Here along the Front Range and throughout Colorado, summer is the time to enjoy great dry fly fishing. Whether is a subtle sip from a rainbow working a riffle or a hopper-crushing splash from a brown trout against a cut bank, there’s something about the visual nature of a dry fly take that’s just out of this world.
As you think about those surface strikes and hitting the water this summer, here are 4 dry fly tactics you might want to try:
1. Double Dries
If one dry fly is good, why not fish two? Really though, the double dry-fly tactic is one you should keep in your arsenal. Take it from Anglers All media manager, Davis James:
“A double dry-fly can be wildly effective for finicky trout or when more than one hatch is happening at the same time,” Davis explained. “During our peak summer fishing months, it’s not uncommon to see a buffet of dries hatching. Fishing two dry flies in tandem is a good technique for increasing your odds.
“Another practical reason to fish double dries, is if you are having trouble locating a single surface dry fly,” Davis added. “Simply tie on an additional bug that is visible so that when a fish takes the more subtle fly you will see the higher-vis fly dodge and dart similar to an indicator.”
Davis noted that when you’re rigging up double dry flies, not to tie them too far apart.
“If tied too far apart on your leader they can begin to seek opposing currents and work against one another,” he explained. “If this happens, re-rig your flies from 18 to 20 inches apart to around 12 to 16 inches apart. This will keep both dries in the same current and let them float drag free to the intended target area.
“On the other hand, there are situations when rigging tandem flies too close together will cause refusals,” Davis noted. “When that’s the case, you may need to go the other direction and increase the distance between the two flies. Pay close attention to the surface feeding trout and make adjustments as necessary.”
If you’ve been fishing long, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the dry-dropper rig. But pull up a chair as our own Larkin Wilson takes us to school on this tried and true dry fly tactic:
“Out of all the possible rigs you could tie onto the end of your tippet, the dry-dropper setup is easily my favorite,” Larkin told us. “Also called a hopper-dropper, the dry-dropper rig consists simply of a dry fly connected to a nymph with a short piece of tippet. By fishing a dry fly and a nymph at the same time, you gain the ability to cover different stages of an insect hatch simultaneously.
“For example - let’s say you’re fishing the salmonfly hatch on the Colorado River,” Larkin continued. “You’re seeing rising trout here and there, but the majority of the feeding activity is taking place below the surface. Instead of focusing exclusively on the adult salmonflies on the surface, or only on the sub-adults tumbling downstream, you can imitate both stages in the life cycle with one setup; two birds, one stone, if you will.”
Here’s Larkin’s recipe for an effective dry-dropper rig:
#1. Choose your flies - Pattern selection is entirely contingent on the water you’re fishing and the time of year you’re fishing it. If you’re on the South Platte on a cold day in January, the dry fly may be a small adult midge connected to tiny baetis nymph. But if you’re on the upper Arkansas on a balmy summer day, the dry fly will probably be something more like an Elk Hair Caddis, attached to an emerging caddis nymph like a Holy Grail. In addition to trying to match the hatch, you can also go with dry and dropper attractor patterns to grab the attention of resident trout.
#2. Rig it up - Tie a section of nylon tippet to the end of your leader that’s sized to match the size of the dry fly. After tying on the dry, attach a piece of fluorocarbon tippet to the bend of the dry fly’s hook. The length of the tippet will vary based on the water you’re fishing, so it’s best to start with 12 to 24 inches of fluoro and keep adjusting until you find that sweet spot where fish are feeding. On the other end of your tippet, tie on your nymph. For anything bigger than a #16, I like to use a standard clinch knot. But if that dropper is an #18 or smaller, I like to use a non-slip loop knot to maximize the pattern’s range of motion as it tumbles through the water column.
#3. Pick your spots - When fishing dry-dropper rigs on creeks and rivers, you’re going to have the best luck targeting the banks and riffles during warm months. Trout near the banks are readily waiting for terrestrials like grasshoppers, ants and beetles to fall into the water. During the hottest parts of the day, trout will push into the riffles, where having a heavy dropper that will sink quickly is important. In colder weather, target slow-moving pools. A perfect, drag-free drift is vital when fishing these pools, as trout will have time to slowly rise and investigate your flies before making a decision to eat.
