Make Your Dry Fly Irresistible

It happened again last week. I felt that familiar rush of adrenalin. The mild shock happened again and again as trout after trout attacked the Parachute Adams I drifted down a little stream. I had made my dry fly irresistible.

Dry fly fishing can be unpredictable. When it’s hot, it’s not. When it’s not, well, it’s not. But there are some tactics you can use to make your dry fly irresistible to the trout lurking beneath it:

Dry it

Dry flies, uh, get wet.

Even the heartiest among them (think: Elk Hair Caddis) can get water-logged. Never mind that I always put some kind of fly dressing on my dry flies before I cast them into the current.

Sure, I’ve had trout strike my submerged fly. But dry flies perform best when riding the surface.

A few false casts will help dry out your dry fly. Yet it’s not enough.

Over the years, I’ve grown fond of water-removing powder or crystals. I always keep a small bottle in my fly vest. I like both Orvis Hy-Flote (Shake-N-Flote Renew) or Umpqua Bug Dust. Simply open the bottle lid, put your soggy fly inside (still attached to your leader), and shake the bottle a couple of times.

Presto! Your fly is dry.

The white powder makes it look like a ghost. But a couple of false casts will remove the dust. There are some liquid products available too. These are quite effective, but I generally find them messy and sticky. So go with the powder!

Twitch it

Another effective tactic is to give your dry fly a twitch. This works especially well with Caddis.

I talked to a guide in a fly shop last week who was having luck in the evenings when he skated his Caddis fly across the surface. I used this technique many times when float-tubing Hyalite Reservoir in the mountains south of Bozeman, Montana. I skated a Madam X pattern on the lake’s surface and got a positive response from several large cutthroat trout.

Of course, twitching or skating a hopper pattern is always a good bet.

The art of twitching or skating is rather simple. For a twitch, pretend the fly rod in your hand is a hammer and that you’re tapping in a small nail into soft wood. For the skating effect, I simply strip line like I would with a streamer—only more gently.

Don’t overdo your twitch or skate. If the current is fairly fast, don’t bother. But if it’s slow, a little twitch or skating motion might make your fly irresistible.

Re-size it

My brother, Dave, was fly fishing a stream in the high country of Colorado last week. He tried the standard patterns and even an emerger or two. The fishing was slow until he tied on a large stimulator. I’m pretty sure that it was the larger size rather than the color (orange) that mattered.

As Bob Granger, one of my fly fishing mentors often said, “When the trout aren’t rising for your fly, try a different size before you try a different pattern.”

In general, if I’m fishing a Blue-Winged Olive (BWO) hatch and not having success, I’ll go smaller. I can’t remember how many times the switch from a size #18 to a size #20 Parachute Adams made all the difference. If I’m struggling to get strikes with attractor patterns when there is no hatch, I’ll typically go larger.

I’ll switch from a size #18 to a size #14. Often it works.

Reverse it

Another tactic is to reverse the direction of your cast.

Obviously, you can’t reverse the direction of your fly. It’s never going to float upstream—always downstream! Typically, fly fishers work their way upstream. This keeps us behind the trout. The idea is that we will be less visible to the trout when we cast. However, there are times when it’s advisable to approach the trout from upstream. This might be due to the current or to an overhanging branch.

More stealth is required when we are in front of the trout and casting downstream. But if that gets a better drift, or if it’s the only possible way to drift a fly through a promising run, then do it.

Crowd it

There’s a good reason not to crowd your fly against an undercut bank. You’re likely to snag it on the brush on the side of the bank. It’s safer to aim for a foot or two short of the bank. It’s also less effective.

If you want to catch trout, however, you have to get close to an undercut bank. That’s where the trout hide. So take the risk.

Last weekend, I fished a run and drifted my fly about eight inches from an undercut bank. It was a decent cast. But nothing happened. On the next cast, I crowded the bank. You guessed it, my cast was about six inches too long, and it ended up in the grass on the bank. I gently tugged at it, and my fly landed in the current, about one inch from the bank.

A few seconds later, a plump brown trout darted out from under the bank and attacked my fly.

To make your dry fly irresistible, cast it as tight

Free it

Finally, keep your dry fly free of drag.

Drag happens when the center of your fly line moves through the current more quickly than your fly does. This results in your fly line pulling or dragging your fly through the current. As a result, your fly will resemble a water skier. It will leave a cool-looking wake.

But is not cool if you’re trying to catch trout!

