Are You A Dry Fly Fisherman?

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This topic contains 14 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  JoeFriday 2 years, 2 months ago.

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    I’m one of the dedicated dry fly fisherman. To be honest. I’ve never met another one. The majority of fly fisherman love catching trout on dry flies, but they’ll use sub surface flies when dries aren’t working, or they think they’re not working.

    I’ve ran into a few who claim to be dry fly only, but when I see the flies in their fly boxes I see a mix of emergers, nymphs, and even streamers. They say they never use them, but I have to wonder why they carry something they’ll never use. Others will claim they always use dries, but then add… long as they’re working.

    For those who claim to fish just dries. What do you do during runoff when the water is very high, fast, and stained? What do you do when the water is very cold, and the fish are sulking on the bottom? What do you do when you haven’t had a rise to your fly in the last 5 times you’ve been fishing?

    I’d love to know if anybody here is 100% dry flies 100% of the time? Do you have anything but dries when fishing, or at home? If someone says yes. Please explain why you just fish dries?




    Don’t own a nymph, or streamer for trout fishing (tarpon-yes). Dry because I trout fish to see the presentation and see the take (or refusal). Its not about catching the fish. Really. I’ve caught enough trout for a lifetime, but I still enjoy the stalk, the presentation, and the take. The visual aspect, the skill to present the fly perfectly for a take. I prefer fished-over, “selective”, “tough”, “spooky” trout. If I cast and they eat it readily too often, I get bored.

    I know where to find rising fish 365 days a year, have never gone 5 days without a rise. I only cast to rising fish, or visible holding fish. If its 20-below and/or snowing sideways, I either don’t go, or go south and tarpon fish. I pretty much know where and when to trout fish. Certain tail waters have risers all year though if one is patient, times it right during the day, and hunts heads. When I go, I’m fairly certain I’ll find risers. Once in a while a day doesn’t pan out, but never 5 in a row!

    Oh, and if it floats, then by definition its dry. If its on top of the water, its a dry. Most emergers are dry flies because that’s where most insects emerge, on top, to “dry” their wings. (The hallowed parachute adams is an “emerger.”) So are most other “dry” flies except heavily hackled attractors and Catskill-style flies, and even those get a little wet! (We had this discussion on here some time ago.) An emerger is a stage of an insect’s life, not part of the definition of a dry fly or wet fly. A nymph is a stage of an insects life too. There’s wet ones and dry ones. Most adult insects are dry, most nymphs are wet. There’s exceptions to both. Beetles and ants that float are dries. If they sink, they’re wet. Same with hoppers. It ain’t that hard.

    Man, we’re here again already! LOL

    I’m fishing on the Henry’s Fork this week, and there’s big, educated rising fish going off every morning and afternoon on Mahogany’s and Baetis!!! Its killer! As classic of western dry fly fishing as there is. Head hunting at its finest.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by  Lightline.


    Thanks for the response. You’re lucky to have access to so many rising trout. I would say 95% of the time i’m fishing the water, and not a rise. I kind of like it that way. Sort of a surprise when I get it right. It’s pretty tough to see rises on our fast freestone streams and rivers.

    I have a different way to describe dry flies than you do. An emerger for me is a sub surface fly. It’s on it’s way to be a dry fly/adult, but isn’t there until it’s on the surface. Even an adult that’s drowned, and has gone under the surface is no longer a dry fly. It’s not what the fly i’m fishing represents in the real world. It’s how i’m fishing it that makes it a dry fly. A North Country Spider is a wet fly, but if I treat it with floatant, and fish it on the surface i’m fishing a dry fly. A Klinkhammer is mostly under the surface, but not all of it. I consider it a dry fly, and so does the fishing community. The same for parachutes. They’re just low riding dry flies. The minute the whole fly is subsurface it becomes a wet fly.

    You could take an Adams, and not treat it to float. It would no longer be a dry fly. This is my definition of dry fly fishing. The fly needs to be floating on the surface, and the trout needs to take it from the surface to be dry fly fishing.

    The old rules they used on the chalk streams in England of only casting to rising fish don’t work for me. I’m not fishing chalk streams, and would stair at the water all day on my freestone streams looking for a rise. They don’t even do that on the English chalk streams anymore.

    Anyway, this is just my opinion on dry fly fishing. We can all set out own rules as long as it makes us happy. I do agree with you about when fly fishing becomes too easy it’s boring. I never ever fish the big hatches that we have on our waters. You could teach a chimp to catch fish on those.


