Dry flies

The range of dry flies available to the game fisherman is vast.

Knowing which one to use to tempt trout to the surface calls for patience, skill and an expert eye for reading the water Dry fly fishing has always been regarded as the supreme art in fly fishing circles. This is particularly so on rivers and chalkstreams where matching the hatch is only the beginning of the problem and where presentation has to be considered as well. But dry flies also play an important part in reservoir and lake fishing where trout are attracted by insects on the surface.

Favourite season

Of all the periods during the season when trout rise to a dry fly, the favourite is the time that the mayfly hatch. The huge flies emerge from the water in such large numbers that the trout literally gorge themselves to capacity, and the better fish rise freely. On these occasions almost any artificial pattern representing a mayfly will take fish. Unfortunately the mayfly only hatches in running water and in a few privileged lakes, and so it does not affect the dry fly fisherman everywhere.

Early in the season the hawthorn fly hatches in large numbers and very good catches can be made with the aid of a Black Gnat. Again this mostly applies to running waters, but vast numbers of hawthorn flies were noticed at Rutland Water. Although the fish were not rising to them at that time, they will probably do so in the future.

In late summer, one of the most popular flies that hatches on every water is the sedge. These medium sized flies start to hatch in July and August and are present throughout the day, and in vast numbers at nightfall. If weather conditions are good and flies are hatching, a pattern representing a sedge can be very effective, for the ‘spent’ sedge falling back upon the water is the fly most likely to attract the attention of the trout. But they are by no means the only ones. Throughout the year there are hatches of buzzers, the dreaded caenis, which is too small to be imitated, and a number of Ephemerids such as the olives. These insects all hatch from the water and return there to lay their eggs, and this is when the trout will rise to them.

Land-borne insects

In addition to these insects, there are also the land-borne kind which live and breed on dry land but are often carried on to the water by winds. Naturally these flies are more important to the reservoir angler because the large expanses of water are too much for the insects to fly across while maintaining a battle with the wind to stay in the air. When they fall into the water they make a meal for lurking trout.

Of the insects that hatch on land, the daddy long legs is the one which, year after year, adds to the larder of the trout. In the late summer the daddy long legs hatch in vast numbers in the bankside vegetation, and being fairly weak fliers, are easily carried onto the water when the wind rises. The trout then cruise the margins and wind lanes taking the daddy long legs with a great swirl or splash, and fantastic sport can be had with a natural or imitation fly.

Difficult match

The drone fly also features on the trout’s menu for a short period when it is present in sufficient numbers, and also another land-borne insect, the ladybird. Both of these are rather difficult to match, and it is often a question of sorting through the box; but once a pattern is found, sport becomes brisk.

The other land insect that really interests the trout is the flying ant. On rare occasions, a swarm of these insects is blown on to the water and the trout feed heavily on them, so it is wise to have an imitation in the box, just in case. The same also applies to bees and grasshoppers, but there are few recorded patterns of these insects. When trout are seen taking them the angler must be ready to tie an acceptable imitation.


There is another type of dry fly fishing which is most successful on large stillwaters—dapping. It is in fact a very old method regaining popularity. Although used mostly on the big Irish loughs it is fast becoming popular on the larger English reservoirs.

Dapping requires a rod of at least 13ft—a coarse rod will do fine for the purpose. Fill a centrepin reel with nylon of about 8 lb: to this attach approximately 10 yards of special dapping floss. Finally your leader is a couple of yards of 5lb or 6lb nylon: a good selection of bushy hackled dry flies and a bottle of silicone floatant and you are ready to fish.

It is possible to dap from the bank but this is primarily a method to use from a broadside drifting boat. Tactics are simple: allow the wind to lift the floss line as you hold the rod vertically. As you lower the rod watch carefully as the fly rests gently on the water. If no rise occurs, lift and repeat. When a trout boils at the fly, pause for a couple of seconds before striking otherwise you will find you keep pulling the fly out of the trout’s mouth before it has taken properly.

Most essential, of course, is a good wind. Once you master the method you may wish to try dapping with a natural insect. This is perhaps the most deadly of all methods as the Irish gillies will tell you. They use a bunch of three mayflies or daddies impaled on a No 10 hook. But the best fish catcher of all is undoubtedly the dapped grasshopper.

Patterns of dry fly

In almost all instances where trout feed on land-borne insects, the rule is not to move the fly. It is not possible to simulate the vibrating motion of their legs and in any case they are soon dead or exhausted and then lay m still. An imitation is far more likely to succeed if it is cast out and then left. Regarding the patterns of dry fly that are needed, every angler should include in his collection the following: Tupp’s Indispensable, Mayfly, Sedge, Black Gnat, Grey Duster, Iron Blue, Daddy Long Legs, Sherry Spinner, Pond Olive, Lunn’s Particular, Flying Ant, Drone Fly, Greenwell’s Glory, Royal Coachman, Wickham’s Fancy, Silver Sedge, Kite’s Imperial, Grey Wulff, Grey Duster, Lake Olive and perhaps appropriately Last Hope, which was originated by John Goodard to represent the Pale Watery dun or similar, light coloured river insects.

These are only a few of the many hundreds of dry flies available. The tremendous growth of fly fishing, and the advent of the relatively cheap package holidays abroad, has led to English fly fishing enthusiasts travelling all over the world, notably the United States, Canada, Alaska and even New Zealand. This has resulted in many flies with origins far from our reservoirs and, to a lesser extent, rivers.

Unless treated with a floatant, dry flies will quickly become waterlogged and need frequent changing. This is especially true of the wool bodied types. But the invention of Permaflote by Dick Walker and Arnold Neave means that you can fish the same fly all day without a change, unless, of course, a fish has taken it, when it will need a change. One word of warning—it’s best to treat the flies and leave them to dry thoroughly before use if you want the best results from them.

Retreiving a fly against a current will ‘drown’ a fly. But with Permaflote, after a false cast or two, you’re back in business.

The leader is best left untreated with floatant. Degrease it with mud or one of the commercial leader sink preparations: there’s nothing so guaranteed to scare trout as a floating leader.

A fly that you have changed should be left to dry thoroughly before replacing it back in the fly box or you are likely to introduce rust to your other flies. Either stick it on one of the sheepskin patches on a fishing waistcoat or lightly stick it in your hat, taking care not to crunch the hackles.