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5.7 Tips for Dry Fly Fishing

Photo by Ben Sittig

1) Casting

Having your casting dialed is the cornerstone of dry fly fishing. This cannot be stressed enough. Casting simply doesn’t mean you can lay down 50ft in a parking lot with no trees, brush, or wind (sorry, I meant the fan).Casting means accurately presenting your fly, whether in a head wind, under a bush or singling out a specific fish. We can all be better casters, myself included, but that doesn’t come without practice.

In truth, many dry fly eats happen within 30ft of your rod tip. To be prepared for this, a great way to practice practical dry fly presentation is to put some targets at 10, 20, and 30 feet and work on hitting them consistently. You may get some odd stares from the neighbors, but it will be worth the odd stares you get from trout when they’ve been fooled by a hook and feathers. 

A small overgrown stream like this provides many technical casting challenges.

2) Leaders and Tippet

Length of leader and tippet diameter will greatly impact the way your fly is presented to the fish. Could you fish a size 18 fly on a leader that tapers down to 3x? Certainly, but you’re probably not going to get the best presentation. When thinking about what tippet size to use, try the rule of 3.

Divide your hook size by 3 and that will give you a good idea on what tippet to fish. I’m very aware that 14 divided by 3 is 4.6, so just round up when you get decimals, or only fish hook sizes divisible 3. I hear the Fulling Mill Ultimate Dry Fly hook in a 20 is the bees knees. The “rule” of 3 is just a general guideline to make matching tippet to your fly size a little easier. Play around with the formula and figure out what will work best for your day on the water. I break this rule a lot when fishing in really brushy creeks. I’ll fish the heaviest tippet I can get away with to make pulling flies out of bushes just a tad easier. Just kidding I never get hung up in trees, ever. 

To learn more about our Ultimate Dry Fly Hook, have a look at this article by Phillippa Hake.

An apache trout, caught in a smalls stream in AZ. On this day I fished a single dry fly with slightly thicker tippet to make pulling the fly out of obstructions a little easier. The fishing were’re shy and readily ate the fly as it splat down on the water.

Read more about James’ Apache Trout adventure here!

Okay, so you used the rule of 3 to figure what general tippet size to use, but what about leader length? Think of it like this, the longer and finer your leader, the more delicate your presentation, the thicker and shorter, the better the turn over but less delicate the presentation. When fishing small dries, in shallow water to skittish fish, I want that fly and leader to land delicately on the water so as to not scare the trout and stop them from feeding. On the flip side of that coin, if we’re fishing hoppers on the bank we want a leader that will turn over a larger air resistance fly and splat when it lands, like a hopper landing on the water. 

3) Rise Forms

Learning to read rise forms can have a positive impact on your day. If you listen to a lot of guides when they’re rigging nymph setups, they’ll be making their decision on where they think the fish are in the water column. The same can apply to dry fly fishing. It’s column inception, fishing the column within the column. What does that even mean?

Those fish you see rising may not actually be eating adult bugs off the surface, they may be eating emergers mere inches below, or sipping crippled bugs just under the water’s film. If you’re seeing heads, the trout are eating the mature bugs off the water’s surface. If you’re seeing backs and tail fins, they’re eating just below. This can be a great time to sink your adult offering and watch for a leader tick or the time to fish a tandem rig. When I see a mix of rise forms, I’ll fish the adult bug and attach 18”-24” of Fulling Mill Masterclass Fluorocarbon to the bend of the dry and fish an unweighted nymph. The fluorocarbon will sink the unweighted nymph just below the surface film and usually coax a couple of the fish to eat.

Learning how to read rise forms will help you properly target rising fish.

4) Marking Fish 

Most times rising fish will hold position and feed. Marking your target can become incredibly important when fishing a pod of trout. When guiding, I often see clients “flock shoot”. When working a pod of risers, I like to mark the individual fish in the pod and try to work the back of the pod to the front.

We do this for a few reasons. Many times trout will lock into a “lane” and not deviate from that lane. Accuracy is paramount in this situation. By picking out a single riser and marking its location , you reduce the risk of putting down the pod by just aimlessly casting at the group. The other reason we want to mark the individual risers and work the pod back to front is for an increase in fish landed. By hooking the fish at the back of the pod first, we can steer them down stream. Hopefully this gives us more opportunities at rising fish because the trout hooked are not running through the pod putting down their fishy friends.  

Interested in more on dry flies? Any Buckley Shares some of his tips for fishing spinners in the summer.

This brown trout was very to eat the Chubby after hearing a loud splat.

Photo by Ben Sittig.

5) Approaching Water.

Before thinking about leaders, flies, and what Nicolas Cage movie I’m going to watch after a long day fishing, I think about where. Fishing small creeks is a different animal than a river when it comes to dry fly fishing. Generally, on smaller creeks I’m going to be less technical. Most creek fish are willing dry fly eaters, and I’ll spend most of my day searching with a dry rather than trying to seek active risers.

Unless I’m going dry or die on a larger river or smacking the bank with big hoppers, I’m actively hunting pods of rising fish or basing my day on some sort of hatch schedule. Think about the water and its inhabitants before you get ready for your day. If a creek is 3 ft wide, maybe you don’t need ultra long leaders. Then again, maybe its a low water year and the trout are ultra finicky.

I like to call it a “trout first approach,” thinking about a trout’s behavior based on the prevailing conditions and trends, then matching my flies, leader, and approach to what the day gives me. I then consider the water. If it’s fast and choppy, I can get closer to the fish, if it’s low and glass, stealth mode is enabled. The way I like to fish small stream brook trout varies from bigger river fish sipping pmds in shallow tail outs. But then again, sometimes it’s the same. Just remember to have fun!

5.7) Casting

No, it’s not a typo. Casting is so important I thought it should be not only tip number one, but also 5.7.

Using these 5.7 tips for dry fly fishing can lead to eats like this!

Final thoughts on casting: learn the advanced stuff. Bow and arrow casts, curve casts, steeple casts, ect. As ridiculous as a bow and arrow cast may look, it’s an incredible tool for getting your fly into impossible brushy pockets on small streams. Curve casts come in handy when you need to fish around obstacles. While the above casts may seem niche, you will be happy to have them in your bag of tricks when the river throws you a curveball. 

Every day on the water is different. The above is just a general guideline to a day fishing dries or rising fish. There are many paths to dry fly fishing enlightenment, and I wish you the best on yours. There’s nothing like watching a fish come up and eat your dry to get your mind off life’s distractions. Happy fishing everyone!

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Thomas Conigliaro
Thomas Conigliaro
May 15, 2021

Nice check list to keep in mind,especially before a long fly fishing


Bruce Robert Louis Cox
Bruce Robert Louis Cox
Mar 19, 2021

Best dry fly advice Ive seen on the internet in a long whole, casting, casting and casting .. thumbs up

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