A little trout stream south of Missoula, Montana, was the setting for a dry fly fishing trip I took many years ago.
A wild hatch was taking place, and the fish were all over it. We were running out of light, and everyone on set felt a sense of urgency as we raced against the clock.
Another mate and I were picking up some excellent fish. On the other hand, Ryan was having a lot of trouble with the dry fly presentation. He was giving it his all, but he simply managed to miss the mark or get his fly snagged in the tree every time.
It came to a head approximately 30 minutes before dark after we heard a loud crack behind him. Of course, he’d misplaced his fly. The moment he realized this, his world fell apart.
He grabbed his rod, walked over to the bank, and gave it his all.
No more fly fishing for me!
It was very severe, but I guess we have all been there while fishing dry flies. You either don’t have the correct pattern or can’t make the right presentation.
The outcome is gloomy in either case.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the basics of dry fly fishing and show you how to catch a few fish while doing it. I’ll relieve some of your anxiety and help you do better the next time around.
Tip. 1 – Dry Fly Fishing Gear
Your normal gear for fishing dry flies depends on the size of fly you are using and the fish you are targetting. I will presume you are targetting average-sized fish for this post. In most cases, an 8.5- or 9-foot rod and a 4- to the 6-pound line would do the trick.
You’ll normally be utilizing smaller flies with dry flies; thus, your leader and tippet will coincide with this. Here is a tippet size chart from Orvis that breaks things down.
For example, you’ll need a 5 x tippet for sizes 14-18. Most dry fly circumstances can be handled with a 9-foot leader. If you’re fishing in a lake or other environment where the fish are picky, you’ll need to venture out further.
You can buy pre-built leaders in the market, and you’ll simply have to tie the leader onto your fly line to get started utilizing a nail knot or loop knot technique using perfection loop.
You will also need a little fly floating along with the rest of your regular fly gear. Gink fly floatant is something I’ve been using for years with no problems.
It’s just you and the fish now. Here we go, baby!
So, what’s the next step for us?
Tip 2. “Do Your Homework.”
The bugs will come later, but first, I want to make sure you have the fundamental method down so you can build on it for the rest of the day.
A good strategy begins with careful observation of the feeding behavior of the fish you first notice rising.
Although you can fish dry flies at any time, the best time to do so is when aquatic insects (which I’ll refer to as bugs from now on) are hatching out of the water, when adult bugs are returning to lay eggs on the water, or when terrestrials (such as hoppers, ants, and the like) are flying into the water.
How can you determine what the fish are feeding on? There are a few tips.
It is usual for a greater splash of a fish to coincide with a larger insect on the water. But there is no replacement for taking your time to analyze what is going on. See if you can spot any bugs circling above the water’s surface.
Can you identify which way the fish is taking when it pokes its head through?
If you cannot confirm what the fish are eating, you may attempt to determine the insect’s size and color as accurately as possible and then find a fly that closely matches it.
Aside from that, there’s no substitute for completing your homework on the river before you ever set foot on its banks. Look up your river and hatch guide on Google to see if you can find any useful information.
As you can see, the local fly store gives a number of fantastic information like the sorts of flies you may use for that month along with the time of day when dry fly fishing is optimal.
Tip 3: Positioning and Fly Casting
The following article, which breaks down fly casting into seven easy steps, is a good place to start if you’re new to fly fishing. 7-Step Guide to Casting a Fly Rod
After you have recognized that fish are eating, you need to establish how best to make a cast without spooking those fish. It’s much easier said than done, of course!
Locate a site where you can throw over a rising fish and let the river carry your fly over the fish’s heads.
Get as close to the fish as possible without frightening it. If you can lessen the cast you need to create by even a few feet, you can discover enormous benefits to your presentation.
The worst thing you can do is cast exactly on top of a fish and startle that fish with your line or leader.
How precise is your fly-casting technique?
What guarantees do you have that your ensemble is going to be exact and close? Practice, Practice, and Practice (I feel like I’ve mentioned that before?). Your cast will get familiar with you, and you will be able to hit the bullseye with them as time passes. You can use a fake cast to assess the correct distance of your cast.
So, when you notice a rise, pick up and make a couple of fake casts so you can have a feel if you can make the cast or not. This will also help you to home in on your precision.
The fake cast also lets you to also dry out your fly between casts. Using a fly floatant will not prevent your dry fly from becoming submerged in the water.
It’ll dry up after a few failed casts.
The reach cast is another useful technique for dry flies. Before a current line picks up and moves your fly, this cast allows you a little extra drag-free float time.
Tip 4. A Look at What Fish Are Doing
As soon as you observe a fish taking your fly, you must draw up and set the hook. There is a concept of bowing to the fish during steelhead fishing. That is not applicable here. When you observe a fish taking the fly, you must draw up and set the hook.
Not overly crazy, but quick enough to hook the fish.
Takes can be delicate, and occasionally you may need to set your hook when you notice a splash, especially under low light circumstances.
Here are a few pointers for setting the hook:
Tip. 5: Finding a Hatch to Fit
Once on the river, everything is based on trial and error. It’s time to put on your lab coat and start testing your theories. Identifying the insect that’s feeding on the surface-feeding fish is a top priority. Once you’ve found anything comparable in your box, move on to the next step.
Maybe the fish are taking wet flies just under the surface and not on true dry flies?
If you observe a fish consuming an insect without seeing its mouth emerge from the water, the fish may be consuming emerging insects rather than dry flies.
On the Wet Fly Swing Podcast, we’ve had some incredible guests, including Joe Rotter, who shared some dry fly fishing methods for catching Blue-Winged Olives.
As your skills progress, the next natural step is to study entomology. When you want to come a bit closer to nature and the entire procedure, so, stay tuned for more on that.
Use foam or high visibility materials on a fly to view it better during low light circumstances.
If you aren’t sure of the bug’s precise size, go with something smaller than you expect.
Here are a few tried-and-true all-purpose dry fly designs to add to your repertoire.
Tip 6. 10 finest dry fly designs
The fly pattern you will perform well with depends on the river or stream you are fishing, but there are a few patterns that just appear to be outstanding all-around flies.
These dry flies are an absolute must for any fly box. You will discover that many of these patterns work throughout the country.
Here are the best 10 flies of all time:
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Sparkle Dun
- Chernobyl Ant
- CDC Midge
- Griffiths Gnat
- Royal Wulff
- Blue Winged Olive
- Madam X Hopper
Dry Fly Fishing: A Concluding Note
The beauty of dry fly fishing is that you learn something new every time you step foot on the water. Insects and hatches fly throwing technique, and even the river itself will alter throughout the course of the season.
First things first, conduct some research on the stream you’ll be fishing and gather some flies. The next step is to get out on that stream and conduct an additional investigation.
My best advice is to simply sit and watch the water run past — this is one of the best ways to learn about the area.
Are there any bugs coming off? Is there any life in the fish?
While you’re there, go ahead and make a few casts according to the instructions I provided.
Finally, if you enjoyed reading this essay and think it may help someone else who is new to dry fly fishing, please pass it on!