Dry Fly Fishing

Dry fly fishing is one of the most exciting styles of fly fishing because you actually see the trout come up out of its hiding place to eat your fly. It can be one of the most exciting things to see when fishing—and what typically gets newcomers coming back again and again.


Welcome to the dry fly fishing segment of our beginner tutorials.  

So what is dry fly fishing?

Dry fly fishing is one of the most exciting styles of fly fishing because you actually see the trout come up out of its hiding place to eat your fly. It can be one of the most exciting things to see when fishing—and what typically gets newcomers coming back again and again. The reason it is called dry fly fishing is because your fly, in essence, stays “dry” as it floats on the surface. The flies in your Drifthook Emerger and Dropper Rig sets imitate the adult stage in a fly’s life cycle.

In this lesson, we will go over the basics of dry fly fishing and how you can utilize the techniques to land MONSTER TROUT.

So when is the best time to dry fly fish? By reviewing the bonus charts in the download section of our Members Portal, you can learn the best months for using particular flies. But also keep in mind that just because these flies are active during a certain month, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your flies will produce results every time.

Basically, the best time to dry fly fish is when you see fish rising to the surface to eat…or if you see a hatch coming off the water. But before we dig a little deeper into the timing of dry fly fishing, let’s discuss the fundamentals.

Let’s start with your rod setup.  

Successful dry fly fishing depends on what type of line you purchased with your rod; check to make sure it is a floating line. Don’t worry; most lines on the market are considered floating lines, and unless you specifically asked for sinking line for nymphing or still water fishing, you most likely have the right line for the job.

Next, you’ll want to use a 7- to 9-foot leader attached to the end of your line. I highly recommend a 100% fluorocarbon leader because it’s virtually invisible to trout when it’s on the water. But they are more expensive than traditional nylon leaders.  

Sometimes I also use nylon leaders and then, using a Triple Surgeon’s Knot, I add an additional 1 to 2 feet of tippet to the end of my line for the fly. (For a review of the Triple Surgeon’s Knot, head back to lesson 6.)

When opening up a new leader, you will notice that it is coiled at the end to keep it from unraveling. Take the end of the leader and unwrap it around the loop before slowly letting the pile unravel. (I made this mistake more than once, trying to just unravel it and ending up with a large tangled mess at my feet.)

There are two ways of getting your leader as straight as possible. One is by using tension. If you grab the leader in sections, pull it tightly, and hold for a couple of seconds, the tension will help straighten out the leader. Do this all the way down until you get to the end.

Another approach for straightening the leader is to use small piece of rubber, like a rubber band or a piece of old bike tire. Take your piece of rubber and, starting at the butt end, wrap it around the leader, pulling the button end through all the way down to the tapered end. You can pick up small patches of rubber that attach to your vest like the one used in this video:

Next, you will attach a single fly to end of your tippet or leader using the Improved Clinch Knot or the Non-Slip Loop Knot. After you have tied on your fly, give a little tug to make sure that your knot is good and the fly does not immediately break off. After your fly is on, make sure to debarb the hook by crimping the barbs down with your fishing pliers. This will make it easier to remove the fly after you have landed a MONSTER!

Today’s modern dry fly uses natural and synthetic materials to help keep the fly on the water surface. Even though these materials have improved to keep the fly on top of the water, the flies can, and will, still get wet and want to submerge. In this case I recommend using floatant or dry powder in addition to your fly to keep it on top of the water as long as possible.

I like to use a floatant on my fly and then run it up the leader about 2 to 3 feet to help keep the rig above water while fly fishing. So now that you have your rod set up and your fly attached, let’s discuss what to look for when searching for rising fish.

The best time for dry fly fishing is when you see a hatch, or flies, on the water. A hatch is when a large number of flies go from the nymph stage to the adult stage and take flight. During this time, trout are coming to the surface to feed on the flies that are landing on the water or diving on the water.

When you see a trout coming to the surface, it can tell you a lot about what type of fly it is eating. If you see fish coming to the surface but don’t see the opening of their mouths, and possibly see their backs, they are most likely chasing emergers. These are flies coming from the bottom to the surface.

But if you see trout rise with a ripple and bubbles, this typically means that fish are taking flies off the surface. Smaller, less experienced, trout might even jump out of the water to go after a big meal. The larger trout are a lot more stealth; you might barely see the tops of their heads before they dive back under.

Look for dark heads, or a little glimmer in the water, followed by large quantities of bubbles. These are going to be the larger trout that you will love to catch.
Now that we know how to spot our feeding friends, let’s discuss our cast and fly presentation.

Just like in the earlier lessons on casting, you will want to approach the fish from downriver. This will give you the best opportunity to present the fly without disturbing the fish. When you get more advanced at casting, you can work on casting across river and downriver, but starting out I recommend casting 3/4 upriver or directly upriver above the fish and letting the fly float down into the feeding zone.

Before you place your fly down on the water, do a few false casts. False casts are when you leave your line in the air casting forward and back in order to gauge distance, hone in on your target, or change directions.

Like the forward cast where we pause at the back, we do the same as we are heading forward. Cast back, pause, cast forward, pause, and continue. As you do this you can pull out more line or adjust the landing point of your fly.

How do we want the fly to hit the water? Think of your fly as though it’s traveling through the air like a ball flying towards its target, and then coming to a gentle stop at the end with a feather-like drop on the water. We are not trying to slap the water with our fly, but rather place it gently on the surface so as not to disturb the trout.

How do we do this?

Soft landings are best; the dry fly should land gently on the water surface just like a natural fly would, to induce the fish to rise and take the flies. At the end of your forward cast, release the line as if you were aiming at the horizon rather than at the water. This way your leader will straighten out before landing on the water, resulting in a soft landing for the fly and leader.

Think about stopping your rod’s forward movement at eye level and flattening out your cast to give a little more delicate presentation. This will give you a nice loop presentation with a landing softer than a feather for that MONSTER TROUT to devour.

Where do you want to cast the fly?

If you see a fish rising or feeding on the surface, you do not want to directly hit the spot where the fish just was. Because the current typically pushes a fish back slightly, he is actually now sitting in front of where the ripples occurred. Cast a few feet in front of the last rise and let your fly float into its view. Mend your line and get ready for the rise. We will go into more detail on what to do when that fish rises in later lessons. For now, practice searching for rising trout, your approach, your cast, and that feather-soft landing.

Sometimes your dry fly will start to sink, so what do you do?

Take a few fake casts to whip off any excess water and to dry out your dry fly. Drying it out will help keep it afloat. If this still does not help, reel it in and apply more floatant or dry powder.