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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.