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Fly Fishing - Dry Fly Fishing For Trout

[Dry Fly Fishing For Trout]  [Dry Fly Fishing For Trout II]  [Dry Fly Fishing For Trout III]  [Wet Fly Fishing For Trout]  [Fishing Nymphs, Ants And Beetles For Trout]  [Fishing Nymphs, Ants And Beetles For Trout II]  [Fishing Streamers And Bucktails For Trout]  [More Fly Fishing Articles] 


The dry fly is designed to match a natural aquatic fly or a terrestrial that has fallen and is floating on the surface of the water. The artificial must look as nearly like the natural as possible, for the trout, and in fact most fish, have eyes that would put the human 20/2o vision to shame. Trout take natural fresh water shrimp, and daphnia, or water fleas, that are not much larger than a pin point and a size 12 fly probably looks as big as a dinner plate to them, so that a faulty tie is quickly perceived and passed up.

Therefore the dry fly must be fashioned with much thought to size, color, slant of wings and set of hackle. It should be well balanced so that it will alight and sit perkily on the surface of the water, not being pulled this way or that by the weight of the hook so that it rests unevenly on the water. A good fly does not sit on its tail, nor yet lean on its chin. The nearer the parallel to the water, the better, even though many natural flies come down the current resting on their sides, with only one wing sticking upward.

There are many variations of the dry fly. The most common is the standard upright wing tie patterned after one or another of the common natural flies found on a stream. Many of these same patterns are tied in a "spentwing" variation, with wings outstretched, like a downed natural. Then there are other dries that are designed to ride the big waters where the current pours in at the head of a pool, large creations that the angler can readily spot in that heavy water, or in white riffles elsewhere on the river. These big-winged ties have been produced by many different people and are called by many different names, but the end result is the same-they are the answer to a great need for a fly that will tempt those lunkers that are up there in the rough water waiting for something substantial to come their way. The Wulff patterns of hairwing flies are proven fish takers in this group, and the Trude pattern, and the sofa pillow, mostly tied with a goodly degree of white to make them easy to see in the fast water. Right up there floating along with them are a couple of big flies that can be fished both above and below the water-the Bailey's bi-fly, the Joe's hopper, and the great muddler minnow which made its reputation as a bucktail fly but is now mopping up on Western streams when used as a dry fly.

Also constructed with an eye to the angler's vision are the bivisible flies. These are tied in various patterns but always with white hackles at the front so the angler as well as the trout can see the fly. This is a fly that enters almost every trout fisherman's fly box shortly after tie reaches forty years of age. Because, size of hatch regardless, it is important in dry fly fishing to see the fly.

To start with, every trouter should stock his fly box with a few basic flies which are consistent fish getters everywhere. One friend once asked me: "If you could have only 10 dry flies to fish, country-wide, what would they be?"

This was my choice:

This is only the barest necessity, each fly guaranteed to be useful sometime, anywhere.


While most anglers class dry fly as the most demanding way of fishing, it is nevertheless the best way for a beginner to start. With a wet fly or a streamer, you are usually fishing the stream by your knowledge of where the fish may lie. But with a dry you are in on all the sights and sounds of the river, going by every signal a fish can flash to you as he eats or swims. The dry fly is also easier to cast than the wet, and the angler can see drag when it occurs and sees the fish strike and is therefore able to set the hook more quickly.

The whole principle upon which dry fly fishing is based is that the fly should come down the stream exactly like a downed natural. Yet there are many anglers who fish for years without discovering that their fly is practically never floating free! It may seem to be moving with the current-but look carefullyis it traveling faster than the bubbles and bits of flotsam on the surface? Is it going more slowly? If either of these things is true, you have drag and the chances of a strike are slim. Is the fly floating downstream opposite you in a straight line or is the fly line bellied out ahead of it, dragging the fly crosswise, even the least bit, across the current toward you, telling the trout that there is something peculiar about that insect? Sometimes the amount of drag can be so small as to fool even a veteran, but it is never too small to deceive a trout.

Without that natural float, strikes are going to be as few as icebergs in Florida, even when trout are popping so fast in the middle of a hatch that you would think that all you would have to do is throw a fly on the surface and wait for the hit. It seems as if a fly would never run the gauntlet of all those feeding fish. But when a trout comes up and gobbles a natural exactly an inch from your lonely artificial, you begin to get the true story. They are turning up their mandibles at your fly because it isn't a right looking fly. It's either going too fast or too slow or it's going across current. In the meantime, those naturals are coming along as they should and therefore why worry about strange-acting, odd looking affairs that seem to have a motive power of their own?

True, now and then a maverick trout will rush a fly that is skidding across the surface, and it's true, too, that you can take trout by dabbling, skittering, and various other ways. But these methods are usually productive only under certain specific conditions which will be described later in this chapter. The angler who substitutes such methods for float is betting on chance against skill and if it's meat he's after, he is going to wind up with plenty of air around the fish in his frying pan.