    Scotty MacFly

    I never have used streamers, and really, I never wanted to. I gave up nymphing earlier this year. Found it to be to repetitive and boring no matter if I did it with an indicator, French style, or Czech. I do still tie them for my nephew and people I work with, but that’s it. As for emergers, I only fish with two, the RS2, and the IOBO. They both float on the surface. I use a very fine wire hook when I tie them, so they are not weighted down. Then when I fish I put a small dab of gink on them so they float even better.

    Now, I will say this, as my family moved here from Scotland in the early 60’s, starting with my grandparents, then my parents following in 65, I was born here. Fishing spiders is in my genes per say. You are correct Creek, they are considered to be a wet fly. In Great Britain they fish these right below riffles, especially in Spring. But work well in the chalk streams as well. They do have rivers and streams similar to our freestones, for example, the Tees. But if I wanted to stick religiously to tradition, I would fish spiders just below the riffles, so they would have to sink a bit to work like they were intended. But I don’t. I put floatant on them. I want to see the take. I like to fish the fast pocket water for these reasons:
    1. It helps my accuracy.
    2. It’s like combat fishing, always on the move searching for fish.
    3. Fishing fast pockets with nymphs or wets I would always seem to get hung up, so I use dries and spiders well doused in floatant.
    4. It helps with my concentration and my positioning to help eliminate drag.
    5. I also like the surprise attack from a trout. Especially when the fish is right in front of a rock that’s in front of you, and it takes the fly right when you start to lift it off the water.
    6. Nothing is more exciting to me fishing than having a trout do that air jaws thing, coming completely out of the water for a dry. You don’t get that with nymphs and wets.
    7. It’s just plain fun.

    Dries are the pinnacle of fly fishing. Anyone can nymph. Big deal. My nephew will catch fish all day on a nymph, but give him a dry fly, and he can’t cast it. He only roll casts. My opinion here, but he is very limited.

    Lightline, you defined a dry fly in your own eyes. Creek, you said you described a dry fly differently. Ok, here’s the big question. If people define what really makes a dry fly differently, then what really constitutes what a dry fly should be. To me a traditional, no exceptions to the rule dry fly is a heavily hackled or a Catskill-style of fly. Period.
    But in all reality, it isn’t like that in the real world because of how people fish their flies. You can manipulate a wet fly and an emerger to be dry flies. And you can take a dry fly and make it a wet. So where does it begin and end.

    Terrestrials, Gink them and they will float. If you don’t they sink. A real ant or hopper will sink after awhile. I have better luck when they float than having them sink. So my ants all float.
    So is a fly that floats on the surface, or a fly manipulated to float on the surface a dry fly? If you can make a bead head nymph float, would you call it a dry fly? If it’s how you fish the fly, I guess it would be considered a dry fly.

    I what makes this sport so great is, is that we can improvise and adapt to the situations.



    It’s a tough question to answer Scotty. I used to be very strick about what I called a dry fly. It had to be a full hackle midge, caddis, or mayfly to qualify. I then realized that they can also be fished sub surface if someone wanted to. So, now I make it simple, and say if the fly is floating it’s a dry fly. It saves a lot of arguments and accusations.

    With that said. I’m still strict with myself, and only use flies that are intended to be dry flies. I can’t fool myself in calling an emerger/spider a dry fly just because I put floatant on it. That’s just for myself though. I really do have no bias on how someone else fishes. At least not enough to say something. I can’t ignore how I really feel, but I keep it to myself.

    I did take a detour with the North Country Spiders. I love the looks of them, and the tradition of them. I came so close to switching to them full time. Then I realized I wasn’t having as much fun fishing them as I do with dries. So, they sit in their own fly box to be looked at now and then. If I ever win Powerball i’ll move to the UK, and live out my life fishing the rivers of Yorkshire and Scotland. I’m sure at that point the box of spiders will be put back into action. That’s just a dream though. Reality is fishing dries on my creeks. Which happen to be very good dry fly water.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by  Creek.

    Scotty MacFly

    I agree with you Creek that an emerger is really subsurface till it has reached adult stage. Then it is a true dry fly. Like you said, “it’s how I’m fishing it that makes it a dry fly.”
    I only use two emergers, and they are disappearing out of my box. When I no longer have “them”, they will be gone.
    I find it strange in away that you brought this subject up. Don’t get me wrong, but this is exactly why I have been doing this little experiment that I am doing with the Adams. It’s the timing of your thread. And like I said in the post previous, to me a true dry fly is a heavy hackled and Catskill type of fly, no questions asked. Pure and simple.
    Play by the rules or the game means nothing. Easier said than done in some areas like fly fishing. I never did streamers, gave up nymphs, will give up the two emergers I have left. The spiders, never. It’s a personal thing between me and my grandfather. Sentimental reasons you could say. First trout I caught on a fly rod was with a spider when I was about 7 yrs. old, and my grandfather teaching me. Too many memories and feelings there.

