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When neophyte anglers think about “fly fishing“, the image of the lure they usually have in mind is a small dry fly softly dancing upon the water’s surface. Dry flies are designed to imitate mature, hatched insects that have either floated to the surface or have landed upon it. In either case, the dry fly is presented to the fish on the surface of the water where it presumably stays “dry“. Hence the term “dry” fly.
Fly fishing tips: Dry flies and hackle
The hackle on a dry fly is commonly made from the neck feathers of a roaster. They are tied and spread around the head or tail section of the fly to imitate the legs of an insect. The hackle feathers also help to keep the dry fly afloat. Some dry fly patterns are constructed with very delicate hackles, sparsely tied to the bottom. These are best fished in clear water conditions where the trout can closely scrutinize the lure. Dry flies with bulkier, more prominent hackle feathers can be fished in stained water or overcast and dim light conditions. Patterns with the “bushy” effect will also float best when a surface presentation is paramount to getting the trout to strike.
Perhaps the most critical consideration for successful dry fly fishing is learning to match the fly to the corresponding size of the natural insects that are landing on the water. Proper coloration and pattern matching to the specie of insect are obviously important, too. But many expert fly fishermen agree that above all, it is most important to present a silhouette that most closely resembles the natural insect’s size and shape.
Dry flies are tied in larger #12 sizes down to tiny #26 patterns. For most California conditions, the beginner can usually get by with a light assortment in size #14 with some #16’s for super clear water. Popular patterns for our waters include the Adams, Black Gnat, Caddis, Cahill, California Mosquito, Coachman, Dusty Miller, Ginger Quill, Gray Hackle, Humpy, Light Cahill, Peacock, Renegade, Royal Wolff, and Royal Coachman. Another style to keep handy, especially when grasshoppers fill the mountain meadows is Joe’s Hopper — a larger specimen that fishes great as a dry fly.
Best time to use Dry Flies
Obviously, the best time to fish dry flies is when the trout are “rising” to the surface and feeding on the insect hatch. Interestingly though, a rise on the water does not always mean that the trout are actually feeding on the surface.
Quite often the fish are chasing emergent larvae floating up or hatching from the bottom. This gives the angler the illusion of surface-feeding trout. Under these circumstances, it might be better to fish a nymph or a wet fly rather than a dry fly.