Becoming a Better Dry Fly Angler: Part I
By Evan Unti
With the salmon fly hatch coming to an end it is time to gear up for the plethora of bug activity that bombards the Deschutes every June. The mayfly hatches get stronger and more predictable as the weather begins to stabilize and the caddis hatches get so thick you can hardly breathe. Undoubtedly this is the best time of year for dry fly fishing on the Deschutes but it requires dispelling the myths surrounding dry fly fishing and approaching the water in the right way and fishing it properly. By combining these elements you can effectively fish dry flies from sun up to sun down for the next few months.
First I want to dispel some of the myths that surround dry fly fishing as related to the Deschutes river. A common misnomer on the Deschutes is the assumption that you need to see fish rising to justify tying on a dry fly. Most of the days that I guide, we fish dries or dry dropper combos regardless of whether we see fish visibly rising and are typically successful. The river is big with continually changing currents and the fish rise so subtly that most rises are easily missed. So donít be afraid to tie a dry on when it seems like there is nothing going on. The most important thing is to be in the proper water.
The second common misconception is dry flies should be employed only when a serious hatch is occurring. In the shop I hear many anglers say they didnít do any dry fly fishing because there were no bugs around. Certainly a visible hatch makes it easier to determine which fly to tie on but trust me Deschutes redsides eat as many dead and spent insects as they do live ones. So when there is no hatch tie on a dead caddis or spent mayfly and see what happens.
Lastly, the belief that you have to be a good or great caster to have dry fly success is false on this river. Certainly a good or great caster is going to have more success because he or she can properly place the fly on the first or second cast, but that does not mean a novice or intermediate caster canít. You donít need to cast more than 10 to 15 ft. to catch fish on dries. In fact anglers who fish shorter casts will typically have more success then the angler bombing 40 footers. There are too many conflicting currents to cast a long line and get a good presentation. If you see a fish rise 40 ft. in front of you, donít try to make that cast, simply walk up river and make a 10 footer.
The key components to fishing dry flies effectively are quite simple. Fish systematically and quickly with a short line. Sounds easy enough but in fact it is more challenging then it seems. Systematically fishing is difficult to do properly because it requires a certain level of accuracy. Fish on the Deschutes will not move more than 6 inches laterally to get a fly which means the fly needs to be right where the fish wants it. So start with the first cast close to the bank and than systematically work it out from the bank in 1 ft. increments to no more than 10 ft. off the bank. Once you have effectively covered that water than move up 5 to 10 ft. and repeat the process.
It is important when you select a piece of water, as well as when you are fishing the water, to take inventory of the various boulders. The fish on the Deschutes always sit in front of the rocks not behind them, thus it is important to cover the front of every boulder. As you move up the river be sure to position yourself to get good casts that thoroughly cover every rock in the water. Also take note of the foam lines that cruise the banks and take notice of what rocks the lines tend to concentrate over. The fish love to feed in foam lines thus the boulders with high concentrations of foam lines are more likely to hold fish then ones without them.
Keep the casts short and controlled so that a perfect presentation can be achieved with ease and efficiency. A shorter cast will enable you to be more accurate and thus more systematic as you work through the water. Plus if the wind kicks up, which it will, you can still effectively cast with a short line. Remember to move up to rising fish rather than attempt a long cast to ensure proper presentation the first time.
Now get out on the river tie a dry fly on and start prospecting the likely looking water keeping in mind that fishing systematically, quickly and efficiently will result in stellar dry fly fishing. I suggest practicing your cast whenever you get the opportunity and be sure to keep the line nice and short. Stay tuned for Part II.
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