How to catch more fish on dry flies: 11 Top tips!
Your fly lands gently on the water. A split second later, it is neatly devoured, as the line pulls taut and the rod kicks. Tempting a fish on the surface is among the most perfect moments in fly fishing. However, it can also be one of the most frustrating methods! Here are some great dry fly fishing tips and nuggets of advice from author and guide Dom Garnett to make the most of your next session.
A beautiful wild brownie, snatched from fast water on an Elk Hair Caddis.
“Fine and far off” for small flies and calm conditions
There’s a good reason even our distant ancestors advised fine lines and keeping our distance from rising fish. When trout and other species are feeding off the top, they are highly aware of anything that looks wrong, from a splashy cast to a thick leader.
Smooth, open water is the place for fine, long leaders.
On that basis, it makes sense to fish as fine as is practical. Yes, you have to take into account the size of fish, but if conditions allow don’t be afraid to extend your leader to at least 12ft and drop tippets right down to just 3lbs or even 2lbs. This is especially true in smooth water or for fussy fish.
But go thicker for the big stuff!
As with every fly fishing rule, there is always an exception. With dry fly fishing, larger flies need more robust leaders and tippets. It’s not that a trout won’t take a large hopper on 3lb tippet- it’s just that a large fly will soon spin on the cast, kinking and weakening your line. Any fly of size 12 or greater requires at least 4lb tippet- and in general terms, the bigger the dry fly and the more commotion it makes, the less bothered the fish will be by the line it is attached to.
Larger flies require slightly stiffer, heavier tippets.
Project, don’t crumple on the cast!
If there’s one thing that defeats a lot of fly fishers at the surface, it’s getting the initial cast clean and straight. With sinking flies, that slightly messy entry matters less- but with dry flies, the fish are less tolerant.
One great piece of advice here is to work on “projecting” the fly and straightening out the leader as best you can. Giving a nice clean “tap” on the final forward cast often helps achieve maximum separation between fly line and fly. You’re looking for a movement rather like that of hammering in a tiny picture nail- it is a crisp forward “knock” that is positive but not forceful!
Degrease your tippet
While you needn’t always doctor your tippet, it’s good practice to take a bit of the shine off that last foot or two on any occasion that the sun is bright, the water is clear or the fish are spooky. Besides smearing some sinkant on, however, it’s equally important to smooth over with your fingers and remove any residue!
A sight for sore eyes
Do you struggle to see smaller dry flies? If so, you are not alone on this one! Once we get down to 18s and 20s, it can be tough to pick them out. Two bits of advice here. One is not to panic if you lose sight of the fly. Keep a rough idea of where it is and if you see any kind of rise there, the chances are it’s a fish so strike!
A “sighter” can be a godsend with smaller flies
Another sensible way to proceed is to make the task of fly spotting a bit easier. Look out for patterns like Turrall’s Hi-Vis Klinkhamers, Ants and Elk Hair Caddis for some excellent options. Or if you like to make your own, invest in some bright pink or orange poly yarn, which is perfect for wing posts and other “sighters”.
Dead drift or skate?
The majority of the time with our dry flies, we are looking to present them with the elements. On a river, this means drifting gently with the current, “as nature intended.” A long, supple leader and throwing in the odd “mend” will help here.
However, there are also times when a bit of movement is useful. Far from being sacrilege, giving your fly a twitch can be just the ticket! One classic example is when you see trout approach your fly but then back away at the last second. If you witness this, try a little “skate” just as the fish comes near the fly. Sometimes it really does seal the deal- especially with caddis patterns.
Go easy on the floatant
When applying floatant to your flies, the golden rule is “less is more”. A tiny dot on your fingers is ideal to rub in- never swamp the fly. If you need to re-apply during your session, be sure that your fly is bone dry first! This can be done with a series of short, sharp false casts.
Don’t overdo it with your floatant- just a little dab is best.
Choose your angle with care
Trout and other fishing picking morsels off the surface tend to sit quite high in the water column. They also tend to be quite fussy about fly lines and leaders. This makes your angle of approach critical! Quite often, you are best off casting “across and upstream” from the other side of the river, rather than putting your line dead straight upstream. Experiment with your angles of attack- the fish will tell you what works best.
Match the hatch… but don’t sweat the details
While it’s always a great idea to keep an eye on what’s hatching from the river or lake, you do not need to be a master entomologist to get to grips with fly imitations. Getting a rough copy of size and colour is more than enough detail. Much of the time, though, fish will be picking off a variety different food items in a day rather than keying in on one, so “general fit” patterns such as Klinkhamers, Olives and Caddis will work most days.
Carbon copy realism is far less important than good presentation.
Cast and lift off with care!
One common stumbling block for the dry fly angler is sending out signals that spook fish. In this type of fishing more than any other, it is vital to cast gently. One trick that can help is aiming your cast just above the water.
The “lift off” at the end of each delivery is also important. This should be done smoothly and smartly- without causing big ripples or a splash! It also applies when your cast doesn’t land where you wanted it to. It’s far better to let it drift towards you and out of harm’s way before you lift off and try again, rather than risk spooking the fish.
Try a duo!
Fishing two dry flies on the same cast is something we do very little of in the UK and Europe- but our American friends do this to deadly effect! “Little and large” is a good general blueprint- the theory being that the larger fly is quickly noticed, while the subtler fly is more likely to be taken by fish that don’t fancy a big mouthful.