many different colours on the market. When searching the CDC you may come across: unselected mixed feathers and selected feathers.

Unselected mixed feathers: These types of feathers are certainly the cheapest but less qualitative choice. Inside these packs you will find feathers of various sizes but all of them are generally small in size, with the barbs closed on the rachids and with several residues of the animal's grease. Buying unselected feathers will seem to save you money but in reality the CDC waste will be a lot and what remains will make things quite difficult during the fly tying phase.

Selected feathers: Selected cul de canard feathers are all of very good quality and there is very little waste. They are generally selected for length and vapouriness. For example CDC SUPER SELECTED MAGNUM feathers are mostly large in size (5/6 cm) while CDC SELECTED SMALL & DENSE feathers are small but with very vaporous barbs. In most cases, a fly tier is oriented towards this kind of feathers, choosing the selection that best suits the type of artificial fly he wants to tie.

Selected CDC feather


The cul de canard feather can be divided into 3 elements:

  • Rachids
  • Barb
  • Barbule

Structure of the cul de canard feather


The Rachids is the central part of the feather, from which all the barbs protrude. Its thickness gradually decreases as you approach the tip, so it will have a very flexible structure towards the apex and much more rigid towards the calamus. This aspect should be taken into account when making a Palmer tecnique, but we will see it later. Its maximum length rarely exceeds 6/7 centimetres.


Beards are generally longer in the lower part towards the calamus and become shorter and shorter near the tip. Once immersed in the water, unlike many other feathers, they do not tend to bend towards the rachis but maintain an extraordinary independence of movement. This is very important because it gives your imitation the appearance of something alive.


Barbule are nothing more than thousands of micro filaments protruding from barbs. This extraordinary structure artfully designed by mother nature allows the cul de canard to rest on the surface of the water without breaking the surface tension, literally skating on the surface. As soon as the CDC is immersed in water, its barbule imprison thousands of micro-bubbles of air that, like so many small lifebuoys, bring the feather back to the surface.

These micro air bubbles not only guarantee excellent buoyancy to dry flies but also make wet flies and nymphs very effective. In fact, when the insect is in the early stages of hatching and must detach from the bottom to reach the surface of the water as quickly as possible, it exploits the air bubbles that are created after the nymph casing has broken. Needless to say, the air bubbles trapped by the barbule of the cul de canard perfectly imitate this natural phenomenon.

Micro air bubbles trapped by barbule


The cul de canard was born as an ideal solution for the imitation of insect wings. When we said earlier that the CDC has revolutionised the world of fly tying, it was not an exaggeration. Before its discovery, the imitation of the insect during the emerging phase was little explored. However, there were models of emerging flies tie with cock hackles but the cul de canard allowed the creation of much slimmer and more realistic silhouettes, and when the moment of truth came it did not disappoint expectations in terms of catches.

Over the years, thanks to the skills and imagination of fly tiers like: Marjan Fratnik, Aimé Devaux, Henri Bresson and perhaps best known Marc Petitjean, the use of the CDC has undergone an extraordinary evolution and is now used to imitate practically any part of the insect, such as:

  • Tails
  • Bodies
  • Wings
  • Legs
  • Extended Body

The barbs can be cut from the rachis for split thread tecnique or they can be torn into small tufts. You can wrap the whole feather on the hook with a palmer tecnique or use the tip of the feather to imitate the wings or tail of the insect. The versatility of the cul de canard is truly exceptional and the only factor that reduces its range of use is your imagination.

Curiosity: The cul de canard made its entry into the fly tying materials for artificial flies in Switzerland in the French canton in the early 1900s, but its use became popular among fly tiers around the 1980s. From a niche material used by a small number of fly tiers, the CDC has literally exploded into one of the most widely used feathers in the world in just a few years. It has literally revolutionised the world of fly tying and is still an irreplaceable material today.

Here are just a few examples of how you can exploit the magical feather:

Some examples of use


As we have seen the cul de canard has extraordinary qualities, but at the same time it is a fairly delicate material. During fishing you need to have a few tricks to make the most of it.

Let's start with the flotation. As we have seen before, CDC feathers are constantly soaked in a natural grease that the duck secretes from the preen gland. For this reason they are extremely floaty and do not require the addition of other floatant additives.

Often you are convinced that you have to soak your dry flies in oils or liquid silicones, but with cul de canard you risk achieving the opposite effect, kneading the feathers or even worse, ruining the delicate barbs. The only trick to ensure that your CDC dry flies float well is to dry them well with an amadou.

