Fishing Your Fly

Twenty five years ago when I first started to fish seriously for trout in what has now become my home river, I was puzzled. I had already been fly fishing in lakes for bass and panfish for 15 years, so I was pretty fair caster. I was also fairly well read,so I had a good understanding of entomology as well as having been well schooled in the concept of dead drift. All that said, I wasn’t catching any fish. And I knew they were there. I often fished with friends who were new fly fishers, and they consistently at least caught a few fish each time out. I knew my technique, experience and knowledge was better, but my friends always out fished me. If truth be told, on occasion the only time I lucked out into a fish was when I was walking thru the currents, dragging my fly behind me.

I can’t place my finger on exactly when the light bulb turned on, but at some point, I came to realize the fact that dead drift was not always what the fish wanted. As a matter of fact, more often than not, the fish responded MUCH better when the fly was actively manipulated. This was a revelation, since I came to understand this simple fact, I’ve caught fish.

I have a confession to make, I am a dry fly bigot. I know fish spend most of their time feeding subsurface, but I like to catch my fish on top, where I can see them. So I've spent alot of time on the water fishing dry flies. A second thing that's important to note, the rivers I fish contain large populations of caddis flies, there are some may fly hatches, but there are caddis on the water almost continuously.

So I want a dry fly that I can fish in a variety of ways. When I first started fishing a long time ago, I assumed that you always want to fish a dry dead drift. I've come to find that in the rivers I fish, I probably catch only 25% of my fish on a dead drift. The rest of the fish are caught when I'm actively manipulating the fly. I may be skating, skittering, or swinging the fly. I also will often fish the fly damp, fishing it just below the surface. So I want a fly that is a pretty strong floater, on one cast I'll be skittering it, on the next, skating it, and then after a few false casts, fishing it dead drift.

The other thing about fishing the rivers I do, it's very rare that there is a true blanket hatch going on, maybe only 5 or 10% of the time. More often there is a smattering of species present, a few of these, a few of those. So I'm not looking for an exact representation of anything, I want a fly that is pretty impressionistic. Let the fish use it's imagination to figure out what it sees. I feel this gives me a shot to catch a fish regardless of what the last morsel it just ate. Since it's rare there is a blanket hatch, it's most common to see a sporadic fish feeding here, and one feeding over there. I find it's great if you can cover a fish right after it just took a natural. He/she just ate something good, and all of a sudden he/she sees another one to eat. So again, I want an impressionistic pattern, nothing too specific.

Tenkara lends itself to actively fishing your fly. This is one of the major appeals about Tenkara that got me started fishing the fixed line technique. Tenkara not only allows for great control when fishing a fly dead drift, it also allows very precise control when swinging, skating, or dapping a fly.

Of course your waters and conditions may vary, but give it a try. Next time you have a dry on, give it a small jerk, or tweak, or let it drag like a bat out of Hades. You may be pleasantly surprised.