Surface Techniques

Dry-fly fishing is by far the most popular method of fly fishing because it is nearly 100 percent visual. The fly fisherman watches the fly on the water's surface and sees the fish eat it. It's an exhilarating - and entertaining

Fly Fishing Techniques

The surface-floating dry fly represents an insect (or in the case of popping bugs for bass, a frog or other surface-swimming creature). Although dry-fly fishing is challenging, it is simpler than wet-fly (subsurface) fishing. Once the fly is on the water, dry-fly fishing is a two-dimensional game compared to wet-fly fishing, which is three-dimensional. But wet-fly fishing does not require the degree of casting skill that dry-fly fishing requires, so many people take up the wet fly first.

Dry-fly fishermen use the same basic technique to fish a dry fly whether or not fish are rising. In both cases, the fisherman casts to a specific target - the rising fish or a spot in the water where a fish might lie. If no fish are rising, the fisherman must read the water to determine from its speed, depth and general character where the fish are located. In other words, he fishes not to rising fish but to spots where the fish should be.

The Reach Cast

One of the special casts you need to eliminate drag is the reach fly cast, which you make like a normal forward cast, but after the fly rod has stopped, while the line is still traveling, you extend your rod-arm to the side of your body. When the fly cast is complete, the fly should land at the target and the line should lie on the water, angling across current from your fly rod tip to the fly. By moving the rod to either side of your body, you can angle the fly line across the current whether the current runs from left to right or right to left. This cast demonstrates a basic principle of fly casting: After the power has been applied to the forward cast, you can't change where the fly will go, but you can change the position of the line between you and the fly. Think of it as making a normal cast and then using the rod to lay the line on the water out to the side of your body.

When you are upstream and across from a fish, make a reach cast that finishes with the arm and fly rod extended to the upstream side of your body. Then, as the fly drifts downstream, move your arm and fly rod downstream at the same speed that the fly floats downstream. Your reach allows the fly to drift drag-free, because everything - fly, line and rod - move downstream together.

You can obtain a drag-free drift of 20 feet or more with this method. The drift starts with the fly rod tip 11 to 12 feet upstream of your body (rod length plus arm length), and ends when the fly rod tip is the same distance downstream of your body. Of course it's imperative that the fly floats over the fish during the drift.

Parachute Cast

A variation of the reach cast, called a parachute cast or parachute mend, can help induce slack in the leader and prevent drag. To execute the parachute cast, make a forward cast aimed slightly higher than normal, and wait for the fly line to straighten over the water. When the fly line straightens, smoothly move the fly rod tip up and back toward you before the fly line settles to the water. The parachute mend is essentially a reach cast made back toward your body, rather than to one side. I use the mend when I'm directly upstream of the fish and fly casting downstream.

The downstream dry-fly method is especially useful for fishing adult caddisfly imitations. Caddis often skitter and twitch on the water's surface and this method allows you to manipulate the fly by tightening the line briefly to imitate the movement of the natural.

Unfortunately, when you use the downstream method, it's sometimes difficult to set the hook when the fish takes. The striking motion can pull the fly out of the fish's mouth. Wait until the fish takes the fly and turns down before you set the hook. The technique requires restraint.

How to Dry-Fly Fish

The basic dry-fly procedure goes something like this:

  1. Use the right tackle. Dry-fly fishing is usually done best with fly lines of 6-weight and lighter. These lines land gently and reduce the chance of frightening fish, and rods designed to cast them have softer tips than rods designed for heavier lines. The softer tips cushion the lift on the fine fly tippets you use when fishing small dry flies. (Casting large hair bugs for bass requires an 8-weight outfit.)
  2. Select an appropriate fly. If fish are rising, you must determine what they are eating. Put your nose down near the water, take a good look, and try to catch a sample of the insect or insects floating on the surface. A small aquarium net makes it easy. Choose a fly from your box that is similar in size, shape, and color (in that order) and tie it on your fly leader or fly tippet.
  3. Pick a target (a surface-feeding fish). Remember that obstructions in the stream can cause the currents to swirl and change direction. The fish face into these swirling currents, which are not necessarily from upstream. In this situation, cast so the fly lands where it can float toward the fish's head first. Wind can also blow a fly into the fish's view.
  4. Deliver the fly to the target, or if you are on a stream to a spot a few feet upstream (or upcurrent) of the target.
  5. Allow the fly to float over the target, with the fly behaving like a natural insect (dead-drift or slightly twitching). The fly should act like a natural insect once it is on the water. This usually means that it should free-drift downstream with the current as if unattached to a fly leader. Because your fly is attached to a leader, the current acting on the line makes the fly skate unnaturally across the water creating "drag." Dry-fly fishermen spend most of their time trying to eliminate drag.

Content courtesy of Fly Fisherman Magazine