Dry Fly Fishing for Beginners

Reports From The Field - Flys

April 23, 2012

Dry Fly Fishing for Beginners

If you’ve been around fly fishing for any amount of time, you’ve inevitably heard talk of insects, hatches, and dry flies. It’s pretty well established that nymphs account for the most fish caught during the course of the year, but there are times when nothing but a dry fly will do. These are the situations that most fly fishermen dream about.

Dry flies imitate adult insects that have hatched and are floating on the surface of the stream. Different bugs hatch and lay eggs in different ways. It is important to understand this fact when thinking about your presentation. If you are imitating a caddis, perform short drifts because trout will hit these insects the moment they drop to the water to lay their eggs. During a good mayfly hatch, you will see the bugs drift on the water for a long time, so a long, extended drift will work best. Midges, which are tiny bugs related to mosquitoes (but they don’t bite), often skitter along the water’s surface, so imparting a little movement to a midge dry fly can trigger a strike when these little guys are out.

Most fly fishermen want big bugs on the water. Big to me is anything I can see pretty easily (usually a size #16 or bigger). The real appeal to dry fly fishing is watching the fish take the fly. There is no other type of fishing that connects the angler to their quarry in this way, and it’s thrilling to coax a large trout out of their environment. When there is a good hatch, it tells you where the fish are and what they’re feeding on. This eliminates much of the guesswork that goes along with nymph fishing – nymphing is all about prospecting, while dry fly fishing during a hatch is like striking gold.

Even if there is no hatch, there can still be good dry fly fishing. In many rivers, the trout are programmed by their environment to look to the surface to feed because the subsurface life is not particularly abundant. Attractor dry flies are tied to entice trout, and they are patterns that do not imitate any specific insect. I’ve had plenty of luck fishing a Trude or a Royal Coachman during non-hatch times. Another good dry fly opportunity happens in the late summer when many terrestrial creatures like hoppers and beetles end up in the river and are an easy meal for trout. “Hopper Time” is a blast and a great chance to hook a big fish on the surface. Many of the wonderful trout fisheries in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming experience an annual hopper season that starts in mid-August.

Catching fish is my main objective when I’m on the water, so I tend to stick with the most productive fly fishing methods for the particular time at hand, but I will never pass up an opportunity to get in on some good dry fly action. I am enthralled with watching the fish take the fly, and I know that when everything comes together, dry fly fishing can be more productive than any other form of fly fishing.

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