There are, however, specific floatants for CDC flies that are very good. However, remember to apply them sparingly and avoid rubbing the cul de canard with your fingers as much as possible.


Another weak point of the cul de canard is the fish mucus. The CDC artificial fly tends to knead with mucus after a few catches, losing all its floating properties. The advice is to rinse it well to remove as much mucus as possible and then dry it with amadou. If this is not useful, replace the fly with a "fresher" one. After letting it dry for a while in the fly box or attached to the fly fishing vest it will be ready for the next catch.


To list in detail all the ways in which to hook the CDC would be long and complex given its versatility. In this paragraph, however, we would like to leave you some hints on how to use the cul de canard to tie your artificial flies. We offer you 5 dressing made with 5 different tying techniques that we hope will be useful to you.


Let's start with the Arpo, an artificial very simple to tie but at the same time really effective. It is a dry fly in which body, ribbing and wings are made only with a single cul de canard feather. A fundamental step in this dressing is to wrap the feather around the hook as you would do in a palmer tecnique. To succeed in this operation you need selected feathers, with a rachis long enough (5/6 cm), to be able to exploit the flexibility of the feather in the apical part. In fact, the closer you get to the calamus, the thicker the rachis increases and risks breaking during the winding.

For this kind of dressing we recommend the CDC SUPER SELECTED MAGNUM hotfly feathers.

Watch the video tutorial:


Also in this case the feather is used whole, but it imitates only a part of the insect: the wings. This dressing, extremely simple, allows you to effectively float even quite voluminous flies. In the example we show you we used 2 CDC feathers one on top of the other.

Simply fix the base of the feather near the hook's eye with the tying thread, then also fixing the apex of the feather in the same place. This will create a curvature that will imitate the insect's wings, while ensuring excellent floatability to your dry fly.

For this type of dressing you can use hotfly's CDC EVO SELECTED feathers.

Watch the video tutorial:


We now move on to a nymph in which the cul de canard is used to imitate the body and legs of the insect. This assembly is also quite simple and fast enough. You just need to fix the tip of the feather along the shank of the hook, then holding the calamus between your fingers you have to rotate the feather on itself while at the same time you wrap it on the hook to make the body. During the windings some barbs will automatically tend to protrude, thus imitating the insect's little legs.

Also for this kind of dressing you need selected feathers long enough, so we suggest you to rely on hotfly's CDC SUPER SELECTED MAGNUM.

Watch the video tutorial:


To tie this dry fly you need a bit of manual skill, because you have to use the split thread technique several times. The split thread technique allows you to make a very vaporous cul de canard string that you can then wrap around the artificial fly.  To do this you need to help yourself with the special clips (HARE CLIPS). Here is a short tutorial video that explains better than words:

This dry fly is extremely floating and tries to imitate a small terrestrial, one of those insects that generally live on land but which can accidentally end up in the water becoming a tasty snack for the fish.  This kind of artificial fly turns out to be very effective during the summer period, it is very visible and can float even in particularly turbulent waters.

It is better to use quite large feathers to do the split thread because they are much easier to handle, for this reason we always recommend the CDC SUPER SELECTED MAGNUM of hotfly.

Watch the video tutorial:


In the fifth and last dressing we would like to propose you, cul de canard is used as a complementary tying material. It therefore does not occupy a fundamental place in the dressing but integrates perfectly with the rest of the materials.

The creation of this dry fly is quite simple. You fix the tip of the CDC feather near the hook eye with the tying thread and then wrap it around it 3-4 times. With the help of a few thread coils you try to turn all the barbs backwards, i.e. towards the bend of the hook.

The end result is an extremely realistic and effective dry fly and the CDC helps the artificial to float or otherwise fluctuate in the surface layer of the water.

You don't need very large feathers for this dressing, so you can use the EVO SELECTED CDC or the CDC SELECTED SMALL & DENSE.

Watch the video tutorial:

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Gabriele Cabizzosu
Gabriele Cabizzosu
Fly fisherman, fly tyer
Job: Senior Marketing Manager
Hobbies: Travel, fishing and photography
He started fishing 15 years ago, approaching the stream with various fishing techniques until he started fly fishing. More than 10 years have passed since then and to this day it is his favourite fishing technique. Also passionate about photography, over time he has fused these two loves together, trying to convey with his images all the emotions that only fly fishing can give.
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