Dry Fly Casting
Photo: Scott Berdahl

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to to fish some of the finest trout streams in North America, and to hang out with some of the most accomplished anglers on the planet. While I can’t share everything I’ve learned about dry fly fishing in one sitting, here are a dozen tips that will pay serious dividends if you take them to heart. (And as a bonus, they may have you humming along on the river.)

Water Song

Practice your casting until you’re better than you need to be. I’m always amazed at how many folks don’t take the time to become solid casters. If you can’t put the fly where you want, you’re not going to catch many fish. So practice. Practice on your lawn, or at a local pond, or the municipal park. It’s going to make a huge difference.


Before you wade into the river, make a conscious decision. Don’t worry about numbers. Concentrate on finding, and catching, one fish. Just one. If you succeed, great. You just hit it out of the park, and now it’s time to concentrate on catching another. And if you don’t succeed …


Failure, no matter what you’ve heard, doesn’t suck. It’s your teacher. It tells you what you need to change, and what isn’t likely to work in the future. Don’t turn your back on failure. Embrace it. Revel in getting your ass kicked. Listen to your teacher.


Waves are for surf boards. They’re not for wading. When you wade, especially on slow moving water, you should not send out a wave or a wake. Think heron rather than beaver tail, and you’ll be moving in the right direction.

Fairies Wear Boots

Stop waiting on the Fly Fairy. You’ve heard of the Fly Fairy, right? She sprinkles pixie dust on that one special fly that fish just can’t resist. Except she’s not real. And there is no special fly. Here’s a news flash. If you’re not catching fish, it’s probably not your fly. It’s you. Ditch the Fly Fairy and get some skills.

Down By The River

The reach cast. Learn it, perfect it, use it. The reach cast should really be called the 90% cast, because that’s how often you need it: 90% of the time, on 90% of your dry fly casts.

Don’t Worry About A Thing …

You missed him. You’re pissed. Or you made a bad cast. You’re pissed. Your knot failed. You’re pissed. Your waders leak. You’re pissed. Sensing a theme here? Because it sounds to me like you’re pissed. Which means you’re tense and agitated and off your game. Take a breath, get a grip, relax, and lean into the fun. You, my friend, are not on the water to get angry. You’re there to enjoy yourself. If you’re upset, your muscles will tighten up, your concentration will falter, doubt will whisper in your ear … and you won’t fish worth a shit. Relax, let it go, have fun.

No Quarter

Quick, but not too hard. That’s your dry fly hook set. Quick, but not too hard.

Slow Ride

Except when you’re setting downstream, or down and across. Then slow it down just a hair. That fish has to close his mouth before you set or you’re going to miss a truly amazing percentage of your strikes.

Drift Away

Your drift. She’s perfect, right? Because perfect helps. It helps a lot. If it doesn’t come naturally, think it through. Where does your fly need to land? What cast do you need to use? Should you use an aerial mend? Are the currents funky? What does your fly line need to do in order to help your fly drift perfectly? Then make it happen. Hey, this is why you practice so much - so you can pull this off.


As my old friend Tim Linehan used to say, the strike is everything. So anticipate it. Then, when it comes, savor it.

Dancing Days

Awareness. Is. The. Single. Most. Important. Thing. In. Fly. Fishing. So be a sponge. A big, wet, slow moving, ass-frequently-on-the-bank sponge. You need to see everything, hear everything, feel everything, sense everything. And then you need to focus like a monk, in balance, soaking in the world around you and dancing to the music. Seriously? You didn’t realize that dry fly fishing was a dance? Well here’s a news flash. You’re dancing with reality … and that’s as good as it gets.


Every one of these tips help. Thanks, Todd.

This is probably the most useful and yet simple pieces of advice I've read and that's from a top UK Guide...Nice One
The Durham Fly Fishing Company

"Slow ride" is a big one for me. I miss my share of hook sets, and they're almost always from pulling the trigger too fast. If it's a good day, and I can relax, I miss very few.

If you could sell drift and presentation. People would catch more fish.

Dude love the Jerry Neil & Zep tributes. Feelin' the love.

Excellent advise! Slow down and smell the roses!

Probably could have had a good editor go over this. Could remove pi** and sh** from the article.

Sadly, jrh, we don't have one of those.

Todd, wow. Wonderful article. A dance with life--well said.

From Peter Calvo
A licensed clinical psychologist

Wonderful, simple article. I plan on sharing this with my fast wading, long casting friends who wonder why I catch so many fish. My favorite part was the awareness segment. If you turn off binocular vision which is ego dominate and shallow your depth of field you see more and notice more. Your hearing improves as well when you're not "looking" for something. My favorite part of going to the river is the transformation from focus and intent to a 270 degree view of everything using all senses. The hairs on your arm can tell you the direction of the breeze...Thank you for writing this article! Do you happen to know my boys Tyler and Alex from Last Chance? I'm going to sneak up on them in a couple weeks and maybe we'll go back to the Beckler :)

Brilliant, Genius, Very Helpful, Less is More, slow down,
Got It, Appreciate what you've been blessed with.
Get to it !

Yes, yes, yes!!! It's usually smb time for me, but you make me want to hunt trout...and do it better than before!

Sound & excellent advice. I started late in life. I’ve been fishing for over sixty years. Fly fishing a mere thirty five. Maybe because of my age but the last piece of advice to me is the most important. It’s not about how big or how many. Look patiently. Listen carefully. Savor every minute. It’s beautiful out there. Enjoy. ..........

The single best tip is the one sporting magazine don't mention: Locate a productive water - one with lots of fish - and then fish it as often as you can. When you're on less productive water and not catching, it's often difficult to know why you aren't catching. In fact, you might be fishing well - but there simply aren't many fish. On a productive water, you can experiment and compare results; this leads to learning. Along the way, you will improve the sub-skills mentioned in the above article. Your casting will get better, you'll learn to read the water more accurately, your reflexes will sharpen, your awareness of patterns leading to fish location and feeding will become keener and so forth. A season spent this way is worth years of backyard casting practice and fishing less productive water, and when you return to those less productive waters after a season thus spent, you are likely to be surprised at how many fish you suddenly can catch on even those low-output waters. JD

Reading this picturing a certain stretch of my local chalk stream and the big brownie which sits under a willow slowly sipping flies with from the surfaces. I need to up my game, or should I say, slow it right down.
Great article, thanks.