If you think watching a small trout take a dry fly is cool, wait until you see a 15-pound steelhead or silver salmon clock your bug on the surface. But even in ideal conditions, coaxing these fish to the top with a dry fly is a long shot that requires luck and a big leap of faith. A better option is the riffle hitch, a simple knot you can tie—and untie—that makes most streamer and classic wet flies wake along the surface. All that’s required is a couple of well-placed loops in your tippet. The knot turns the profile of the fly perpendicular to the current, which creates greater surface tension. That lifts the fly and causes it to skate on the surface, making the bug really stand out, especially in choppy water.
Illustration by May Van Millingen
How to Tie the Knot
Tie the fly on the tippet like normal using your favorite knot. Mine’s the improved clinch. Next, make an overhand loop in the tippet, 2 inches in front of the hook eye.
Slide the loop onto the fly and cinch it down. You want this half hitch to be situated on the first third of the fly, closer to the head.
Cinch a second loop onto the fly forward of the first hitch.
Be sure to adjust your second hitch so that when you cast to the far bank, the tippet extends from the side of the fly that’s facing you. You always want the fly to swing downstream headfirst, so when changing banks, loosen the hitch and retighten it on the other side of the head. Tied properly, the riffle hitch will cause the fly to ride head up and tail down.