Improving Your Dry Fly Vision

It always amazes me how many people can’t see their fly.” Craig Matthews, veteran fly fisher in West Yellowstone, Montana, made this observation a few years ago when asked about common mistakes fly fishers make. “I’m really surprised at how few people can see their fly or see rising fish,” he said.

So what can you to do improve your dry fly fishing vision? Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the years.

1. Concentrate

Yeah, yeah, this seems too obvious to mention for improving your dry fly vision. But it’s critical. And easily overlooked.

Without a laser-like focus on your dry fly, you simply won’t see it. You’ll be surprised how concentration will improve your dry fly vision. So develop a habit of zeroing in on your dry fly.

2. Wear polaroid sunglasses

Polaroid sunglasses reduce glare on the surface of the river or stream. I wear them even on cloudy days and in the low light towards the end of the day. Even a cheap pair works fine.

3. Use flies with white in them

This may be the most helpful tip I can offer to improve your dry fly vision.

The white post on a size #20 Parachute Adams makes this fly easier to see (at least for me) than a bushy size #14 Humpy. For an attractor pattern, I like a Royal Wulff or an H & L Variant because the wing material is white tufts of calf hair or synthetic material. Even with big hopper patterns, I prefer those with a white parachute. For flies that lack white on top, go light. An Elk Hair Caddis with lighter hair on top is easier to see than one with darker hair.

4. Make shorter casts

This is, perhaps, another no brainer. Yet it really helps. It’s easier to spot a dry fly fifteen feet away than thirty feet away from you. So if you’re having trouble seeing your dry fly, move in closer to the run you’re fishing.

5. Use a strike indicator

For tiny, almost invisible dry flies, consider using a strike indicator. This may be a larger dry fly. Try a size #12 or #14 Parachute Adams as a lead fly, and then drop your size #20 Pale Morning Dun or Blue-Winged Olive imitation off of it. Keep your eye on the larger fly. When it dives into the water, set your hook! I have even used thin foam strike indicators—the kind with sticky backing. I simply roll a small piece around my leader, a few inches above my fly. Fluorescent yellow seems to be more visible to me than fluorescent orange.

Seeing is retrieving. If you can’t see your dry fly, you can’t see when to set the hook—that moment when a trout sips it or attacks it. So do whatever it takes to keep your eyes on the trout’s target.