Autumn On The EB

Autumn On The EB

Friday, July 22, 2016

Dry Fly 101 - Some Helpful Advice And The Drought

"When I die I want to come back as a Montana fly fishing guide" - Jane Fonda

Much of my instruction time is devoted to explaining and demonstrating dry fly strategy. There are those in this sport who have turned dry fly fishing into a form of rocket science which it shouldn't be. Let's examine the basics:

1. We either cast a dry fly to a rising fish or to a spot where we believe a trout may be. Let's concern ourselves with that rising trout.

2. It is a rare occasion where we see a steady parade of newly hatched mayfly duns floating down a river and being picked off by a trout. Most of the rises that we see are rises to the emerging insect that is in or just under the surface film. That is why comparaduns (my favorite dry fly pattern) and parachutes do so well. The body is in the surface film looking just like an emerging insect. That is why the two above tying styles have somewhat replaced the classic hackled dry fly. More on that later.

3. Always try to position yourself downstream from a rising fish or a place that you want to cast to when fishing a dry. Imagine a large clock surface and a trout steadily rising at the 12 o'clock position. You want to be below him at the 4 or 8 o'clock position. Why not 6 o'clock? Actually that's the worst place to be. Your leader or your line will land on top of him. At the 4 or 8 position only the tippet will be in play.

4. Fishing a dry downstream or down and across will limit your presentation window because of leader drag. Remember, drag occurs when the leader is traveling faster than the fly. You avoid this with an upstream cast but there are times when you have to fish at a downward angle. This is where you lengthen your leader with extra tippet length and throw a Check Cast above the rise. A Check Cast is nothing more than suddenly stopping, or "checking" your fly in mid cast so the fly falls to the surface amid some loose, uncoiled leader. Your leader needs to be pretty straightened out for drag to set in. This will avoid it.

5. Manage your line when fishing upstream with a dry. The line is floating back to you and you must constantly strip in this slack or hook set will be impossible.

6. Forget nonsense like "parallel drag" or "diagonal drag". Drag is Drag and the remedy is the same.

7. 90% of your dry fly fishing will be done with size 14 through size 20 flies which means you will be using 5x and 6x tippet. Don't believe that you need 7x on a size 14 or 16 dry unless you like leader twist.

8. Hackled dries still have a home in riffles and pocket water where they float well and are visible.

In 2009 I fished the EB from Memorial Day through September with nothing but dries and I caught a lot of trout. It is my favorite style of fishing followed closely by the swing of a soft hackle. Both styles represent a stage of insect life and I believe a higher stage of fly fishing. A Millers regular once described what we now call straight line nymphing as "bait fishing with artificial bait". To each his own.

2010 was the driest summer that I remember but I'm afraid that this summer will break all records. The long range forecast appears to be unchanged. Let's wait until September.



Hibernation said...

Hi Ken,
Question for you. I've really grown to enjoy my 11ft 4wt for most of my "big" stream trout fishing. Say the millers, and the swift being big streams (relatively). Quinnie too. But rivers like the swift East branch I still like my 7-8.5 footers. Any way, I do long leader nymph at times (20-30 foot combined leader and tippet) both in a casting setup and in a short line / tight line set up. But, something I learned a few years ago watching a tenkara fishing buddy has stuck, and I find myself doing it more.

He was using minimal level line on his tenkara and a substantial leader and basically fishing dry's with only a short bit of tippet on the water.

I've been playing with that with this long rod and it's been surprisingly positive. It's almost short line dry fly fishing - flick it upstream, follow it down, repeat.

You have a lot of experience, which makes me curious if you have tried this either with tenkara or normal fly gear? It was a different strategy for dry fly presentation to me and I'm still trying to figure it out - thus the question - I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on fishing a dry that way? Potential pros/cons you could see?

Thanks! Oh, and agreed on the water levels... Ugh.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,
I've been back to the Swift a couple of times since we fished together earlier this month. I've used the technique you taught me to catch a dozen or so brook trout, a decent brown and the nice rainbow in the attached photo. Thanks for sparking my interest in trout fishing again. I hope all is well with you.

Millers River Flyfisher said...


I've tried the Tenkara set up that you describe with dries and I have to say that I am not as accurate a dry fly caster with a tenkara rod as I am with conventional equipment. BTW, three years ago I hurt my right elbow dry fly fishing with a tenkara rod. The minimal falsecasting gave me a case of tenkara elbow!!! I stick with subsurface offerings with tenkara now.