"What makes drag?" asked my nephew Paul Levering, when I was first teaching him to fly cast.

"Drag is caused when the fly is pulled by the leader and line at a rate slower or faster than the current, or across current toward you," I answered, "instead of riding straight downstream like a natural fly that is at the mercy of the current."

Paul made a cast and dropped his fly on the smooth surface of the pool. It looked good, with wings cocked high, but it wasn't moving. It was resting in still water. Then the current caught the line and bellied it downstream, pulling the leader and fly after it.

"You have drag now," I told Paul.

"But the fly's riding high," he protested. "It looks all right." "Just because the surface is smooth and the fly sits up doesn't mean you don't have drag," I said. "Look at the naturals beside it."

Paul's fly was moving quite a bit faster and in a different direction. Any trout down there below was going to know there was something different and wrong about that fly. And as if to prove it, even as we watched, a fish came up and took one of those naturals within inches of the strange-acting artificial.

Once more Paul cast and the fly floated through untouched. "There are at least half a dozen fish rising out there," he said. "You'd think one of them would hit."

"Pick out a single fish," I said. "Then figure the water for a good float to him. Forget all the other fish. Concentrate on just that one."

Such a situation is like shooting into a covey of rising quail. If you don't bear down on one, you'll miss them all. Regardless of how hard trout are feeding, if you don't put the fly down the groove to a certain fish, you'll do remarkably little business.

"I'll try that one, then," said Paul, nodding towards a riser about 30 feet out and slightly above us.

"Take a gander at the speed of the current between you and the fish," I said. "It's moving fast, and that's the water that's going to hurt you. It's one of the toughest spots to get a free float-when there's a fast current between you and where you want the fly to float."

"Try the S-cast," I suggested. "This is a perfect place for it."

"What's the S-cast?" asked Paul.

"It will give you at least a couple of feet of free float, and that should be enough when the fish is hungry."

"Wish me luck," said Paul, getting his line in the air.

He false cast and when he had 35 feet out he cast hard and the line shot out, hit the reel as he stopped the rod, and the fly lit as lightly as a bird, four feet above the rising fish. It bobbed jauntily along right over him absolutely free of drag. That 14-incher grabbed it without fear and a few minutes later, his face one big grin, Paul was landing his first trout.

Like all rules, the free float edict has exceptions, and one spot where a dry fly does not need to be floating dead center in order to get hits is in the eddy back of a protruding rock. In such an eddy a natural does not float normally, but is pulled and whirled by the varying currents and for this reason the monster trout that may well lurk there will not be too upset by a fly that isn't floating free. But in such a spot the line is usually grabbed by the current as soon as it lights, whisking the fly out of there before it has time to float at all and before the fish can even see it. In that case, the angler must wade in close and cast a very short line, 12 or 15 or at most 20 feet, then hold the rod as high as possible so that the line is kept clear of the water altogether and only leader and fly are on the surface. That way it is possible to get a foot or two of float, or at least for the fly to whirl lightly around in the eddy, and that is usually sufficient for a strike.

The same technique pays off at the head of a pool. Cast across the fast water and where the current is pouring in hard, hold the arms high, rod in one hand and line in the other. When the current is very heavy you can often obtain a decent float this way even where an S-cast or a mended line would be bellied out of there in a hurry. A line handled this way is free of the water and the dry fly will float naturally down the far side of the current.

A beginner should keep his eyes going the entire time he is on the stream. The quickest way of getting on to trout habits is to watch them feed. In a clear stream you can get a close-up view of how they take a fly. On their feeding stations they generally seem to see the fly as it comes down the current, about four feet above them. Then, as it comes nearer they rise a bit higher to meet it, and as it comes over them they drift back right under it and suck it in.

When trout are not on their feeding stations working on a hatch, but are after minnows, they cruise around, usually working the still, shallow water, and they spend a lot of time covering the tails of the pools where the water thins off.

The first time I fished the Big Hole River near Melrose, Montana, I was so anxious to get fishing that I forgot to figure the water. I slipped into the tail of a beautiful looking pool that was 400 feet long and about 70 feet wide. I waded out to knee depth and after a warm-up cast or two to take the edge off my eagerness, I started to look around. I should have known better. Where I was standing, and as far as I could see, the bottom was smooth and pebbly, with no break anywhere, no grasses, no rocks. This wasn't holding water, this was cruising water, and it wasn't cruising time. That would come later, about dusk. What was I doing here now?

I scrambled out and moved on upstream along the bank and went into the head of the pool about 75 feet from the top. I waded carefully out and at once saw trout rising in the fast current near the head of the pool. From then on I had fun. And just before dark I walked downstream again and in the tail of the pool saw trout cruising, snatching naturals from the surface. This was the time to be in that water. So I went well down below the working fish, waded in and crept up to within casting distance.

