Tips for Dry Fly Fishing
I think that it is safe to say that all fly fishing anglers set out to catch fish on dry flies. Many people think that dry fly fishing is the only way to land a fish on a fly rod, I know I use to fall into that category. Of course, there are multiple different ways of catching fish, but for most of us anglers, landing a fish on a dry fly is heaven.
The reason dry fly fishing is so much fun is because the fish will often jump out of the water when it strikes the fly. Another reason using dries is great, is being able to watch your fly being taken from the surface of the water, even if the fish didn’t jump. When nymph and streamer fishing, everything is subsurface, so it is all on the feel instead of being able to watch everything.
I really enjoy the looks of dry flies and the craftsmanship that goes into them. A solid dry fly pattern that matches the natural insects can land a ridiculous number of fish in your landing net. In this blog, we will cover a variety of different tips for dry fly fishing and we will go over some of the best dry fly patterns that are used around the world.
Let’s dive in!
Matching the hatch
One of the most important aspects of fly fishing is matching the hatch. If you are new to the sport, you might be wondering what this means. Insects start out their lifecycle on the floors of waterbodies, like rivers, lakes, and streams. From their initial life forms (pupa and larva) they grow and eventually rise to the surface of the water.
Once they reach the surface, they will become adult flies and fly away. The flies will stay on the water for a duration of time before flying away. The flies will also come back to the water to die.
There isn’t always an insect hatch on, but if there is, you will want to match your fly to that of the natural insects whether the insects are below the surface or on the surface of the water.
Zinger Fishing has a blog on matching the hatch if you would like to read more on it.
Size of your dry fly
- The size of your fly is very important when targeting trout. If there is a hatch on, your fly should be the same or close to the same size of the naturals. The size also matters for how big of fish you are targeting. If there are only small brook trout in the stream, you will want to use a smaller size of fly, maybe a #16 or #18.
Shape of your dry fly
- The shape of your fly should also match the naturals if there are any present. The fish won’t be biting your fly if it looks completely different than the naturals on the water. You want to match the hatch and fit in for the best chances of strikes happening.
- If a caddis hatch is on, elk hair caddis dries work great. If a mayfly hatch is on, you may want to use parachute dries, if a stonefly hatch is on, use stoneflies, if hoppers are flying around like crazy, you will want to tie on a big ol hopper!
Color of your dry fly
- The color should match the naturals as well. Just like with the size and shape, if the natural fly is white, you will want to use a white fly pattern. Matching the hatch is very important for fly fishing anglers. Most anglers starting out don’t like to take the time to match the hatch as they are eager to get their line wet. This is a big mistake that will usually result in the angler not catching as many fish.
Dry fly dressing also known as flotant
The hair and fibers on dry flies will get wet when they are sitting on the water. Normally within a few casts, the flies will start to sink. When this happens the presentation of the fly is lost and the fish won’t be as likely to strike.
There are numerous different types of flotant to use. Flotant is added to the fly which helps it to float on the water longer.
Gink is one make of liquid flotant that you apply with your fingers. Simply add a little to the wings or body and let it dry for a minute or two.
Loon makes a powder that you shake onto your fly. Powdered flotants are nice for when your fly is wet and has been used for awhile. Simply take the wet fly and drop it into the dry powder, remove the fly and blow off any excess powder. You can reapply the Gink liquid to it or cast without it.
When I am dry fly fishing, I normally cast the fly back and forth a few times before letting it hit the water. This helps to dry the fly off with the air movement, making it stay afloat longer once it hits the water.
Leaders and tippet when using dry flies
Fly presentation is everything, I cannot stress this enough. I personally use a 15-foot leader when I am using dry flies and it is normally 3x or higher. If you are targeting large trout, you can’t use too thin of leaders and tippet, or the fish will break your line. You also don’t want it too thick though, as it will mess up the fly presentation when the fly lands on the water.
When it comes to tippet, I normally always use 3x to 6x.
Leaders over 9 feet it length are best for dry fly fishing.
Fly line for using dry flies
You want your fly to float which means you definitely want to be using floating fly line. Floating line is the most common, but anglers do have sinking line or sinking tip line that they use for lake fishing and for getting their nymphs to the deep spots in rivers.
Best fly fishing equipment for using dry flies
This will depend on the size of fish you are targeting. Pretty much all fly rods can cast out a dry fly as they are super light compared to streamers or multi hook nymph rigs. The standard trout fly rod is a 5-6 weight, the same going for both the reel and line.
If you are fishing for steelhead, salmon or bass, you may want to use a 7-9 weight setup.
Casting your dry fly
The cast is very important because it goes right back to the presentation objective. You want your cast to be very light and smooth, having your fly line and leader gently landing on the water. This will cause the fly to lightly land on the water like a natural fly would. This presentation is perfect and will provoke a strike. There are countless videos on YouTube showing how to properly cast when using dry flies.
Drifting your dry fly
If you do a lot of nymphing then you know just how important a natural drift is. When we are talking about drift, we are meaning when your fly and line are on the water and the water current is taking them downstream.
If you watch closely, your fly and line should be moving the same speed as the water is. If your fly is lagging or moving too quickly, this will look off to the fish and you probably won’t get a strike. Fish are extremely timid and if you fish catch and release waters, the fish can be even harder to catch.
