What is a dry fly?

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Creek 3 years, 3 months ago.

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    Dry Fly Guy

    Is it simply a fly that is designed to float on the surface? Are Emergers a dry fly?  What about poppers, mouse patterns, or other surface “lures”?

    Thoughts?  Opinions?

    ~ DFG



    For me it’s an adult mayfly, caddis, midge, or stonefly. It must float on top of the water, so I don’t recognize emergers as dry flies. It must also live it’s early life cycle in the water.



    OK, I’ll bite.

    Creek’s definition is the most pure. I’m not quite there.

    A fly that floats, and that has wings; either fully deployed, about to be deployed, waiting to be deployed, or crippled. I do count an emerger if part of it is floating because the line between an emerger and a “dun” or “adult” is too fine to distinguish. Its not the stage of the insect, but where on the water that insect is. If part of it is dry, then its a dry fly. This is because any “dry fly” will have a portion of itself sunk in the water on most casts. The tail, the abdomen, sometimes even the thorax. The Parachute Adams is a fine example. On some casts it appears as a dun. On others it certainly looks more like an emerger. So my criteria is that at least part of the fly is above water, and there is some kind of wing. The fly on my avatar, Last Chance Cripple, is a dry fly. Only the tail and abdomen sink, the wing is above water.

    Now, you can have a fly that meets that criteria, a “dry fly”, that is completely sunk for whatever reason too (presentation, its soaked, fast water, whatever). Technically, the fly is still a dry fly, but its being fished wet. I can make a fully dressed catskill-style dry, for example, sink below the surface. Its still a dry fly. But its all wet! Hmm, I guess that’s “improperly” fishing a dry fly? Yep, this can get messy in a hurry! Must be the dead of winter. I don’t know what you call a sunk dry fly, except for maybe a “sunk dry fly.” Or, does that immediately change the name of the fly to a “wet fly.” Then, after drying or a couple of false casts, it becomes a dry fly? Beats me. That’s why I don’t ever let my fly down!

    Then I have exceptions. Exceptions are land-based “flies” like beetles, ants, and grasshoppers. I fish those “dry”, but are they “flies?” They are to me, but some don’t have wings, and therefore miss one of my earlier qualifications. Exception. Hmmm again. Poppers and mice are “top water” “bugs,” “flies,” or something, versus a “dry fly.” I call them “poppers,” and “mice” to avoid confusion. They are their own category, but not a “dry fly.”

    Of course, this is one man’s take on it, and when opinions start getting tossed around, you’re going to get a whole lot of them, without any full agreement. I’m sure this has been thrashed about on every fly fishing web site on the interweb, more than once. Its kinda like religion. Think what you want, and let everybody else think what they want, because it probably doesn’t matter anyway.

    I prefer to fish with flies on top of the water. I’ll never fish flies under the water again. But, here’s that exception again. I’ll toss streamers. I fish streamers and other “flies” for tarpon, both on top of, and under the water. I don’t ever call any of them dry flies. They’re poppers, Gurglers, toads, or streamers.

    Jeeze, all I really had to say is a dry fly floats and has wings of some type. And beetles, ants, and hoppers count too.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by  Lightline.


    Ah, pondering the imponderables.

    I really like Creek’s definition. Clearly it works for him, and it has a clarity of definition that is admirable.
    I’m unwilling to offer an opinion; couldn’t do it justice, and since I fish most any fly, I’m not always certain when I’m fishing dry/in the film/wet. I will say this: Most things in nature exist in a continuum. We’ve even come to recognize that there are ‘things’ between plant and animal. What separates a tree from a shrub? When does blue definitively become green? But it seems to me that the human mind works best with ‘steps’ and systems of classification. Our minds seem happier with staircases than slides. If you’ve ever cataloged books for a library, you’ll know that the classification system is very neat and tidy; the books not so much. (Should Ed Zern’s books be classified as “Humour” or “Fishing”?)
    On the ‘dry fly’ question, I think that the only way to do it with any certainty is as Creek did: name the families or genera you want to emulate, and stick to their adult forms. Otherwise, you have to deal with anomalies like the family Dryopidae, which includes the water beetles, that have terrestrial larvae, but aquatic adult forms. There are dries that can mimic the adults on top of the water, but there are also some flies that capture the essence of their underwater existence. And of course, the fish only rarely get a crack at the larval forms.
    …and of course there’s that whole continuum from ‘below the film’ to ‘in the film’ to ‘above the film’ but still somehow attached to it.
    Yikes. I’m gonna go pour another whisky.