That is a beautiful 'bow!!!



Anonymous said...

What a beautiful place the lower Swift is. Took a brown, two good rainbows and some good brook trout. It's a gem!


Parachute Adams said...

TQ, what were they hitting? I got skunked last two times out there?

Thanks in advance, Sam

BobT said...

Took my brother and 10 year old niece to the Swift yesterday. We were having a family reunion in Shelburne and the Deerfield was probably not going to be in good shape so I suggested we go to cold water on the hottest weekend of the year. Good choice. We pulled in below route 9 around mid morning and there were a few guys down there but we found some great tree covered runs and got her onto her first trout with a fly. She did not land it but we may have created a monster! Her smile and gleam in her eyes said it all! The great thing about the Swift in addition to the cold water is the ability to spot trout in crystal clear water which made it easy to keep her interested. I took a nice rainbow and several brookies on my parachute ant pattern. I then dropped a midge pupa off a Stimulator and took another nice mid teens rainbow. My brother was guiding the little one for the most part and they got casts to a few sporadically rising fish but only the one hookup.
I have not been down there in quite some time and the increased growth of foliage over many parts of the stream I think create a much better fishery than I remember. Noticed some midges hatching but ants moved a number of fish for us.

Millers River Flyfisher said...

Bob T,

I think you've got a new convert. It's a great to see the look when they get their first hit!!!

The lower Swift (below route 9) is the crown jewel of the Swift. I guided a first timer today and she took a 14 inch brown out of the Tree Pool. After a while she got pretty good at spotting trout!!


Anonymous said...

Parachute Adams,

Soft Hackles #16


tincup said...

Looking for advice Floatant What kind gives you the best results. Do u try and float 6 inches of the tippet to assist the fly. I had a small sample spray bottle of scotchguard which worked but has since emptied. Also do u use any powders to help dry out the fly after or before. I know u don't like endorsing things and tried a search on your web page but came up empty.

Millers River Flyfisher said...


I use the powder floatant. It doesn't cake up your fly like paste floatant does and it's the ONLY one to use with CDC.

I don't apply it to the tippet. I want the last 12 inches of the tippet to sink so trout don't see it dragging on the surface.

Powders are made from fumed silica. I buy the ones that require you to put the fly into the container and shake it. The one that requires you to brush it on is lousy. You waste too much!! It's all over you and the water. Useless stuff!! Some "dry" floatants are nothing but beads that wick away moisture and they work really well too.

I'm working on a formula that will be the best!!


Parachute Adams said...

I'll be darned, TQ, that is what I was using too last time out, but didn't get a smidge of interest. I will give them a go next time out. I'm glad you got some good action.


BobT said...

The fumed silica can be bought in bulk as arrow fletching powder on ebay. I got a huge amount for $15...sorry to the local fly shop but they charge an arm and a leg for very little. I refill my brush on container with that. Another cheapskate trick is to refill the bead bottle that Ken mentions with flower drying can get that stuff at any craft store. The crystals are blue and turn pink when "used up". Same stuff as you get in the loon container or the Shimazaki.
There are three basic systems I have used with good luck.
1. Loon Aquel or Tiemco Dry Magic alone with no additional treatment is my first option. If it is a CDC fly you can use the dry magic-its thinner and seems to dry quickly thereby not matting down cdc. I use very very little on each fly...its only silicone and you just need enough to repel water.
2. Once the fly is soaked I dry it with a towel or piece of chamois first then shake it in crystals and beads (Loon DryShake or my own concoction) then dust it with the powder. You cannot retreat a soaked or slimed fly with Aquel or other pastes unless it is fully dried out which takes at least a few hours.
3. The Shake and bake method...use a little bit of silicone (aquel or dry magic) then dust the fly with powder before you use great for fast water situations.

I will say Dry Magic paste seems to have a little more longevity once on the fly than Aquel ...its expensive but I do like it enough to pay the extra...most guys use 2 or 3 times as much as they need. Loon Lochsa is supposedly similar but I have not tried it yet. Most of the Gel/past floatants are pretty much the same...Dry Magic is the only one that I find to be truly different and better.
A word on Shamizaki spray...its awesome-THE BEST but stupidly expensive. I used it for awhile living out west where I had a dry fly on more than 50% of the like $30 a can so I had to find a cheaper solution.