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A Little Bit of Casual Research

Fly Floatants Old and New - A Comparison

January 27, 2009


A number of years ago I was fishing with a friend of mine in the Catskills on the East Branch of the Delaware near one of Art Flick's favorite spots. My friend and I sat on the bank discussing how the river felt. One topic turned into another and I noticed a plain clear glass bottle sitting in a home-made pouch on my friend's vest. I hadn't noticed it before and asked what it was. My friend pulled the bottle out and handed it to me. Naturally I unscrewed the cap and took a sniff. "Whew, smells, like Coleman fuel!", I exclaimed. Friend said, "Yup, ...and paraffin. Works pretty good for me". "What, you use it to float your fly?", I asked. "Sure do" was my friend's reply.

As my friend explained, he shaves off a few slices of paraffin into a mason jar of Coleman fuel and let's the paraffin dissolve. Once dissolved, he dunks the fly into the mix, false-casts the fly a few times to dry it and then makes a cast. One thing I noticed that was different from my friend's 's dry fly on the water and mine was that mine wasn't floating at the moment and his a cork!

My friend said that it was Ray Bergman's formula from his book, "Trout". In the book Bergman writes that you add paraffin to white gas. White gas, Coleman fuel and naptha are all the same thing; just with different additives. Since naptha has no color I used it and made a batch up when I got home.

Like all fly fishermen I, too, am always looking for a better product...especially if I'm not satisfied with the current products available. I have gone through a lot of different fly floatants over the years: Gink, Aquel, Orvis Superfloat (I actually really miss that stuff), Shimazaki Dry-Shake, Frog's Fanny and many others. They all seem to have their own strong points but none of them seem to be a good "do-all" floatant and none of them floated a fly well once a fish or two was caught on it. Enter Bergman's formula! I was really curious how Ray Bergman's formula would stack up against the commercial brands. My "Casual Research" saga of things fly fishing had begun!

The Test

I wanted to conduct a decent test of the various floatants I had on-hand. The test had to be fair, un-biased, objective, etc. and it also had to be somewhat real-world. This is how I conducted the test:

A filled a big bowl with cool water. I appropriately treated/dressed each fly a few minutes before each fly was tested. I used a size 16 Parachute Adams as the test fly. Since this is the fly I fish with most of all around my home-waters I thought it only natural. I dropped the fly into the water from about two feet. I let the fly sit there for about 5 minutes. I then picked the fly out of the water and dropped it again. I let it sit another five minutes. I then swished the fly around in the bowl for about 30 seconds and let go of the fly. These are the results:


Name: The name of the floatant

Type: The type of floatant (gel, paste, liquid, dry powder)

Maker: The manufacturer

Comments: My notes

Fly Floatant Test Chart
Name Type Maker Comments/Results
Results Ray Bergman's Formula was the winner!
Aquel Gel Loon floated/floated/sank
Black Duck Paste Black Duck floated/floated/sank
Blip Paste-Kote Paste Superior floated/floated/sank
Dry Floatant Powder Orvis floated/floated/sank
Dry Magic Gel Tiemco floated/floated/sank
Dry Shake Powder Shimazaki floated/floated/sank
Fly Spritz Liquid Loon floated/floated/sank
Frog's Fanny Powder Frog's Fanny floated/floated/sank
Gink Gel Gerhke floated/floated/sank
Mucilin Silicone Liquid Thames floated/floated/sank
Mucilin Red Can Paste Thames floated/floated/sank (used straight from the can)
Mucilin Red Can Paste* Thames Untested (*Mixed with naptha to make a liquid - similar to Bergman's - Western guides use this)
PooGoo Liquid Rio floated/floated/sank
Rain-X Liquid Rain-X floated/floated/sank
Scotchguard Spray 3M floated/floated/sank
Superfloat Liquid Orvis floated/floated/sank
Waterproofer Liquid Kiwi floated/floated/sank (Kiwi - the shoe products company)
Bergman's Formula Liquid Home-made floated/floated/floated!

Post-test Comments

Granted, this is not a very scientific test. There are a number of variables that "could" alter the results either way; however, there is no denying the fact that Bergman's Formula was the clear winner. After I swished the fly around under the water it came right back up to the surface and ACTUALLY punched through the meniscus about half-way to sit in the surface film of the water...just like a real fly! I swished the fly repeatedly and it continued to float to the surface! It wasn't until about the 7th or 8th real hard swishing that the fly finally sank.

My theory on why Bergman's formula works so well is that when the fly is treated, it encapsulates all of the fibers of the fly in a microscopic layer of dry paraffin wax. This prevents water from penetrating the fibers of the fly. I think the action of holding the fly while swishing it so many times rubbed a small amount of wax off of some of the outside fibers and allowed water to finally penetrate the fly and cause the fly to sink only after repeated swishings.

The Bergman Formula

Many of you have asked me how much wax is used to make-up the formula. I'll let you read it for yourself. Bergman describes the formula beginning on page 168 in his 1976 edition of Trout. The 1.7mb pdf file is below:

They Were Pretty Smart Back Then...

Even though Bergman figured out way back in 1938 or earlier that paraffin dissolved in white gas made a great fly floatant, it is STILL a great fly floatant! Even though we have the technology we have today, those guys that fished a long time ago were pretty darn smart!

Another amazing thing is that it costs about the same to buy a small 2 ounce bottle of floatant as it is to make a QUART of Bergman's Formula. One thing you must realize about this floatant is that it is flammable. If you smoke, don't use it. Depending on the temperature, the stuff can get a little tricky to use. If the air temperature is hotter than about 60 degrees the mix will stay liquid; below that it will start to coagulate. If it does, stick it inside a pants or shirt pocket to liquefy it again. It's not the best stuff to use in the winter time though. If you thin it a lot, as in less than half the strength of paraffin it will liquid...sort of, but you'll still need to keep it inside your vest to keep it warm.

Interesting Tid-bits About Bergman's Formula

The interesting thing about Bergman's formula is that once the fly does become water-logged, you retreat it and it floats like new again. Retreating also cuts through the fish slime and basically "dry-cleans" the fly; however, after a lot fish-caught flies have been dunked in the formula, it can take on a funky smell...then it's time to refresh the bottle. Dave said don't wait too long to change it out...probably good advice.

I use 1 oz. Nalgene bottles to hold the floatant. I don't carry it in glass bottles. You will drop the bottle one day and you don't want it to break or sink. I keep mine in a Gus' Flotpak II holder. Haven't seen these in years though. Other companies that make a pouch for Shimizaki Dry Shake will hold a 1 oz. Nalgene bottle.

Why other manufacturers haven't attempted to make this concoction (or something similar), commercially available is puzzling; environmental laws probably. The old Orvis Superfloat was close, though made with silicone. Until then, go make some Bergman's formula and see if you also find it a most excellent fly floatant.

A few years ago I was in the late Fran Betters' shop near Wilmington, NY (before he died) and saw a display with his own fly floatant on the shelf. A quick sniff test indicated that it was naptha. Hmmm.... I turned to Fran and said, "Smell's like naptha and paraffin". Fran just gave me a coy smile and said it was the best fly floatant money could none. He got almost $5.00 for a two ounce bottle at the time........