Choose the best dry fly for the situation

By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

One of my guiding mentors, nicknamed “Rio” by his peers, used to carry his dry flies in a Mason jar. Why a Mason jar? Because they were size 2 split-wing patterns and a fly box would have mashed the wings and tail. Seeing these flies on the river’s surface was easy – imagine a live chicken bobbing along in the current. Even better was when a large brown trout gulped the 2-inch-tall fly.

Most anglers relish in trout eating dry flies, and despite the lower water conditions prevalent in southwest Montana this summer, the opportunities to fish them are more abundant than one might think. However, choosing the right fly is crucial, so here is some help deciphering what makes a good dry fly.

Visibility for the angler. If you can’t see the fly, you can’t see if it’s drifting correctly, and you won’t be able to detect a strike either. The addition of parachute posts on dry flies increases your ability to see them tremendously. Taking the parachute concept one step further, many flies now have contrasting colors tied into the parachute. The contrast is often more visible than a solid color in low light conditions.

Contrasting colors aren’t reserved just for parachute patterns: The Moorish Hopper has pink foam atop its gray body; and high-riding dry flies such as Chubby Chernobyls and Neversink Caddis often have two-colored wings. They’re ideal if you’re fishing faster water or targeting riffles, or if one fly isn’t enough and you want to fish a dropper.

Visibility for the fish. When a hatch is thick, food is readily available for trout. But as hatches dwindle in late summer, trout become more opportunistic and it’s important that a fish sees your fly. Therefore, choose a fly large enough a fish can see it on the surface from several feet deep.

Odds are slim you’ll entice every fish in the river to rise to the surface, but commit to a large, high-floating dry fly and eventually a trout will go for your offering. Large wings, parachutes, and shucks or tails are all elements of successful patterns this time of year.

Materials matter. The addition of foam to any pattern increases its ability to float longer. Also, most parachute patterns are tied with calf tail or polypropylene yarn – materials that are easy to see and retain little water. They can also be dyed in a variety of colors. Peacock hurl is a time-tested material and is found in some time-tested patterns: Royal Wulffs, Trudes, and H and L Variants.

Another time-tested material and great addition to any dry fly is Cul du Canard, a natural material derived from a duck’s anus. When it contacts water, it holds air well and floats for a long time before getting saturated. It can be dried quickly with a powder such as Fly Duster, Loon Top Ride or Blue Ribbon.

Faith. Since I own a fly shop, you’d think I would know of every hot new pattern on the market. The truth is, young guides come in boasting they “tore it up” on the “Hollaback Girl” or the “Panty Dropper Hopper.” Despite the exciting new names, it’s not essential to fish the latest and greatest pattern. Believe in the fly on the end of your line, and if the fly your fishing has worked well for you in the past, stick with it.

The first time I guided with Rio, he pulled out the Mason jar and I scoffed. Even though I couldn’t legally drink, I knew no self-respecting trout would eat those. But Rio’s clients out-fished mine and I learned that faith – and other good things – can come from a Mason jar.

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 and he co-owns a guide service on the Missouri River.