The trick is to create a bend in your line do that the center of the line on the water is upstream from your fly. In other words, you want the fly to lead the rest of the line. You can do this either by mending your line (flipping the center section upstream after it lands) or by quickly “writing” the letter “C” with your rod tip shortly before your fly lands on the surface.

If the current is moving from right to left, you’ll “write” a backwards “C.” If it’s moving from left, you’ll write a normal “C.” This gets the center of the line upstream from your fly.

Drag will not make your dry fly irresistible!

Dry Fly Irresistible

I came across a beautiful undercut bank and made a perfect cast. My dry fly was riding high a couple inches from the bank, and there was no drag. It was the perfect presentation, and then … nothing happened.

The lesson is that you can do everything perfectly and still fail to get a trout to rise. There are no guarantees when it comes to dry fly fishing. But using one or more of these tactics just might make your dry fly irresistible to that big rainbow around the next bend.

7 Replies to “Make Your Dry Fly Irresistible”

  1. It took me years before I realized that when casting drys I don’t want my leader to fully extend in a straight line when it “hits” the water. Small tippet and slack actually help with the drift and a natural presentation goes a long way. Just as a fish overlooks the big hook sticking out of the fly, I believe it also overlooks a leader if the drift of the fly doesn’t make the fish aware of the leader.

  2. Short leaders?
    I recently learned in CO last month that sometimes we need to change our leader. Mine had gotten short and I was lazy. Apparently my flyline was scaring the fish. I put on a full length leader and added a heathy tippet and ‘magic’ occurred, I started catching fish.
    I am new to fishing, so it took me a while to think of this, but maybe this helps someone.

    1. That is huge. So basic. But so often overlooked. Thank you for posting. That should be one of our points, maybe the first one!


    2. I’ve been guilty of this more often than not and I hate to say it but mostly because I’ve been too lazy to put on a new one

  3. Many thanks for your article, info and photos. I would be so happy to be able to sometime meet you and fish… Unfortunately, I´ll still be having to have the idea if possible as a plan for the future 🙂
    Last week though, I had arranged a small trip for a couple of my friends to fly fish Grayling up northern Sweden, to Görälven close to Stöten.
    Went earlier some years ago to Norway, Koppang with one friend to fish Grayling too, where we met some other fly fishing friends and the others attending an IFFA Fly fishing Conclave in Norway.
    However, this trip to Görälven is the second in three years with three fly anglers. It is not too far for a shorter trip (1200km).
    I had a very good fishing and my mates got fish too. The most interesting thing that happened to me was the almost albino like grayling on about 35+ cm. It made a good fight in the current and when I first got it in sight it looked greyish white, but when I released it above the sandy bottom I noticed that it had a very good camouflage color against the light yellowish-brown bottom. You hardly saw it if you did not know where to look, only when it slowly moved over some darkish weed on the bottom it was easy to spot. Eventually its habitat was the sandy parts of the venue where I fished. Unfortunately, I could not take a picture, nor my friend fishing close by. All other grayling was “normal”. Their “sails” had nice color. All but two were catch and release. I was blessed with many fish and still more takes and almost no longer pauses with no activity. I tried only a couple of flies during the days. “Super pupa”, and a variation of Gammarus also a sedge larva and CDC emergers.
    Next time I´ll go for short leader gold head nymphing all the way the Czech and Polish style like Jiri Klima… Hmm, well perhaps I´ll stick to the same approach as this year.
    The catches during a days fishing including meals, transfers etc were easily over 20 fish C&R to keep the figures low. However, I know some anglers struggled though, so there is naturally no guarantee. Similar variety like in Koppang in Norway and in many other venues I think, but with more fish there in the shoals if you found them. Anyway dries worked very well… Think CDC was the name of the game!
    But I would love to go back to both venues already next week if it was possible ?
    See you on the water perhaps.
    Harry Salmgren

    1. Thanks, Harry, for taking the time to share about your trip to northern Sweden! We enjoy hearing from fly fishers around the world. It’s fascinating to learn about different challenges and techniques. How cool to catch grayling and to share the experience with friends! We hope you can get back to both venues soon 🙂

  4. Once while fishing the Gallatin in the Park, my orange Elk Hair sank, and in disgust, I was about to yank it out of the water for drying and recast when a large mouth on a BIG Cut Throat came up and grabbed it. They ignored it floating, but loved it sunk.

    Many times I have tried matching the hatch on rising trout and was ignored, then changed to a #14 Royal Wulff–which looked absolutely nothing like the BWO hatch and bingo!

    Again, switching to a soft hackle or a Flymph on hard fished water works wonders at times.

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