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When casting to a trout which has been seen in the water or has been spotted rising, it is best to drop the fly several feet in front of him. Give the fish plenty of time to get set to take, allow him to see the fly coming down the current for some distance up the pool. Now and then a trout will take a fly as soon as it lands, but on the whole you do better by letting the feeder see the fly coming from at least four feet away.
Try not to make the false casts over the spot where he is lying. Rather, the false casts should be made to the side, and then with a quick change of direction, the fly can be steered to the spot above him where you want it to land. In places where the fish can be seen and the angler is very close to him, a horizontal cast will do the trick, as sometimes in such close quarters the fish may see the rod in the air as it waves back and forth with the vertical cast. Scientists say the trout's area of vision widens like an inverted cone, so it helps fool them when you keep the rod low.
Another error common to many anglers is that they lift the fly too soon after it has gone over a trout that did not take. Ripping the line off the surface right in back of him will fix him for fair, and the angler might as well go on to the next pool and find a new fish to work on.The fly should be allowed to float well below the fish, six feet at least, then be retrieved carefully well in toward the fisherman before being lifted for the next cast. Then, with the fly still coming his way, a lift of the arm will pull the line quietly off the surface, and a snap of the wrist will shoot both line and fly and leader noiselessly up into the air.
If the fish has risen to the fly and missed, rather than just not showing interest, then the angler should wait a while before putting the fly back over him again. Give him time to get back on his feeding station and to forget that what he just hit had a most peculiar look. Then the chances are much better for a repeat than they would be if the fly were slammed right back at him.
While fishing the Gunnison River one day I had a most unusual experience. I had made my cast and the fly had scarcely lit when I saw a trout come up for a natural two feet behind and directly in line with my fly. The trout missed and the natural fluttered downstream. He followed and hit at it twice more and missed both times. Then my fly came along and the trout had a go at it. He missed, or perhaps I missed, and then the trout further pursued and finally took the natural. All this fast and exciting action occurred with a fifteen-foot distance. Completely unnerved, I brought my fly in, hooked it in one of the guides of the rod, got out a cigarette, lighted it, and smoked that entire fag before allowing myself to cast over the spot where that trout had first showed. I thought I saw a flash down below the fly as it went over his former position but nothing happened. I waited at least a minute more before casting again. This time he took hard and my patience was rewarded when I landed a I6-incher.
The dry fly is the ideal way to fish a grassy stream where water cress grows along the banks and matted grass floats in patches on the surface. One day I came upon young Dick DePuy as I was fishing such a spring stream. Three feet out from the far bank a nice trout was rising.
"Take him," I said to Dick.
"I'll catch on the grass," said Dick. "This wet fly sinks fast."
"Try a dry," I suggested.
"How about that grass?"
He pointed to the three-foot island of it.
"Drop the fly a couple of feet above the fish, let the line fall on the floating grass, and you should get over the fish O.K.," I said. "Then strike and keep your rod high and you can probably skid him across the surface and in to you."
It worked that way. The lo-inch brownie took on the first float and when Dick struck, the line jumped up from the grass, and holding the rod high, Dick pulled the struggling trout along the top to his net.
"Now you try one," said Dick. "There's another one rising just above where I took this one."
I walked into the water, dropped the dry fly in buoy solution to make it float high and dry. Then I made a couple of false casts and dropped the fly on the surface a couple of times just a few feet away from me and well away from where the fish was rising.
"Why are you doing that?" asked Dick.
"When the fly first hits the water," I explained, "the fly buoy puts a fine film of solution on the surface, and in such clear, still water as this, the fish might notice it and shy off. It's small things like that that may mean the difference in taking or not taking a fish out of a tough spot."
Many anglers fish a difficult stream as if they were afraid of it, stacking the cards against themselves before they even start. They snatch the line and fly out of every danger spot, oblivious to the fact that the biggest trout of them all may well have chosen that very spot as a safety area. For instance, when fishing the water along a log jam, you many think that the fly is about to float down and catch on the logs or brush. But look closeryou will see the water cushioning outwards from the logs and it takes the fly with it, safely along the edge. And it's right along the edge that the lunkers lurk. The angler who fearfully whips the fly out of there misses the chance of a strike from a big one, and probably scares the spots off all the trout around.
