By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
With rivers clear and running at average summertime flows, dry fly purists are delighting in hatches of caddis, Yellow Sallies and Pale Morning Duns, or PMDs, and trout are rewarding them by rising to eat well-presented offerings. To put it another way: It’s a powder day on most nearby rivers. Like a powder hound seeking out fresh lines and sacrificing sleep for first chair, a dry fly angler must also commit to the task when conditions warrant.
This is the time for three- and four-weight fly rods, single dry flies and longer leaders. If, like many recent entrants into fly fishing, your dry fly game needs some work because you spend a lot of time deep nymph fishing, here’s some advice to help you to get more out of this unique time on our local waters.
Lighten up a bit. As hatches of caddis, PMDs, and Yellow Sallies increase, plan to decrease your rod weight, tippet size and fly selection. Your all-around rod choice might be a 9-foot five-weight, but when PMDs erupt from a riffle on the Gallatin River, a three-weight rod will present a size 16 dry fly more softly. Rod length is not as crucial as weight. Rods that are in the 7-foot-6-inch to 9-foot range will do most duty. Use tippets that are 4X at the heaviest, but 5X is ideal. Rio Suppleflex is a soft and supple material and a good match for dry flies size 14 and smaller.
Leader length matters. You might go smaller with rod and tippet choice, but go longer in your leader. Start with a standard 9-foot leader and then add your Rio Suppleflex tippet, creating a leader of 12 feet or longer. Trout Hunter also makes a Finesse leader whose genesis was the Henry’s Fork in Idaho—a river known for finicky trout requiring perfect presentations.
Master your reach cast. This cast is essential for creating a drag-free drift when presenting a dry fly. Aim your presentation a little higher than normal and shoot a little more line than you think is necessary. As the fly line straightens out in front of you and above the water, reach across your body or way out to your side and pull the extraneous fly line into an “in the air” mend. The fly line should fall to the water softly and already mended. Immediately after the line lands, point the rod tip at the fly and track the fly as it drifts downstream.
Know your chemistry. Your grandparents’ dry fly quiver most likely included amadou, mucilin and perhaps a silicone gel. Nearing the year 2020, anglers carry Fly-Agra, Shimizaki, Line Speed and Aquel. Even though the names have changed, the goal is the same—to get your fly to float naturally and for as long as possible. Add to these products some new fly-tying materials such as CDC and Z-lon and a simple understanding of which products work best together. For example, most gel floatants, like Aquel, don’t work well with CDC.
Time of day is key. As summer peaks, the sun is also at its most intense. Trout prefer not to feed under bright, noontime sun, so fish early in the morning or late in the evening. On a river like the Gallatin where lots of river-lovers are out, fishing early and late means trout are more willing to eat off the surface. In addition, wind will be a little calmer in the morning and evening than midday.
Enjoy the little moment. Because we experience such wonderful weather in our mountain hamlet, our rivers are enjoyed by many during these next few weeks. Solitude is often better found in fall, winter and spring, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of beauty in high summer. A sunrise on a canyon wall, a deer crossing the river, or caddis flying in the golden hour before sunset are all brief moments to be enjoyed if the trout are not rising.
Being a purist in fishing, be it dry fly fishing or swinging for steelhead, often means a level of self-sacrifice. For the angler wanting to experience dry fly happiness this time of year, your timing is right, but be prepared to suffer a tiny bit for your dry fly success.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky. He also co-owns Montana Fishing Outfitters and the Montana Fishing Guide School.