The Truth About Dry-Fly Fishing

To some of us, the sport is really quite simple.

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Field & Stream Online Editors

Behold the dry-fly purist, with his form-fitting neoprene waders, bulging vest, expensive graphite rod, and fancy English reel. He speaks Latin fluently and spends more time studying insects than casting to trout.

He’ll be happy to bore you with the hoary traditions of dry-fly fishing, its ancient and honored roots in England where it all began about 200 years ago, where they’re called anglers, not fishermen, and where his counterparts still fish by the strict rules of the river: upstream dry flies only-and only to rising trout-the sporting way.

The purist insists he doesn’t care about actually catching trout. He’s above all that. He’d rather get skunked than demean himself by using anything but a dry fly.

Well, at the risk of getting booted out of the Fellowship of Purists, I’ll let you in on our secret: We dry-fly snobs like to catch fish as much as you do. Sportsmanship, tradition, artfulness, and aesthetic values have nothing to do with it. We happen to know that dry-fly fishing is the easiest way to catch trout. That’s why we like it.

Sure, there are times early in the season when trout sulk on the bottom of the stream. If they eat anything, it’s a worm or a flashy spinner or a weighted nymph, fished deep and slow. But trout are mainly insect eaters. They’re most vulnerable when they’re gorging on bugs at the surface, as they do at least part of virtually every day of the season. At those times, anybody with modest skill and a dry fly that even vaguely resembles the insect the trout are eating can catch them easily. Consider these factors:

1 Surface-feeding trout betray themselves and their precise locations. We dry-fly fishermen know when we’re casting to a hungry trout. This knowledge gives us the confidence, patience, and persistence to concentrate on our goal: to catch that trout.

2 We know that when trout are at the surface, their range of vision is limited. Because we can locate our targets, we can stalk them. By approaching these fish from downstream and getting close to them, we are able to make short, accurate casts without spooking them.

**3 When trout are feeding off the surface, **there’s little guesswork to selecting the right fly. We can see what they’re eating simply by observing what floats past our waders. We don’t need any Latin to choose an imitation; we know that a general approximation is usually close enough.

4 We can see how our line, leader, and fly drift on the water, so our mistakes are visible. If the fly fails to pass directly over the fish, our cast was inaccurate. If it drags unnaturally across the surface, that tells us why he didn’t eat it. Whatever we did wrong, we can correct.

5 We can tell how the trout responds to our fly. If he sticks up his nose and sucks it in, we lift our rod, set the hook, and bring him in. If he refuses a fly that floats directly over him without drag a few times, we know we must change flies or change tactics.

6 Even when trout aren’t actively rising, they’re often eager to take dry flies. Drifting a big white-winged floater through riffles and pocket water is about as easy as trout fishing gets.