    Dry Fly Guy

    Creek: So given your clear definition, I take it that you don’t consider terrestrials (ants and hoppers in particular) dry flies. Is that correct, or were terrestrials simply not being considered when you posted?

    ~ DFG



    In my case, I ignore terrestrials. As you’ve probably noticed by now. I keep things simple in my life. It may take me awhile to make a decision, but once I have. I hang on to it like a pit bull.

    My decisions on fly fishing are to keep things as natural and classic as possible. Maybe it’s not as classic and natural as the world see’s it, but how I see it. I make an effort to please only myself on matters like this.

    I have little concern how others do it, but I would hope they do something to please themselves, and not others.



    “My decisions on fly fishing are to keep things as natural and classic as possible. Maybe it’s not as classic and natural as the world see’s it, but how I see it. I make an effort to please only myself on matters like this.

    I have little concern how others do it, but I would hope they do something to please themselves, and not others.”




    I’m pretty much with Creek on this. I do count parachute flies, including Klinkhåmers, as dries but not terrestrials as dries. Somewhat odd, I guess, but I drew a personal line in the sand on the issue a few years ago. I’ve tied some poppers in recent years (I think I last tied one two years ago), but I can’t recall the last time I fished one. Mayflies, caddisflies, and the occasional attractor are just about it for me any more.



    Wheezeburnt–“Our minds seem happier with staircases than slides.”

    I was just rereading this thread, and although I’m not really adding to the discussion, this sentence really struck me this time. Very interesting analogy (with which I agree wholeheartedly).



    For more than 40 years, I have tied very simple nymph-like patterns to match local hatches.

    These are tied with split tails and sparse bodies. They are greased and floated in the film.

    I count them as dry flies.




    Scotty MacFly

    I agree with Creeks definition. Not only his definition but also his style. I myself will fish terrestrials, and North Country spiders in pocket water. I like my flying ants, and they float on top. But I don’t consider them dries at all. The spiders don’t float, but don’t sink like a nymph either. They are more wet flies that flow right below the surface.

    But Creek is right on about keeping it simple and pleasing himself. Sometimes this sport can get very technical, and then we lose sight in why we do it in the first place. It brings us pleasure. Nymphing can be a real science at times with the different leader styles and lengths and depths and speeds to fish. Constantly watching your indicator or colored leader for any signs of abnormal movement. Dry fly fishing is so much more relaxing imho. See whats flying around and match it the best you can and have fun. Keep it simple.

    I think Creeks attitude and beliefs about it is where we should strive to be, no matter what level we take it to.

    Keep doing what you’re doing Creek, and who cares what others think.



    Since this was brought back up i’d like to comment on the North Country Spiders. I’ve posted that i’m going to try them, and even fish them for the whole year. They’re certainly not dry flies, and fall more into the emerger group. Although some say they can represent drowned adults. I still can’t call them dries.

    They’re interesting to me only because of their history. The flies and method of fishing them are centuries old. I felt I needed to experience what the fly fisherman did centuries ago. Especially, since it’s still being done exactly the same way today with exactly the same flies tied with exactly the same materials. All that’s different is the rods we use now. They used rods made for wood, and very long. probably weighing 1.5 lbs. Not many of us would chose a rod like that today. Even if you could find one.

    The method of fishing them is also like fishing a dry. Which is upstream with fly only. One, or two flies at a time. Sort of like a dry with a smaller dry as a dropper. I do that many times with dries that are too small for me to see. The only difference is the spiders are below the surface, so your only feedback is what you can feel, or what the leader does. A most challenging way the fish.

    However, it’s not dry fly fishing, and as soon as I feel satisfied that i’ve experienced enough of a centuries old method of fishing. I’ll be back to my loved dry flies.

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