How to fish dry flies for trout on still waters

Fishing dry flies for trout on still waters is about as exciting as fly fishing gets. Here are the basics on what you need to know.

How to fish dry flies for trout on still waters
© Fly&Lure
How to fish dry flies for trout on still waters
Picture copyright © Fly&Lure
How to fish dry flies for trout on still waters
Fly fishing tips Estimated reading time 8 - 12 minutes

How important is presentation when fishing dry flies for trout?

Presentation and delicacy matters a lot when fishing dry flies for trout. Trout are easily spooked at the best of times, but when they're high in the water this is amplified, so splashy casts are to be avoided. Longer leaders, lighter line weights and gentle tapers coupled with delicate, careful casting are what's needed for best results.

What sort of rod is best for dry flies for trout on still waters?

A lighter set up, such as a 6wt or smaller is preferable on still waters, but a 5wt or 4wt is also fine and often preferable, especially when distance isn't a requirement. A 9-10 foot rod with a middle to tip action is fine. It needs to be soft enough to cushion any takes from larger fish on light tippet but also have the backbone to cast a long leader and handle a bigger fish.

Dry flies come in all shapes and sizes to match a wide range of terrestrial or aquatic insects.

What sort of fly line for dry fly fishing?

Most floating lines will suffice, as long as they float high on the water and have a slick coating that lets you lift off quickly and cast towards rising trout.

I normally use a standard weight forward (WF) taper, but if you're going to be doing a lot of dry fly fishing and want to buy a more specialist line you may find a double taper line a bit better.

These have a gentler taper and allow for fast and delicate presentation to rising trout, without the risk of spooking them that you can get with a potentially splashier weight forward line, if your casting is less than perfect.

What type of leader should I use when fishing dry flies for trout?

I favour a tapered leader, using just a standard monofilament or copolymer one, about 10-12 feet long. I'll generally add a length of tippet to the end of this, usually made from a lighter length of copolymer. I normally use a leader of 7-5lb, plus a tippet of 4-5lb. Copolymer is thin and light and sits on top of the water (unlike most fluorocarbon), so you may wish to sink it on the length nearest your fly.

Is it worth using fluorocarbon when fishing dry flies?

Yes, sometimes. If the fish are being particularly wary and you're getting refusals, you might find that switching to fluorocarbon increases the number of takes you get. Some people aren't so keen on fluorocarbon though, believing that it it cuts into the water too much on the cast and sometimes is too heavy for the flies. I've never had that problem, though.

Can I use a knotted leader instead of a knotless leader?

Of course, there's no requirement to use a tapered leader but I think they improve presentation a bit. They seem to help the fly turnover at the end of the cast much more smoothly, which reduces splashing.

CDC dry flies are especially buoyant until they get slimed...

Should I fish one dry fly or several?

I normally fish just the one, but it's common for people to fish two or three. When fishing more than one fly you'll want to extend the length of your leader by a few feet and place your other dries on droppers of 20-25cm a good four feet minimum apart.

How should I cast dry flies for trout?

If you can control the size of your loop, try to make it relatively large - say a metre or so in size. A wider loop like this can help reduce tangles when you're using a longer leader and is likely to be essential if you've got droppers, too.

How can I prevent my dry flies from sinking?

How you prevent your dry fly from sinking partly depends on what it's made from. There are various floatants on the market but some work with certain materials better than others.

For most dry flies, a silicone gel such as Gink will do the trick. Just squeeze out a tiny smear and rub it onto your dry fly, it should stay afloat for several casts but will need replenishing every so often and the fly may need replacing with a dry one if you catch a fish.

For CDC dry flies you'll probably find a powdered floatant such as Frog's Fanny will be better. You may also want to buy an amadou pad too. Amadou is a natural fungus that feels soft and spongy. By pressing a CDC fly in two sides of amadou you can squeeze out most of the moisture to help you get the fly to float again.

Using a desiccant can dry out wet flies and keep them afloat longer.

Why do I miss so many takes when fishing dry flies for trout?

There are probably a number of reasons for this, and if I knew them all my catch rate would be a lot higher! Firstly, I think rising trout sometimes just miss the fly. That could be because they misjudged its position or it could be because they realised something wasn't quite right and then turned away at the last minute. Some have suggested that trout also rise alongside surface insects and splash next to them to sink the insect so they can take it after it's submerged.

For me, it just feels that I miss most of them because my reactions are too slow or too fast. However, being able to see the takes and the ones you miss is all part of what makes fishing dry flies for trout so exciting and addictive, so missing them is all part of the experience. That's what I tell myself, anyway. 

When should I strike when fishing dry flies?

I'm still working this out! I think the timing is the important bit. If you strike too soon you risk pulling the fly straight out of the trout's mouth. If you wait too long you risk it realising it's not actually a tasty insect and spitting it out. I try to lift the rod as soon as I spot the rise in order to ensure there's no slack line and that the trout should hook itself as it moves off.

Part of it probably depends on the speed at which they take your fly, though. If they come in and smash it they're probably going to need a quicker strike than those who sip the fly back more slowly, who get a longer chance to spit it back out.

Should I fish dry flies static or pull them?

That probably depends on the day and the fly you're fishing. In flat calm situations when there's little surface movement, a very delicate presentation, fine tackle and a static fly often work best. If you attempt to pull a fly in these situations it will make a visible drag or bow wave on the water surface that will tell most resident trout that something is not quite right.

However, if it's still flat calm but there are lots of flies on the surface and plenty of rises, the odd little tug might be what it takes to get the trout to notice your fly among the rest of those littering the surface. You're unlike to be able to make it look like a fly skating across the top, so a little tweak every so often is better than a long pull in most cases.

When it's windy or there's a bit of ripple, then adding a bit of movement to your dry flies often works better than just leaving them static. Try a variety of retrieves, from static to tweaks to slowly figure-of-eight retrieving the fly back to shore.

Use Fuller's Earth to take the shine off your leader.

Should I cast to a rising trout or wait for the fish to find it?

Both works, but most fly fishers find it hard to resist repositioning their fly and casting towards a rising fish, as that can often increase your chances, so long as you don't spook them. If you're casting to rising fish then you'll probably find your presentation is best if you just use a single fly, instead of a team.

When casting to a rising trout the first thing you need to do, or guess, is the direction in which the fish is facing or swimming. The field of vision of a trout is in the form of a cone extending from the front of the head. If you cast outside that field of vision, the trout won't spot your fly.

You stand a better chance of landing the fly in their line of sight if you aim a few feet away from the fish, rather than attempting to land the fly right on its nose. Then simply recast as smoothly as you can, land the fly in front of the trout and wait to see if it rushes up to grab the fly.

Where should I fish?

If you're fishing dry flies, the obvious thing to do is just fish where the fish are rising most. If you can't see any fish rising, your best chances will typically come from the areas where terrestrial insects are most likely to be blown onto the shore. You want to find a spot where the breeze is blowing insects out of the bushes and bank-side vegetation and onto the water. The trout will often congregate here and wait for the insects to land on the surface.

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