When fishing dry-dropper rigs on lakes and ponds, it’s a different game. The trout will concentrate around structure to avoid being picked off by aerial predators. They will also use overhanging trees for protection and to forage for falling insects. That said, there are no strict rules. Trout will cruise the shallows in inches of water, but they’ll also eat dry flies out in the middle of a deep lake - and everything in between. Allocate time to spreading your casts around and experimenting with depth.
#4. Test and Learn - Just like with any other fly fishing tactic, fishing dry-dropper rigs is a ‘test and learn’ process. Meaning, simply, the best way to master it is by doing it. Experiment with depths, drifts, fly selections, tippet sizes, lengths, and weights until you find what works best in each situation. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but instead there are thousands of solutions that you can adapt to make it work for you.
3. Swinging Dries
You swing streamers. You swing soft hackles. What about dry flies? Anglers All Ecommerce Manager, Blake Katchur, explains why you should.
“One of my favorite ways to fish a dry, especially a caddis, is on the swing,” Blake says. “Certain rivers like the Arkansas and Gunnison are home to fish that love eating a swung fly. I will rig up a single or sometimes double dry flies with 18 to 24 inches of tippet in between”. Blake adds. “Its important to note, your second fly should be smaller and tied to you first fly with smaller diameter tippet. This insures you won’t lose both flies if you break off. While caddis dries are some of my favorite to swing, trying this tactic with yellow sallys, salmon flies and crane flies work really well too.
In the first cast, I’ll aim to make a perfect dry fly drift, because who doesn’t love a dry fly eat!” Blake continued. “If no action occurs on the dead drift, let the dry continue downstream instead of recasting immediately. This is when the magic happens! As your line goes tight, the fly or flies will start to swing downstream and across the current. Depending on the dry (and your level of floatant used), the fly will skitter on the surface or sometimes your dry will submerge just under the surface. Either works!”
According to Blake, pay attention to subtleties in the strike. Keep your fly dangling in the current and resist setting the hook until you get a full commitment from the trout.
“Watch and feel for a bump on the swing, especially when the fly settles directly downstream and is dangling in the current,” he explained. “Resist the temptation to set the hook on the first bump. Trout will often hit it a few times before fully committing. The hits can be viscous and aerial. It is a blast!”
Finally, Blake added one important tip to keep in mind:
“Hold 4 or 5 inches of fly line loose between your hand and your reel,” he added. “This way, when the fish eats, it has room to turn downstream to securely hook itself, and not break you off.”
4. Single Dry Fly
Seems obvious, right? But there are certainly times when a single dry fly is a great choice. On many of our favorite Colorado tailwaters, compound nymph rigs are the norm. So there’s something freeing and refreshing about fishing a single dry fly.
There are three specific situations when I like fishing just a single dry fly over a tandem rig. The first is when trout are keyed in on a specific bug. Second, I like fishing a single dry to spooky fish, when the most delicate possible presentation is required. And finally, I’ll often turn to a single dry when I’m casting to trout on small creeks, in pocket water or under overhanging brush.
In those situations that require hitting an extremely small target, a single dry can hit the mark. When you spot a fish rising in a tiny little pocket, don’t be afraid to zip a single dry in there. Even if you can get a 2-second drift, sometimes that’s all you need!
When fishing single dries, I often start with a 9-foot nylon leader that’s appropriate for the size flies I’ll be using. To the end of that leader, I’ll add 12 to 16 inches of tippet and then the dry fly. That allows me to change flies without shortening my leader. In situations with clear water and spooky trout, it’s advantage to maintain that long leader length. However, when fishing a particularly small creek, that 9-foot leader can be too much. If that’s the case, start with a 7.5-foot leader and then add your tippet.
A Word About Floatants
If you’re fishing with dry flies, you need to keep them afloat. In many cases, a high-riding dry fly gets more action. If you ask around the fly shop, you’ll find that we each have our favorite floatants. There’s a time and place for gels, powders and liquid floatants. If you need advice, stop by the shop or give us a call at 303-794-1104 and we’d be glad to help.
It’s time to load your box with dries, fill your pockets with floatant, and go find some rising fish!