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Floatant Vs. Desiccant

by Philip Monahan

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Question: What’s the difference between paste-like floatants (Gink, etc.) and the crystals, where you have to shake the fly in the stuff?

Andy E., Richmond, VA

Fly Desiccant

Desiccant usually comes in a plastic cannister that features a notch in the edge through which you put your tippet. Close the lid, and shake away. Photo courtesy of Orvis.

Answer: Fly floatants come in many forms—paste, liquid, gel, etc. —and are designed to keep the materials in your fly from absorbing water. These products work best when they are applied to a fly that is totally dry, usually right when you take it out of your fly box and tie it on. If you catch a couple of fish or if you’re fishing in rough water that frequently sinks the fly, these kinds of floatants eventually stop working. A waterlogged fly doesn’t float, so you need to either change the fly or get the water out of it somehow.

The other downside of pastes and gels is that it’s possible to use too much, which causes the hairs or feathers of the fly to stick together. This can make the fly less buoyant, and it may make an imitation seem less natural. Once you’ve over-gelled a fly, all you can do is let it fully dry before you can pull the fibers or hairs apart again.

Gink Fly Floatant

Gink has been around for almost 30 years, and the name has become a generic term for paste floatants.

Most of the crystalline products are desiccants, meaning that they actually removemoisture from the fly. You take your soggy fly, put it in a small canister with the crystals, and give the whole thing a hearty shake. When you pull the fly out, it is magically dry—but covered in white crystals, so you need to blow on it or shake the white stuff off. Desiccants work best for larger, fluffier patterns, such as stoneflies and Wulffs and the like. Eventually, a fly may become waterlogged enough that desiccant can’t revive it, in which case it’s time to change flies.

I like to use both floatant and desiccant for fishing rough-and-tumble waters. The floatant gets your fly floating right off the bat, and the desiccant restores the fly quickly when it becomes waterlogged, allowing you to get right back to fishing.

There are also several dry-fly dressings, such as Water Shed and Hydrostop, meant to be applied long before you are on the water. These products are often called “permanent floatants,” and they literally waterproof flies by adding a coating to the patterns.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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  • Scotbruesewitz

    I generally will use Gink before I start fishing a dry fly and then use the desiccant dip to dry it off. Keep in mind, that even if you use both products religiously, you’ll still need to change flys fairly often to keep the proper presentation.Catching fish on drys is the ultimate in fly fishing as far as I’m concerned, you just need to accept there is a little more maintenance involved in this presentation.

  • Jhjones

    I have tried Water Shed and would not reccomend it. It just doesn’t seem to work very well at all.


  • Gofishinor

    After I ty a dry or store biught I always waterproof it. I use Loon. When I get to the water I than use a small amount of Loon gel the flies float like a cork after a while I will shake it off and use Loon desiccant. On CDC I only use LoonDust

  • Jan Brunvand

    Don’t forget Frog’s Fanny, a soft powder that is applied with the brush attached to the cover (like a brush in a bottle of nail polish). After I shake up my damp dry fly in the desiccant I blow away the crystals and brush in some Frog’s Fanny, working it into the hackle and tail with the brush. Works very well.

  • John

    The thing that annoys me about Gink and the like, is that when they warm up, they literally spew themselves out of the bottle when I flip the lid. Not good.

  • Richard Berlin

    Here are a couple of tips I learned for fishing Bombers on The Miramichi:
    1) Our floatant of choice is to create a 50/50 mixture of camp stove gas and finely shaved paraffin (canning wax). Not only does it seem to work better than most commercial float ants; it costs about $1 per QUART to make!
    2) The very best plan ahead floatant is to soak dry flies and bombers in pure silicone. Then, after shaking the extra moisture off, set the treated flies on a paper towel on an electric heater top to fully dry. They float for a lllloooonnnngggg time!

    • Great tips, Richard.

      • Richard Berlin

        Hey Marshall,
        Just back from The Lower Dean. God–those are righteous steelhead!!

  • Fred Rickson

    After tying, dip the fly in Rain-X found in auto supply stores, and let dry overnight. Whatever it is is really hydrophobic….and made to last. On the water use whatever you like.

  • Dave Smethurst

    Story about Gink told to me by Doug Swisher years ago. George Gerhke was fishing with Doug and asked what kept his fly floating so well. Doug told him Abalone hand cream. George started by Abalone by the tub and repacking it. Don’t know if they modified the stuff yet, but I do know a buy a jar of Abalone which is kind of hard to find now, and refill by Gink squeeze tube and it works as well as “Gink.”

  • Henry K

    There is often confusion between desiccant crystals and powder crystaline floatant. Desiccant crystals are silica gel, just like the crystals in electronic gear and shoes. Powders like Frogs Fanny and Loon Blue Ribbon are hydrophobic fumed silica. Both silica gel (the desiccant) and the fumed silica are made of silicon dioxide (silica). Hence the confusion. Same chemical in different forms.

    Combination products like Shimazaki Dry Shake and Loon Top Ride have both silica gel and floatant powder. They are called “Shake and Bake” products and will dry and waterproof the fly with a single treatment.

    After the powder floatant in the shake and back products is used up, the remaining drying crystals cna be renewed bey putting the crystals in a glass dish and microwaving the crystals on high for 15 seconds X 2. The water will escape as steam and the pooping noises are the crystals exploding. Put the crystals back in the original container and use them to dry flies.

    • Thanks for explaining those differences, Henry. And the alternate uses of the crystals.

    • Henry K

      In the post below me Jim Dawson has mentioned fumed silica for arrows. A popular brand is Gateway Feather Powder and it certainly cheaper than buying the small bottles of powder floatant. And yes, it is the same stuff as Frogs Fanny and Loon Blue Ribbon Floatant. Even cheaper though is to buy it wholesale and here is where I am going to save you all $$$$.

      Go here to buy 2 quarts of hydrophobic fumes silica for $17. Save a used squeeze ketchup bottle and clean it out. Use a funnel to pour the powder into the ketchup bottle. Do this OUTSIDE or in your garage on a windless day. Now you can use the ketchup bottle to squeeze the powder into your smaller containers as they need refilling.

      You can buy bulk silica gel drying crystals as flower drying crystals. Use google to search for sources.

      I wrote an article on floatants for California Fly Fisher, Feb, 2012. I later posted a version of that article on line for those of you who want to know how fly floatants work.

  • shawn

    elastic band guitar method sheds water well.

  • Jim Dawson

    Two words: Habanero Vaseline
    Hard to find so I usually end up making my own…plus you can use it to revive 4 day old gas station sandwiches. If that doesn’t do it, there is always fumed silica that fletchers (arrow maker) use. Same stuff you buy in tiny bottles from Japan but one one hundredth of the cost. You’re welcome.