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.)
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.
Quick, but not too hard. That’s your dry fly hook set. Quick, but not too hard.
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.
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.
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.
Back in the ‘90s, Todd Tanner spent five years guiding fly fishermen on the Henry’s Fork, the Madison, and the waters of Yellowstone Park. Since then, his angling stories have appeared in a number of quality magazines, including Sporting Classics (where he’s the long-time fly fishing columnist), Fly Fisherman, Fly Rod & Reel, American Angler, The Flyfish Journal, Salmon & Steelhead Journal, Sports Afield, and Field & Stream.