I’ll freely admit my addiction to dry fly fishing. Fly fishing is visual—a reason for its appeal and intrigue. A question often asked of me is “where is your favorite place to fish?” My candid answer is “wherever I am fishing.” And, that is very true. However, being raised in the Gallatin Valley and spending countless hours casting to the Gallatin River’s rising trout, my answer usually rises to a fly directly in front of my face. I am thankful for a trout’s desire to eat off the surface, as any fly fisher should be. But catching trout on dry flies is never as easy as it looks. Here’s a little help.
Lead On. Choose the right leader for the situation. There are so many different situations in dry fly fishing—small mountain streams with fast water, large windy rivers, spring creeks. In flat water or on a spring creek I will use a 12-15 foot leader. For the Gallatin I use 9 foot leader. For dry fly fishing on a larger river I would never use anything shorter than a 9 foot leader. And spend some decent money on leaders. Folks will have a $600 rod, a $300 reel, but buy the cheaper leader on the rack.
Accessorize Yourself. Floatants, powders, and gels are a necessity. For most situations I use a liquid floating like Fly-Agra. When the dry fly gets slimed by the fish or the weeds, a drying powder helps a lot. Floatant and powders have come a long way since I began fishing and now require a little extra study. For little dries, especially CDC clies, I use a powder all the time.
Paralysis by Anaylsis. Do not over-think your fly selection. Choosing the right fly is important and a simple understanding is all that is required. On a spring creek it or a tailwater fly selection might be more crucial, but on most of our local waters, like the Yellowstone or Gallatin you just don’t know exactly what they are eating that day. Take for example an evening caddis hatch on the Gallatin. There are lots and lots of caddis on the water and if you don’t see YOUR fly you will miss a strike. Seeing your fly becomes the most important aspect in choosing a dry fly. One of the biggest selling dry flies is the Parachute Adams because the white post is easy to see.
Catch the Drift. It all starts with the drift of your fly on the surface. And around here we have a lot water causing there to be so many different techniques that people use. Many anglers start a drift that is already a failed drift. When that happens, re-cast, your drift will not get better. Many people make drifts that are too long. If they would just shorten the drift, especially on faster waters they will have more drifts and each drift will have a better chance. A general rule: the faster the water the shorter the drift. The slower the water the longer the drift.
As with many afflictions, my addiction to dry fly fishing doesn’t come easy. Dry fly anglers must commit time to hone their skills. But the rush of seeing a trout slurp in a well-presented dry fly is the reward for the persistence necessary to entice a trout to the surface.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and the forthcoming Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing* *but were afraid to ask. He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.