An Introduction to Dry Fly Fishing

The flies used in fly-fishing are often wonderfully intricate creations. Made from an almost unlimited variety of materials, they come in all shapes, colours and sizes, and are designed to imitate a vast range of different life-forms, all of which trout feed on at some stage in their lives.

Dry Fly Fishing

Dry fly fishing is special and exciting because you can actually see the fish take your fly off the surface of the river or lake!

Dry flies imitate terrestrial insects – insects that live out of water, such as moths, cicadas, beetles, and blowflies. When such insects fall onto the surface of a river or a lake, they immediately become potential items of food for the hungry trout; thus fly-fishermen have floating flies to imitate terrestrial insects that have somehow ended up trapped on the water’s surface.

Some insects, such as mayflies, are ‘semi-aquatic’: they spend most of their lives underwater as larvae or ‘nymphs’ and then eventually hatch into flying insects for a few days, which is when they breed. There are dry fly patterns that imitate these flying adult semi-aquatic insects as well.

Typical Dry Fly Pattern

Typical Dry Fly Pattern

Characteristics of Dry Flies

Dry flies are tied so that they will float on the surface of the river or lake. You may be wondering how it is possible to make a fishing fly that floats!

Well, this is done with special materials, used in the fly-tying process, called ‘hackles’. Hackles are usually found at the front of the fly near the eye of the hook. However, some dry flies have hackles along their whole length.

Dry flies used in dry fly fishing often have a stiff tail at the back, which also assists buoyancy. Deer hair is also used in many modern dry fly patterns; it helps keep a dry fly afloat. This is because each individual strand of hair on a deer is actually hollow!

As an example of a classic dry fly pattern, have a look at the following version of the common and popular dry fly called a ‘Dad’s Favourite’:

Dad's Favourite Dry Fly

Dad's Favourite Dry Fly

This fly is designed to imitate the adult common mayfly. As you can see, there is a tail sticking out at the back of the fly. This looks very much like the wispy tail of a real mayfly.

The body of the fly is thin and brown in colour, which again closely represents what a mayfly looks like. The fly also has dark-coloured ‘wings’ – made of fibres cut out of duck feathers – and these mimic the upright position of the wings of a newly-hatched adult mayfly.

As mentioned, the fly also has a beard of hackles up near the eye of the hook. Strictly speaking, these hackles don’t imitate anything found on the body of the real insect.

However, when the fly is on the water, the hackles tend to bunch together, and thus end up looking more or less like the legs of the actual mayfly which the Dad’s Favourite is supposed to imitate. Overall, then, the Dad’s Favourite is a very accurate imitation of an adult common mayfly.

Compare the Dad’s Favourite to a real adult mayfly:

Real May Fly

Real May Fly

When dry fly fishing, you don’t always have to be imitating something particular when you are fishing with a dry fly. Many times it’s best to fish with a general dry fly, such as a Molefly, which you can see clearly on the water and which could be taken by a trout for any number of different terrestrial insects present in the area you are fishing.

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