Dry Fly 101

Have you ever watched Shark Week?

Please tell us you’ve seen the episode of the great white sharks off the coast of South Africa (If you haven’t, Youtube it now!). You’ll see 20 foot plus – GREAT WHITE SHARKS – jumping sky high into the air, latching onto it’s seal dinner, and then come down with a giant splash. Nature can be so brutal and spectacular at the same time!

What in the world does that have to do with fly fishing?

Well actually, it has everything to do with fishing with dry flies – but on a much smaller scale. Trout are the great white sharks of the rivers and the lake’s you’ll be fishing. When you see the glimpse of a hungry trout hover underneath your carefully placed dry fly, examine its prey, and then mercilessly pounce on it...you’ll get what we mean! Your heart will pound, hands will shake, and you’ll be hooked for life! Dry fly fishing is the pinnacle of fly fishing.

dry fly rigs

To review some common dry fly rigs - Click Here


Check out the helpful video below for a brief "Big Picture" overview of dry fly fishing.

key points to understand

Floatant: Most dry flies don’t float on their own. Apply floatant to your dry fly when setting up your rig. Reapply often so that your fly floats on top of the water for the most natural presentation.

Leader/Tippet: A fish near the water’s surface, using it’s lateral line, can sense subtle and unnatural shock waves, scaring them away to safety. If you cast your fly line too close to the fish, you will spook them. There are two ways to compensate for this:

1. Lengthen your liter/tippet - We recommend going to 12-15’ depending on the situation (how spooky are the trout and river size). The longer the leader, the more subtle the presentation, but the harder to cast; and vice versa.

2. Use a smaller tippet/liter size - We recommend starting at 5x, but 6x is often needed in slower and smaller waters. Some anglers will even go up to 7x or more if they are extra spooky (this is uncommon).

Casting: You need to have the basic fly cast down in order to be an effective dry fly fisherman. Keep this in the back of your mind...

How does a fish's food land on the water?

If you’re fishing for trout, 99.9% of the time, the bugs land softly. Your goal is to replicate this so that the dry fly lands, ever so softly, as if it just fell from cloud 9. Play around with the forward stroke of your cast. If you go too low to the ground, the fly will splat the water's surface. Middle ground will be your standard dry fly cast. And the high forward stroke allows for an extra soft, buttery landing. Keep these casts as simple as possible. This is not the time to be throwing a 80’ double haul cast. Take advantage of back casts whenever you can. This allows you to air out the fly, get the right distance on your cast, and land the fly with precision.

Feeding Circle: One of our favorite casting drills is to try to cast inside the circle of a hoola hoop. This gives you a very realistic and practical way to view casting to a trout. A fish can only occupy so much territory. Varying conditions could make a trout's feeding circle very large (slow current, still water, less food), or very small (fast current, abundant food). The ideal cast is well in front of the trout, so the fly appears to naturally drift into its “feeding circle”. If you don’t get your dry fly within this zone, it may not be enticed enough to exert the effort necessary to grab your distant fly – or may not even notice it.

Match The Hatch: We’ve gone into most of the detail in the Match The Hatch Section so we’ll be brief. If you see trout rising, or there is a hatch going on with lots of bugs in the water, it’s almost certainly a good idea to tie on a dry fly. Try to look at the bugs the fish are eating, and then do your best to identify them, and then select a pattern to "match." Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right fly is the name of the game.

Spotting & Timing the Rise: If you see a fish rise, it’s a good idea to target the actively feeding fish. Timing during dry fly fishing is crucial. Before you cast to the fish, determine the number of seconds between each rise. You may want to count it out 2-3 times to get the right count. Your first cast is often all you’ve got so make it count! Every sequential cast after and you’ve got a less of a chance of catching the fish. The ideal is to have the fly be in front of the fish’s mouth as soon as it hits your time mark.

Mending: To re-emphasize - you must mend while dry fly fishing! It is absolutely critical that you mend so that you can achieve a drag free drift. Any drag, and the fish will instantly detect it’s unnatural movement, thereby ignoring your fly. Emphasize learning how to mend and leveraging aerial mends/reach casts so your dry flies land in front of fish drag free.