    Here’s one to consider. A terrestrial floats first, till it drowns. So are ants and hoppers really dries? In my book, yes. Just by that fact alone. Putting it this way, anything that starts from the floor of the river and works it’s way to the surface is not a dry, until the change has happened and it is now in adult stage. But terrestrials come from above and float as soon as they hit the water. So in my mind, they should technically be dries. Funny how people can justify just about anything, isn’t it?

    My fly box is taking on a big change this year. Soon it will be nothing but the heavy hackled, Catskill-styled flies with a few ants with hackles and wings. Next to my spiders.

    But I also am not biased on others as well. To each their own. As long as it’s legal.



    It was a curiosity question Scotty. Appropriate for this forum I believe. It’s the only dry fly forum that I know of. I know fishing nothing but dries is not popular with most fly fisherman. I know a lot of fly fisherman who never use dries. Most of them are guides. They seem to be hung up on catching a lot of fish, and the bigger the better.

    I think fishing just dries takes a certain kind of person that only another dry fly fisherman would understand. I’d feel pretty strange if I was the only one doing it, but I know that isn’t the case. We’re a specialized group, but we sure have fun doing what we love best. Just thinking about fishing with dries makes my heart smile. 😀


    Scotty MacFly

    It is a great question, and appropriate for any fishing forum. I didn’t mean any disrespect if that’s what you thought. Sometimes I have a difficult time expressing my thoughts.

    I love what we do too.



    I didn’t mean it like that Scotty. I liked your posts. I hope others will join in.


    Scotty MacFly

    We’re good Creek. I misunderstood, and I apologize.
    I was thinking about your question all day, while fishing of course, and I found it interesting that bushy dries are dries without question, and who would want to make them sink? But we have no problem taking emergers and making them float. It would be a lot easier to make the flies in a way that they are intended to work. It’s just my opinion, but RS2’s should sink just below the surface, not float. But that sets limitations to our imagination and style of fishing. And sometimes we need to think out of the box.

    This is a great question you brought up, and it’s worthy of a long discussion among others.



    I set my own standards pretty strict. I’m with you on the full hackle flies like the Adams. It’s 90% of whats in my fly box. I do like the Hairs Ear Parachute too, and it’s my only deviation. I wouldn’t set such standards on anybody else though. If their fly is floating on the surface, and they say they’re dry fly fishing. I have no complaints.

    I don’t agree an emerger fished under the surface is a dry fly though. A dry fly needs to be…….well…….dry. 😀



    I’m always fascinated and delighted to read about the exploits of you small and dedicated band of purists. It celebrates one of the aspects of fishing that I enjoy the most, and that is the fact that, within the limits of the law, we can each set our own ethical or arbitrary limits on our sport.
    I wasn’t going to contribute to this because I’m not a purist, but you did express hope others would join in, so here goes:

    I fish and carry a lot of dry flies, and lots of times, I tie them on because they are what will work best for me under the circumstances. Sometimes, I tie them on because I’m convinced they’ll be LESS effective under the circumstances. Sometimes, I tie them on because I just want to fish a dry fly at that point. Sometimes I just want to see the take.
    I carry a lot more dries than wets, but I kinda think it has more to do with the fact that I really like tying dry flies more than wet flies.
    I trust you will ex-SKUES me for not being like HALFORD?



    You’re ex-SKUESD.




    Good one.



    I’m one of those guys who considers himself a dry fly purist, but still carries a few nymphs and occasionally streamers in his fly box. I often go a season or two without touching them, but I always leave them there… just in case. I think it’s more out of superstition. If I have them, I won’t need them. But if I leave them at home, I’m dooming myself to a day without a rise.

    Like others here have said, I fish dries because I want to see the take. Catching a fish unexpectedly with a nymph feels more like dumb luck to me. I like the challenge of putting a fly where I know the fish is (or where it likely will be) and presenting it well enough that it will entice a fish to take what it knows might be its last bite if it chooses wrong. The mechanics of casting plays a big part of that, and I enjoy that more than most other aspects of the sport.

    On the other hand, I don’t have a problem fishing a streamer, wooley bugger or a soft hackle if it’s to a sighted fish. Seeing a fish take a subsurface fly is fun for me, too. So there’s a gray area in what I’m willing to use.

    But the vast majority (probably 95%) of my fishing is classic dry fly action. Unfortunately, I don’t live where Lightline does, and I can go several outings without seeing rises.


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