Dry Fly Fishing Perfection!

Welcome to the advanced series of our Dry Fly Presentations. During this lesson, we cover dry fly rig setups, dry fly casting, spotting for large trout dry fly fishing, and a few helpful tips to get you landing trout on a dry fly. Let's dive in. We’ll first discuss our dry fly setup. As mentioned in earlier presentations, we will at most times be fishing a two-fly setup with our larger fly at the top and a smaller presentation at the point.


Hello everyone,

Welcome to the advanced series of our Dry Fly Presentations. During this lesson, we cover dry fly rig setups, dry fly casting, spotting for large trout dry fly fishing, and a few helpful tips to get you landing trout on a dry fly. Let's dive in. We’ll first discuss our dry fly setup. As mentioned in earlier presentations, we will at most times be fishing a two-fly setup with our larger fly at the top and a smaller presentation at the point.

As you become more comfortable with casting, we recommend increasing your leader length when dry fly fishing. You might remember that we previously advised an 8ft leader with 3ft of tippet. Now that you are more advanced, we recommend a 12ft 4x or 5x monofilament leader with an additional 2 feet of equal diameter tippet to the end. As you start to track down larger trout, these bad boys are genuinely in tune with their surroundings, and their lateral lines are going to pick up on any sound that is not familiar to them in their environment. And your thicker fly line landing on the water is one of these sounds that will deter them from chasing down your fly.

So having that additional leader and tippet will help with dampening the noise of your line but will also give you more reach when it comes to casting to them.

Now that we have our initial fly rig set up, you might be asking, what fly should you use? If you haven't had a chance to review the intermediate lesson 7, please pause this video and watch it now. In that lesson, we go into detail about which fly combinations to use throughout the year.

In our earlier lessons, we discussed how to track down large trout. We will add a few more things you can do to help you spot larger trout in this lesson specific to dry fly fishing.

When I'm scouting for large trout, I will look in the typical areas, but I will also look for woody debris, for deep drop-offs where the current slows down, and along the edges of undercut banks. Specifically, I will be looking for any movement, slow-moving shoulders or fins, and especially the very subtle head lifts. The larger trout are not going to be jumping out of the water. They will poke their noses out just enough to let the water inhale into their mouths to take the fly. Some of the larger males will have big wagging tails that are a dead giveaway when searching in the water.

Spotting trout is an art. It takes time. But before you cast your first fly, make sure that you’re not blind casting. Take a moment to review the water and see where the trout are feeding. As soon as you have found a suitable target, take a moment to plan out how you will approach that rising fish. And always remember that you should be looking right in front of you before diving into the water. As you fish, you’ll find that some of the biggest fish you could have caught you accidentally spooked because you were concentrating on a fish on the other side of the water.

The best route is going to be from behind in their blind spot, but sometimes you don't have that option, and you will need to cast downstream. In this next section, we will go over dry fly casting to upstream, downstream, and cruising trout for optimal success.

Dry fly casting upstream

So we have prepped our rig with the 14ft leader, and we have our two-fly presentation ready for casting. Before we cast, I'm going to take a moment to review the water. As you can see here, we have found a pod of rising fish just along the bank, and we are going to target this group.

We have walked upstream to be in their blind spot. This keeps the natural wake of our bodies from disturbing the water surface, which also causes a red flag to prospect fish. We will get ourselves into a 45-degree upstream cast, as this will keep the fly line out of the viewing angle of the fish the longest and allow us to extend our drift down through the feeding zone and across. This will keep the fly line and leader out of the viewing portal the longest.

Before we cast, we are going to want to pull out enough line to read our target. I like to cast within 30 feet for optimal success. You have to be extremely efficient with line control if you plan on casting out longer than that. I'm not saying it isn't possible, but you will have more success the closer you can get to the trout. The more line that is on the water, the more significant chance you have of not mending or bringing in excess slack, and when that fish does rise, it is going to be harder to raise the rod and line out of the water to make an efficient hook set.

As soon as I have the line out of the rod, I do not cast over the trout, as this will send them down to the bottom. Make your false casts to the side of where they are rising, and when you have enough line out, you can send your cast to your target.
When you have your distance, cast 3 to 4 feet above the last spot that you noticed a rise. This might sound like overkill, but when a fish comes up to the surface, the water pushes them back as they come up. As soon as they go back down, they will swim back up to their holding spot before the next rise.

If the water is shallower, you can shorten this distance, but a good starting point is 3 to 4 feet.

The idea is to make the cast as soft as possible when it hits the water. This takes practice, but an easy way to adjust and learn is to imagine that you are landing the tail end of that loop 2 feet above the water. This will make your casts float to the surface versus pile driving and making a large splash on the water. The extended leader will also help with this.

We also want to make sure that our flies are in a dead drift presentation. This is the NO-WAKE zone of fly fishing. We want these flies to be moving at the same pace as the upper water current. A good way of gauging this is to look at the bubbles or other floating degrees. If it is moving at the same pace, then you are golden.

Now that you have placed your fly in the optimal feeding zone, hold on tight. Look at your lead fly as that will be the easiest to pick up on the water, but the second you see any movement (a swirl, a rise) within a foot of your fly, set the hook. They could be going for one of the two that you sent out there. Most of the time, you will be catching trout on the point fly versus the larger indicator fly.

What if you don't get a hit on the first cast?

