Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dry Fly Tips for Selective Trout: Part 1


For many fly anglers, sight fishing is the apex of the sport. Whether it be with a chubby hopper for a post-doctoral brown, a garish popper for a giant trevally or an unweighted "Charlie" for a tailing bonefish, sightfishing to them is the best it gets.  These anglers know that they may catch fewer fish sight fishing, but they think the trade-off is worth it. Dedicated sight fishermen love the visible connection between the fly and the fish. It is precisely that moment between the take and the hookset that sight fishermen crave.

One of the most addicting forms of sight fishing is dry fly fishing for large selective trout.  Watching a big fish break the surface, suck in a natural and rhythmically drift back to its lie is as exciting as it is intoxicating.  It can literally rip your head around and stop you in your tracks. You now KNOW he is there. Now, you want to see him take you fly. But, you know that if you make any mistake, it's game over. This delicious tension between success and failure is what sight fisherman live for.

A few weeks ago, I posted some hints for tarpon anglers. One reader suggested I do the same for dry fly fishing specifically geared to smart selective trout. I knew this would be a challenging project. Dry fly fishing to selective trout is one of the most technical and skill intensive disciplines in the fly fishing world! Some of the best anglers in the world are passionate and completely mesmerized by big selective trout on the surface.

I should mention that these hints are not directed at search fishing with an attractor pattern. This involves skill at reading water and the ability to make accurate casts. I love working a stream in this style, but it does place the demands on a fisherman skills that sight fishing to selective trout does. The big leagues of trout fishing involves stalking big smart fish that are actively feeding on a hatch or are holding near the surface looking up for their next meal.  Think the Big Horn River, the Missouri, The Henry's Fork or the world's best spring creeks and you get the idea. Learn to fish these rivers with dries and you can fish to trout anywhere in the world. What follows are some advanced dry fly hints for anglers who love to pursue selective big trout on the surface.



Let's start with the basics... That's GEAR as in rods, lines, leaders  and tippets.
  
I like a very light rod that can deliver a fly delicately with accuracy (my rod of choice is a 3 or 4 wt.). I don't like too fast a rod. With a stiff rod you can't finesse a small dry fly into a soft landing as easily as with a "softer" rod. Having said that, I believe most rod manufactures make rods in this category and many rods will work perfectly well. Use whatever rod allows you to make a delicate presentation, but don't get stuck on your equipment choice! I don't think rods are all that crucial. I am one of those guys who thinks a good fishermen can fish with any rod. Some rods are better than others, but an angler's mind (and skill) set is all important. If you look to equipment for answer you are looking the wrong way. I think technique is much more important than technology!

OK, that was my rant. Thanks for listening, it felt good!

So you have a good light rod, now you need a properly matched line, leader and tippet. Now this is important!

Most manufactures, including Rio and Scientific Anglers (SA), make good presentation dry fly lines. Use the lightest weight line possible. The lighter the line, the softer it hits the water and the quieter the presentation. A 3 weight line creates about half the strike force of a 6 weight line. This seems logical! Also, use neutral or gray-toned lines. If you can see bright or neon high contrast lines better, so can the fish.



My leader of choice is a 10-12 foot knotless tapered leader with 2-3 feet of tippet on the front end. Don’t tie the fly directly to the tapered leader. Instead, cut the end off the tapered leader if need be and replace it with tippet so you know exactly how much tippet you have. The key to getting the proverbial drag free float is the length and thickness of the tippet. The ideal tippet length and diameter allows you to cast small S curves like waves in the tippet. If the tippet falls back on itself or stacks, it is too long or thin. If the tippet lands in a straight line behind the fly, the tippet is too short or too thick and it will drag the fly. Work to achieve this balance and always strive to "turn-over" your leader with some S curves in the tippet.

Regarding fly choice, if you see fish rising and bugs disappearing... and if you don’t know what fly to use, study the water and/or use a small insect net to seine bugs from the surface film. Then, select a fly that is the approximate size and color of the naturals you see. Color and size are what selective trout key on. Enough said!

If you know what species insect the trout are eating, you must determine whether the fish are feeding on (example: duns), in (example: spent spinners) or just under (example: emerges) the surface film. You can determine if your fish is feeding on the surface, in the surface film or subsurface by watching individual insects as they drift over a feeding trout. Small binoculars work great for this!




Naturals float with their bodies on the water. In recent years, traditional palmered hackle dry flies and the sparser Catskill patterns have often been abandoned in favor of newer patterns that allow the body to sit flush in the surface film. Using parachute, comparadun or thorax patterns or snipping the hackles on the underside of your conventional palmered flies can offer a huge advantage when fishing to picky trout.


Don’t use paste type floatants which tend to mat hackles together creating an unnatural appearance. Instead, use liquid floatants combined with drying crystals. But remember, a treated fly will leave an oil slick on the surface. This slick almost surely alerts the fish for no naturals have a prismatic halo around them. To avoid this problem try dragging the fly under the water to remove the excess floatant then false cast away from the fish to dry the fly.


Also, I feel that a tippet treated with floatant is much more visible floating on the surface film than a tippet that sinks just below the surface film. Wipe off the last foot or so of tippet and run it through your saliva coated fingers or coat it with a sink compound (some call this stuff mud. This compound is available from Loon and others and reduces the surface tension of the tippet. Anglers used to use actual mud... hence the name). The tippet will then be virtually invisible.

Next: Getting into Position to Cast

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