Presenting the Dry Fly--Part 2

By Scott Richmond

Presenting Straight Upstream

If you cast your fly straight upstream toward a trout, you minimize drag because fly, leader, line, and current are probably all moving at the same speed and in the same direction. Unfortunately, you've maximized the "spook" problem because the line will drift over the head of every trout between you and where the fly line landed.

However, there are times when an upstream presentation is your only option. It works best if you cast so the fly lands about five feet upstream from the lie (or suspected lie) of a single fish. This way the line lands behind the fish and is less likely to spook it. Needless to say, your chances are better if the line lands delicately.


Presenting Straight Downstream


A straight downstream presentation is very effective on spring creeks and other special situations. To execute this presentation, face downstream and cast straight downstream from you. As you release the cast, bring the rod back to you. This will give you some slack line. You can also give yourself some slack by wiggling the rod tip as you release the cast. Follow the fly downstream with the rod; the trick is to minimize the slack line so you can strike quickly, while not putting so much tension on the line that you slow the fly down. Sometimes you can feed extra line through the guides and extend the drift, but this is hard to do without causing drag. With this presentation, the fly reaches the fish before the line and leader, and drag is minimized.

Note that because the line is directly below you, you can pull the fly right out of the fish's mouth when you strike; therefore wait just a fraction of a second longer before striking so that the fish has time to close its mouth on the fly.




Dapping is seldom-used dry fly presentation, but it can be very effective, especially when you're imitating hovering or egg-laying insects.

Use very little line past the rod tip. Hide behind a bush or similar obstruction and drop the fly in front of a fish. Gently bounce the fly up and down so as to imitate an insect touching the water repeatedly.



Forget everything you read about drag. The goal of this presentation is to create drag.

Use a heavily hackled dry fly, such as an Elk Hair Caddis or a Stimulator that will ride on top of the water. Cast downstream at about a 45-degree angle to the current. Mend line upstream, and let the fly swing across. You are imitating an adult insect that is running across the water, or a stonefly that is being blown across by the wind.


Other Tips for Presenting a Dry Fly

  1. Manage Your Line. As the fly drifts back to you, slack line is created. Leaving the slack on the water makes it difficult to tighten up on a rising trout. It also can create drag. So pull the line through your fingers to minimize the amount of slack line, but be careful not to get carried away and drag the fly.
  2. Pick Up with a Roll Cast. A quick mini-roll cast can lift the fly off the water with a minimum of fish-scaring fuss. As soon as the fly is airborne, start your backcast.
  3. Avoid Sprinkling Water. The fly line will have water drops clinging to it. When you make your first forward and back casts, this water is shaken from the line and lands on the river. On clear, still pools, this can spook trout. If you make your first forward and back casts in one direction, then switch to the right direction for your final release, you minimize this problem.
  4. Emergers. Virtually everything that has been said about dry flies applies to fishing emergers and other patterns that are just subsurface. Watch the line-leader junction. If it bounces or jerks, strike. Many anglers strike too often when fishing emergers. This causes the fly and fly line to rip through the water and frighten the trout.
  5. Lead the Fish. Trout waiting for surface food need to see it coming. The deeper the fish and the clearer the water, the farther they can see. So your fly needs to land far enough upstream that the trout can see it coming, rise to it, and follow it downstream a short distance before taking it.
  6. Plan Ahead. Before presenting the fly, think about where you're going to pick up the fly at the end of the drift. Make sure it's not in a place that is going to spook trout.
  7. Refusals. Sometimes--often?--a trout will rise to your fly, or so you think. You see a splash near your fly, and maybe even a trout head pokes up. But when you strike you feel no resistance. If this happens a couple of times, then you are probably being refused: the trout rose to your fly, but at the last instant decided something wasn't quite right and turned away without taking it. Refusals mean your pattern and presentation are close but not quite close enough. Drag or tippet size may be a problem, but usually you need a different fly--one that's smaller or has less hackle.
  8. Chose your flies by water type. The rougher the water, the more hackle you need to keep your fly on top of the water. Conversely, you don't need much hackle to float a fly on calm water. When fishing slow moving, ultra-clear spring creeks, a fly with no or very little hackle will work best. But on a rough, boisterous river you need a heavily hackled fly, such as an Elk Hair Caddis or your fly will sink.


This is the second part of a two-part article on dry fly presentations. The first part discussed the causes of the two dry fly bugaboos, drag and spook. It also described the up-and-across presentation, which is the most common dry fly tactic.

Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).