Cruising fish call for special treatment. A fly slipping along on the current as usual doesn't always pay off. They will slam it hard if it happens to come across their path, but those fish have left their feeding stations, they are on the make, out looking. You can see the V they cut as they swim just under the surface, and watch the water bulge as they grab a nymph just before it reaches the top. They take an erratic course across the pool, so that you must figure which way your fish is going, then quickly drop the fly about four feet in front of him. Generally he will spot the fly and take it on the go. Sometimes it helps to impart a jiggling motion to the fly with the rod tip, making the fly shiver and shake on the surface, then let it sit quietly, give it another twitch, then bring it slowly along the top to pick it up for the next cast-tease them good! Trout may hit a fly during any of the above maneuvers, and they often hit when you are bringing the fly along the surface because they think it is a freshly hatched fly taxiing across, trying for elevation.

All of these tricks take a little time, a little practice, a great deal of patience. But the amount of work a fisherman puts into them will be more than repaid in the increase in his take. There's nothing quite like the pleasure of looking at a stream at the end of the day and knowing that you've fished it well and taken from it as much as any angler is entitled to takeenough fish for the pan, and a world of enjoyment.

Most trouters fish far too rapidly. A few casts in one pool and then they are off to the next. Small pools, say 50 feet long and o feet across, don't take long to cover, but some of the larger ones, 100 to 200 yards long, call for a couple of hours of fishing to work them properly. Many times, especially when fish are rising, I take three hours to fish a pool 400 feet long and 60 feet across. And I have action the whole time.The approach to a pool is more important than many fishermen think. Before even starting to fish, the dry fly man should study the pool or run carefully. Trout always lie facing upstream as they feed and therefore the logical approach in order not to be seen, is from the tail of the pool. But somehow the beginner naturally gravitates to the head of the pool. Once there, he either stands on the highest rock, where all the trout in the pool can see him, or he wades noisily out into the center and casts hither and yon as he walks down the middle, flushing trout helter-skelter from their feeding places with every clumsy step.

If you start at the head of the pool, crouch as low as possible and wield the rod horizontally and try to fish from the bank. If there are bushes, stand in front of them so that your movements will not be flashed against a clear sky. Walk softly so that vibrations will not be sent out to be picked up by the fish. It all sounds extremely on the cautious side but if you would take more fish and take them consistently, these things do make the difference.

Even at the bottom of a pool it is always wise to move in with caution. In some pools the water hesitates before dropping over the lip and trout like to lie there, taking their food the easy way, where the water slows and they can rise up to their prey with a minimum of effort. In front of rocks the water also backs up and slows and usually there is a fish there, ready for whatever tidbit the current offers. The fast current on either side of a rock is another natural feeding place for trout, as is the eddy behind a rock. Fishing such an eddy means only a foot or two of float before the fly drags and it is necessary to get close, drop the fly lightly and hold the rod high as you can to prevent the line from catching in the swift current between you and the eddy and thus hastening the drag. But fish hit fast in eddys and usually a float of only a foot will bring a strike from a fish that is there and is hungry.

Fish out the bottom of the pool and work your way slowly up along it, fishing the different currents as you go. Once an angler is in the pool and working quietly along, the fish will usually become accustomed to him and often begin to break all around him, some of them practically leaping into his pockets. It is always startling when a trout rises right up in front of you and usually it happens just when you are tossing your fly to some spot 6o feet away. It makes you realize-too late-that short, well placed casts will usually do the trick.

As an example, one day while I was fishing the Taylor River, trout started to rise all around me. I took one fish ten feet directly upstream from me and after things quieted down and the risers appeared again, I had a hit from a splasher not 15 feet below me. He had made a wave when he broke for a natural and he seemed like a good fish. I sent a downstream cast to him, throwing harder than I needed to for the distance and stopping the rod upright so as to land the line on the surface in serpentine fashion and allow the fly to float naturally over the riser before drag commenced. It didn't go over the riser, however, as he came up to meet it with determination and accuracy. The fight was on and he came out in a sidelong leap that showed me that I had been right about his size. He looked close to three pounds-but-another jump and my line flew high in the air as he shook the hook.

Usually at the head of a pool the fast water pours in tumultuously and then a big fly is by far the best. Rainbows are fast water fish, but you'll find plently of brownies up there with them, too. In a big, even flowing pool it usually is best to work the pool from left to right or vice versa, depending on which side the angler is fishing.

I like to cast up and across stream and start with the first cast straight up for about 40 feet, make a couple of casts, then put the next throw two feet over to the right, and continue the procedure until I have covered all the water which I can reach comfortably and with accuracy. As the direction of the cast moves across the pool, I shorten the line to avoid drag and wind up that series when the cast is directly across stream from me. Then I move upstream and start the next series of casts at a point just below where the previous series had ended. It's very much like the wet fly method of "drops" used in Atlantic salmon fishing, only the reverse. That is, the fisherman drops upstream.


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