By Patrick Straub Explore Big Sky Fishing Columnist
I’ll freely admit my addiction to dry fly fishing. The sport is visual – a leading reason for its appeal and intrigue.
People often ask, “Where is your favorite place to fish?” I candidly reply, “Wherever I’m fishing.” And, that’s very true. However, being raised in this area and spending countless hours casting to the local rising trout, I often answer “The Gallatin River near my home.”
I’m thankful when trout eat off the surface, as any fly fisher should be, but catching trout on dry flies isn’t as easy as it looks. Here’s a little help.
Lead On. Choose the right leader for the situation. There are so many different options in dry fly fishing – small mountain streams with fast water, large winding rivers, spring creeks. In flat water or on a spring creek I’ll use a 12-15-foot leader because that allows for a very long and drag-free drift; for the Gallatin I use a 9-foot leader for easier mending on the river’s fast currents; and for dry fly fishing on a larger river, I never go shorter than a 9-foot leader, which makes for easier mending and a longer drift. Also, spend some decent money on leaders. Folks often own a $600 rod and a $300 reel, but buy the cheapest leader on the rack.
Accessorize Yourself. Floatants, powders and gels are a necessity. For most situations I use a liquid floatant like Fly-Agra. When the dry fly gets slimed by fish or weeds, a drying powder helps a lot. Floatant and powders have come a long way since I began fishing, and now require a little extra study. For little dries, especially CDC flies, I use a powder all the time. CDC stands for “cul du canard,” or duck feathers.
Paralysis by Anaylsis. Don’t over-think your fly selection. Choosing the right fly is important but merely a simple understanding is required. On a spring creek or a tailwater, fly selection might be more crucial because trout in these waters are more selective, but on most of our local waters, like the Yellowstone or Gallatin, you just don’t know exactly what they’re eating that day. Take an evening caddis hatch on the Gallatin: There are lots and lots of caddis on the water and if you don’t see your fly you will miss a strike. Seeing your fly becomes the most important aspect in choosing a dry fly. One of the biggest selling dry flies is the Parachute Adams because the white post is easy to see.
Catch the Drift. It all starts with how your fly drifts on the surface. Around here, people use a lot of different techniques and many anglers start a drift that’s already failed. So if you notice drag right away, re-cast – that first drift isn’t getting better. And don’t make your drifts too long. If you shorten the drift, especially on faster waters, you’ll have more drifts and each one will have a better chance. A general rule: the faster the water, the shorter the drift.
As with many afflictions, my addiction to dry fly fishing doesn’t come easy. Dry fly anglers must commit time to hone their skills. But the rush you get seeing a trout slurp-in a well-presented dry fly is the reward for persistence.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and the forthcoming Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing* *but were afraid to ask. He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.