Dry Fly Presentations--Part 1
The first of a two-part article on dry fly presentations.
ou could select a dry fly from your fly box, dress it with floatant, and drop it on the river, unattached to line or leader. It would float downstream naturally, like a real insect. If you chose the pattern well and launched it so the current would take it to a hungry trout, the trout would probably rise to it.
You might derive some pleasure from fooling a fish in this way, but most people think fishing is more fun when they're connected to the fly by line and leader.
To quote Hamlet, "Aye, there's the rub." Unfortunately that line-leader-fly connection causes two bugaboos: it creates drag and it can spook the trout. Avoiding those two problems is the essence of good dry fly presentation. So before we immerse ourselves into the details of what we want to achieve, we have to consider the details of what we want to avoid.
River currents are rarely constant in either direction or speed, so one part of your line and leader may be tugged quickly downstream, while a different part is being pulled slowly to the side. The result is that the line yanks the fly this way and that, making it drift in an unnatural manner that we call drag.
Drag can be quite obvious, even for beginning fly anglers: your fly moves across the water, leaving a V-wake, or it doesn't move at all, or it just "doesn't look right." Another way to spot drag is to watch the bubbles or flotsam near your fly: if they are moving at a different rate than your fly, you've got a problem.
Sometimes, however, drag is quite subtle and hard for humans to detect. But trout, which spend their lives looking at stuff drifting down the river, can spot it. They make quick "it's food/it's not food" decisions, and when they see a dragging fly they usually decide "not food" and look for something more natural to put in their mouth.
Your floating fly line is opaque, so a trout can see it quite easily and become cautious or even frightened by it. And a cautious or frightened fish is unlikely to grab your fly.
Your leader is clear and puts distance between the fly and the line so that the trout's natural suspicions are diminished. The clearer the water, the farther the trout can see and the longer your leader needs to be.
Unfortunately, no leader is invisible, nor are leaders perfectly flexible. Thinner tippets are needed in spring creeks because they are harder for the trout to spot. A thin tippet also reduces drag because it is more flexible and lets the fly move more naturally.
The Effects of Tackle Choices
Some anglers advocate "rules" for choosing a tippet based on how it affects casting the fly: thin tippets for small flies, large tippets for large flies. There is logic to this because it's difficult for a small, limp tippet to turn over a large bushy fly, and if your fly and leader land in a pile you may spook the trout.
However, there are times to break the rules. When fishing a size 8 October caddis pattern on a spring creek, you may need a 6X or 7X tippet to even get a strike. Conversely, when you're presenting a size 20 Griffith's Gnat to a five-pound rainbow, you might want something more substantial than 6X.
(Early in my fly-fishing career I expounded at length to a friend about leaders, concluding that the "right" leader had a stiff butt and a limp tippet. He listened patiently, then ended all conversation by saying, "If I had a stiff butt and a limp tippet, I wouldn't run around telling people about it.")
Rod choice can also reduce the spook factor. A three- or four-weight rod will present the fly more delicately than a six-weight. On the other hand, line and leader may "die" when casting into a headwind. Further, you might have real trouble tossing a bushy fly such as a big MacSalmon or Stimulator.
Rod and leader choices-like so many fly fishing options-are compromises. There are guidelines, but no invariable rules.
The bread-and-butter dry fly presentation is an upstream cast that is at an angle across the current. Casting up-and-across puts the line and leader off to the side where the trout is less likely to spot them. "Spook" has been minimized, but the opportunity for drag is increased because the line and leader may pass several bands of current that are moving in different directions and at different speeds.
Fortunately there are ways of dealing with this drag. Book chapters could be (and have been) written about each of them. They briefly described below.
This is the first part of a two-part article. The second part describes other dry fly presentations and has more tips for dry fly fishing.
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