If your fly is moving too quickly or not fast enough, you will have to mend your line. This means flopping your line sideways or upstream. You may have to do this once or even up to 3 times during one drift. Many anglers get lazy and they don’t mend their lines, resulting in them catching less fish throughout the day.
Setting the hook
Sometimes the fish will jump right out of the water when they strike the fly, but sometimes they gently take it from the service. Normally, if they gently take the fly, you won’t even know it happened if you aren’t watching and paying attention.
A dry fly is like a bobber/strike indicator, when it goes down you probably have a fish on. If you see a strike, wait 1 second then simply jerk your rod up or to the side. One of your hands should do the jerking motion while also keeping pressure on the fly line and the other hand should be stripping the line to keep pressure on the hook.
If you do not set your hook, often the fish will wiggle the hook out and they will get off. Setting the hook does take some getting use to, as does everything else in fly fishing. Don’t beat yourself up too bad if you lose fish when you are learning.
Position yourself in the right spot
Waterbodies are usually huge, if you spend your time fishing in spots that aren’t likely to have fish in them, your chances will go down of landing them in your net.
Fish love weeds, hanging out under trees and boulders, in the seams of two currents, in back eddies, deep pockets of water, and some trout like the fast current right before some rapids.
Don’t stand in the hole, this can be hard if you are newer to fly fishing and your cast isn’t that good yet. Fish will be spooked if you are too close, so if you can hang back, you will increase your chances of a strike.
If you are fishing smaller streams, you may have to sneak up to the hole and whisper when talking to a buddy. Stream trout can be very tricky to catch!
Be observant of your surroundings
When it comes to casting your dry fly, make sure that you are aware of what is around you. If you are fishing from a drift boat, there are certain rules that must be followed. Zinger Fishing has a blog on fly fishing from a boat.
Be mindful of what is behind you, snagging a tree or brush can result in your leader breaking and you might lose your fly. This is a pain and will result in lost fishing time!
If you are fishing rivers in cities, there are often multiple people down at the river. Make sure not to cast into another angler’s area and don’t get too close to their fishing hole. Respect is everything out there. Keep your distance or ask the angler if they mind if you fish beside them.
Great dry fly patterns
Fly fishing is quite popular around the world and the classic fly patterns are used by anglers everywhere. Some are searching patterns and others are meant to imitate exact naturals. Fly patterns come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors, and variations.
Anglers have been tying flies for decades and decades. Many flies have multiple variations as some are better for certain rivers or lakes than others.
The following are extremely common flies that every angler needs in their fly cases.
Having these classic fly patterns in your arsenal will drastically improve your chances of fish striking. The Zinger Fishing store has a solid selection of different flies, stock up before your next fishing trip.
Buying quality flies
You can buy flies from pretty much anywhere these days. Quality hand tied flies are everything though. Real elk and deer hair, along with accurate colors and quality fibers will make your fly fishing experience better.
Cheap flies come apart very easily and the fish won’t strike it if the fly doesn’t look real. Fly fishing can get pricy, but anglers will always end up spending more on low quality flies over time.
Drying off your dry flies
Once you have used a dry fly and it is wet, if you are done with it, make sure to hook it to the fuzzy patch on your vest. Let it dry out before placing it back into your fly case. This is done so the hooks don’t rust.
Storing your dry flies
You will want to keep your flies organized and dry in a nice waterproof fly case. I am a big fan of cases that have clear lids so I can see what is in them without spending the time of opening them. The more time I can spend fishing , the better!
Removing a dry fly from the mouth of a fish
Flies are threads and hairs tied together. If you are too rough on them, they will start to fall apart. If you can use your fingers to remove the hook from the fish, do it. If you must use pliers, try to be as gentle as possible with the fish and your dry fly. I find that dry flies usually come out quite easily, even if they are barbed which most dry flies are.
Talk to your local fly shop
Before heading out to the river or lake, head down to your local fly shop or give them a call. They might know what the fish are currently biting and where some decent fishing holes are. They probably won’t tell you where the honey holes are though!
Last week we received a tip that green hoppers were hot on the river and the browns and bulls were striking them like crazy. A few of us from Zinger loaded up on different green hoppers and we couldn’t keep the fish off that day. We may have been able to figure it out for ourselves, but it was nice to take plenty of hooks and it saved us the time of using different patterns before figuring out that the green hoppers were the golden ticket.
When do dry flies work the best?
There are specific places where I find dry flies work best. Often in streams and slower moving water in the river. It does come down to whether the fish are rising or not. If there isn’t much for rises, your chances of landing a fish on a dry fly will go way down.
Overall experience using dry flies
Catching a big trout on a dry fly is by far my favorite when it comes to the multiple types of fly fishing that exists. There just isn’t anything that compares to watching your fly being swallowed by a beauty brown trout. It will take some getting use to, but once you have it down, you will have a blast using dries.
I cannot stress it enough though; you want a solid selection of flies and sizes when heading out. Usually carrying at least 3 of each pattern is best. This is in case you find a pattern that is working great. You may have to borrow a fly to a friend, or the fish will eventually tear the flies up.
Good luck out there my friends!
If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.