It seems as if the dry fly man's greatest delight is trying to take fish under difficult conditions. He can have a lot of fun thinking and figuring and scheming ways to make them hit. He gets a kick out of taking advantage of the weather, the time of day, the way the light falls. One day just at dusk Len Kinkie came up to me where I was fishing near Twin Bridges, Montana. "Can't see a thing any more," he said. "Guess we may as well quit, though I hate to when they're hitting so well."I looked over my shoulder at the western sky where there was still a faint glow.
"There's still a little light," I insisted.
I dug into my vest for my magnifying glasses, bought at the 5 & 10 cent store for 79 cents. Even with those on, it was hard to tie the fly, but by holding it up against the sky, I made it with a couple of jabs.
"You won't be able to see the fly on the water anyway," said Len.
"Let's cross over the bridge," I said. "To the other side. And then I'll show you. We can get in another half hour yet. We'll be casting against the light then."
We moved into another pool over there, and sure enough, when we cast, our flies showed up plainly, silhouetted against the fading light as long as there was a glow in the western sky. We each took a couple more fish before total darkness dropped the curtain.
When the dry fly man finds that fish are not rising, he has many a trick to fall back on to tempt the wily, sleepy, or too well fed trout to hit. He can coax them up by guile, or he can waken them from their sleep, or he can make them mad enough to hit even though they are not hungry.
One time on the Yellow Breeches in Pennsylvania, my dry fly, a size 14 black gnat, came bouncing down a fast glide, four inches out from a jumble of logs. The trout that dashed up for it changed his mind at the last second and almost ripped a fin off getting back home again. He was so big he gave me the shakes. Instead of resting him I had to rest myself. But after a few long minutes I managed to put that fly out there again.
My gnat came high-riding down the current as chipper as a birch bark canoe. Four feet down under those logs that wily old buster stuck his beezer out, but he stayed at the foot of the stairs. I kept casting, changing flies a dozen times, but still no soap. Something was haywire.
I got the brain cells working.
The fly was floating entirely free of drag. The leader was long and fine, tapered to a 4X tippet. I was crouched low so that fish couldn't see me. Everything was as right as a teenager. Yet something was keeping him from hitting.
"First of all, there's no hatch on," I mumbled to myself. "So he isn't out in the open on a feeding station."
"That's it!" I almost shouted. "He's deep under cover, hungry to a certain degree, but not enough to come to the table and reach for a knife and fork."
So, I figured, there were a couple of things to do if I wanted to make him hit a dry fly. I could manufacture a hatch by casting time and again to the same spot, floating fly after fly past him, and in that way convince him that soup was on. Or I could put on a size 12 spider, a big powder puff of a fly. Oversize flies will often raise a trout just out of sheer curiosity, and even if he does not then grab the big fly, he is usually aroused enough to take a swipe at a smaller offering that looks bona fide. Similarly, when an angler knows there is a fish, especially a big one, in a heavy current, he can often coax him out by casting a big hairwing fly or a grasshopper type fly to the far edge of the current, then, holding the rod high, skip the fly back across the surface. Many a big buster has come roaring out of the rapids to such an offering, which might very well scare the daylights out of him in calm water but only seems to make him mad, there in the hurly-burly of the current.
Since this particular trout had already showed enough enthusiasm to take a glance at the black gnat, I decided to manufacture a hatch with it. After eleven casts and floats he came out from under the logs. Another eight casts pulled him up within a couple of feet of the surface. He looked ready. He also looked as if he would weigh four pounds.
On the next cast he spotted the fly, moved up within an inch of the surface, let go his fin hold in the current, drifted back with it, opened his mouth and inhaled the fly. I raised the rod tip and set the hook, but I couldn't hold him and he slammed back under the logs and broke me off. But what matter? I had fun putting one over on that tough old cannibal. It was the satisfaction of the play, calling the pitch and showing him the right offering in the right way. That's the main course in dry fly fishing and for dessert there is the moving water, the peaceful meadows, and doing what you like best of all. It's this challenge and satisfaction that make dry fly men unequivocally name their sport the tops in angling.