Let your fly come down the feeding lane, making sure that you are mending and pulling in slack as it comes. As soon as you make the turn, let your fly swing at the end. A lot of trout will get triggered by this movement as a fly coming up as an emerges and will take it on the swing.

I typically like to swing until it gets tight and then does a few handing rolls upstream. I have caught many of trough by letting the fly sink under the water and then I slowly bring it back to me with a hand retrieve. If you do not get a take, continue the process.

After your fly has been soaked a few times, you might need to air-dry it out, so it sits flat on the surface. This can be accomplished by doing three or four false casts to whip off the fly's excess water.

We talked earlier about refusals, but this is an excellent time to bring it up again. If a trout comes up to your fly and doesn't take it, it means that you have the right pattern on, but you might have the wrong color. Try casting again, and if you have the same results, find a different shade of that pattern in your fly box. If you have the same results, try an emerger pattern in the same family. The trout might be feeding on emerging patterns versus the adult pattern at that time.

So once you’ve mastered the upstream cast? You might ask yourself, what if I see them rising below me or if I'm casting in front of me off a drift boat?

Dry Fly Casting Downstream

When downstream fly fishing, you are going to want to do the opposite of upstream dry fly fishing. You are going to want more line out with a good amount of slack so the fly can dead drift into the presentation without disturbing the fish. If your line is too tight when it lands, it will automatically create a wake and will either spook the trout away or not even get looked at in the first place.

So how do we cast with slack? It almost sounds counterintuitive.

There are several ways that we can give slack in our cast to have the optimal amount of line out to give a beautiful downstream presentation. The first and the easiest to learn is by stopping your cast high, and as the loop comes around and the fly is parallel with the water surface, start dropping your line. This action makes your fly land shorter than a full extension of the cast, and as you lower your rod tip down, you are giving more line to the presentation.

The second is to pull out an additional line and have it at your feet. When you finish your cast, give the rod tip a few left to right wiggles while holding loosely on your trigger finger. By doing this, you will feed line out the tip of your rod to extend the presentation.

I also like to combine the two if I want to extend my drift or completely mess up the initial cast. I'll start with my cast and then give additional line needed to reach my target zone.

So what is your Target Zone?

When downstream casting, we will want it to land about 12 to 24 inches from the last rise. If you cast 6 to 10 feet above, you will not have enough slack in the presentation to get it to the feeding zone before it goes tight.

You can always be cautious and start on the perimeter of the feeding zone and work your way in. Just make sure not to overshoot your target because then you will have spooked them entirely with your line and leader.

So how do you set the hook on a downstream presentation?

The hardest part about downstream dry fly fishing is setting the hook. If you do the typical rod tip to the sky, hook set, you're most likely going to be pulling the hook straight out of the fish's mouth. So when downstream fly fishing, you have to be a little more patient. Let them take the fly and then head to the bottom. Pause in your mind enough to think you have waited too long and then instead of the typical up straight up pickup set the hook by swinging the rod downstream, low and parallel to the water. This will help remove the slack from the line using the tension on the water and set the hook. After the hook is set, you can then go back to your traditional rod tip high and recalling in additional line to bring that fish home.

One thing to also think about if you land a trout of a lifetime is that you will have to play some foot racing to catch up to him. It is most likely going to go every direction you don't want, so be ready to head downstream with him if he takes off that direction.

Casting to Cruising Trout - Searching Trout that Are Feeding

You will typically find cruising trout in lakes and deep eddies where they are moving in and out of cover to feeding zones. At times you will find schools of trout in a particular holding lie making their move to feed. Don't get overexcited when you approach these types of scenarios.

Before you take one step into the water to approach these targets, take a good look at the rising trout's feeding routine. Are they feeding in a particular lane, or are they randomly coming up? Most of the time, they will be in the holding zone and then move to the feeding zone to rise.

Find the feeding zone and then work out your strategy. Do you want to take the next cast, or is the water clear enough to spot the largest trout in this pod and time his feeding routine?

Whatever you decide to do, start by working the outer perimeter. If you throw your fly directly into the thick, you might catch one fish, but you are going to spook the rest away from eating for the next hour. By starting on the outside feeding zone, you can pull multiple fish out of the same feeding zone.

Time your cast, and if you see your target coming up after it makes the turn-on tail end of the pool, wait until it makes the turn at the pool.

This is a fascinating yet frustrating type of dry fly fishing, as it comes down to timing and presentation.

Additional Tips for Dry Fly Fishing

1. The Hour of Power
The hour of power is the first hour of sunlight and the last. At these times, dry fly fishing can be phenomenal. During the warmer months of the year, you will have hatches at both times of the day. The way the light comes across the water gives the fly fisher an extra bit of cover from being seen from trout. Also, at this time, the larger trout start moving out of deep holes into the shallower waters to feed. This is a fantastic time to dry fly fish. I always have a fly rod rigged up for these two times of the day. But also be cautious. You will have a night when you will be fishing to the point where you can't see your fly, and if you are not prepared for night fishing, this can be dangerous to you and the trout. So play it safe and also remember to protect the fish that we spend all this time hunting.

2. Different Casting Techniques
You will get into situations where you don't have the proper angle to make the perfect cast. This is where you might need to cast with your opposite arm or cast over the opposite shoulder to get the fly in the area that you want. Take time to practice these types of casts when you are out on the water. They are great to have in your arsenal.

3. Dry Droppers
We will go into additional techniques in the next lesson, but make sure to always have nymph patterns with you when you are dry fly fishing. The dry dropper can be a very successful technique throughout the year.