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Dry Fly Fishing 101

Dry fly fishing is an exciting angling technique that’s popular for trout fly fishing. This technique allows you to see the take in action, as fish rise out of the water to feed on a floating fly. It’s an explosive way to fish, so if you haven’t tried dry fly fishing before, it’s time to find out how you can get started.

Learn what dry fly fishing is, how to choose your fly, and how the dry fly fishing technique works.

What is dry fly fishing?

A dry fly is a fly that floats on the surface of the water. Designed to mimic surface-feeding insects, they’re particularly attractive to trout. Trout fishing is extremely popular in the UK, so it’s great to have another technique that can help you catch them when they’re rising to feed on the surface.

Which fly should you use?

Choosing your fly is important. You want to choose a fly that’s similar to the real flies that draw fish to the surface in your location. Mayflies (also known as upwing flies) are among the most popular flies to emulate, since they’re very common along UK rivers and chalkstreams. 

The Orvis dry fly collection consists of 8 flies, including both dry flies and emergers:

  • Real Daddy (foam) size 12
  • Klinkhammer tan size 14
  • Griffith's Gnat size 14
  • Parachute Adams size 14
  • Coch-Y Bonddu Beetle size 12
  • Grey Wulff size 12
  • Aero Hawthorne size 12
  • Retirer Sedge barbless size 15

Each of these has been specially selected for its performance as an attractive floating or emerging insects in UK rivers, chalkstreams, and stillwaters.

To aid their buoyancy, you can also apply floatant to your existing flies to make them bob on top of the water.

Dry fly fishing technique

Dry fly fishing is highly visible. You can see where the fish are rising, which gives you an indication of where to place your fly.

The most common dry fly technique is to cast upstream and allow the current to wash the fly back towards you. This mimics the typical trout feeding pattern, in which the fish’s attention is directed into the current, awaiting insects that are carried downstream. You must stand downstream of the fish to achieve a similar pattern.

It’s also possible to cast downstream, although you’ll probably use this less often. Make a slack line cast to give your fly room to travel away from you towards where you can see fish rising.

Where can you practice dry fly fishing?

You can try dry fly fishing on almost any watercourse in the UK. Anywhere that fish rise to feed at the surface is a good bet for successful dry fly fishing.

There are 3 factors that affect a fish’s willingness to rise:

  • Water temperature
  • Weather
  • Food

Food is the most obvious factor. If there are no flies landing on the surface, a fish won’t attempt to feed there. So you must find a spot where insects are landing regularly on the water, drawing fish up to the surface. This often happens at the edge of the current, where fast-flowing waters meet slow-flowing waters.

Bright sunny days are lovely for sitting on the riverbank, but unlikely to bring fish to the surface. Trout tend to be much more likely to rise on overcast days with little to no rain. If it does rain, stick around, as anglers often report sudden rises just after the rain clears.

Finally, consider the water temperature. This isn’t as easy to measure, but both icy and hot waters will make fish more reluctant to rise. So dry fly fishing is best attempted in spring and autumn. 

Should I try dry fly fishing?

One of the most enjoyable things about dry fly fishing is that all the action happens near the surface, so you can see it as well as feel it along your line. Watching fish rise to the fly is an exciting experience, so if you’re in an area where dry fly fishing is possible, it’s definitely worth investing in some dry flies.

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