Mastering the Dry Fly
2017 TTFF Presentation by Jon Baiocchi
Jon Baiocchi is an honored legacy in the fly-fishing community. He began his angling career under father Bob Baiocchi’s tutelage. Bob was in inducted into the Federation of Fly Fishers Hall of Fame in 1999. Enjoying a devoted following, Jon now owns and operates Baiocchi’s Troutfitters in Northern California, and his bio-page is an enjoyable read. Click here.
A friend and member of the Tahoe Truckee Fly Fishers, Jon gave TTFF a peak at his new presentation on Dry Fly fishing, complete with animation, at the February General Meeting. First conceived of and employed by the Egyptians, the dry fly of modern times was refined and improved upon by the English during the 1800s. Forward into the millennium, it was further developed by American anglers too, including the famous author Gary LaFontaine. Why the fascination with the dry fly? Although trout only feed on the surface 10% of the time, fishing with the dry fly is every fly-angler’s dream!
Covering moving water: Jon started with a detailed explanation of how to divide and cover the water in front of you (when fishing upstream) with “fan casting” a section of water. Thereafter, you should move laterally and search that adjacent water with the fan casting technique, and finally advance upstream repeating your method. The secret here is to expose only the leader and the fly to the trout, and retrieve the flyline fast enough to prevent a ‘line belly’ that would spoil the dead-drift. (The fan casting strategy is further explained in Tactics.)
Fly-first Presentations: Typically for very warry trout, you have to present your fly first, either downstream to them or buy casting such that only the fly goes into the trout’s window. One of the best presentations, especially for beginners, is “high-sticking”. Leave only 2’ to 4’ of tippet on the water as you drift it downstream. You need to be careful not to cause drag. The “bow and arrow” is another dry fly strategy for fly-first presentations in tight spaces. With no room for a back cast but close to the fish, hold your fly (the arrow) and put a bend in the rod (the bow) and let it fly. And, the very effective “reach cast” is probably the most widely used technique. This is when you are to the side or down stream of the fish and you need to put the fly in an arch so it floats over the fish while the rest of the line goes off to the side. Other fly-first presentations also can be useful including “stack mending” (aka the “Fall River twitch”) and “the bump”. Both of these assume you are upstream of the fish and feeding line out such that the fly reaches the fish first. Again, take care regarding drag! Tip: Try to get at least a 45 degree angle on the fish for hook-set to avoid pulling it out of the trout’s mouth when fishing downstream. Remember, they need to take the fly and close their mouth before you can set the hook!
Rise Forms: Did that fish just take a dry off of the surface or a cripple caught in the film? Learning the differences in rise forms is critical to presenting what the fish is eating. Inspection of the bug (or imitation) is the first step a trout takes toward surface consumption. They literally come up to give the fly a closer look, particularly in slower moving water. If it passes inspection, the trout rises and consumes the objective. “Sipping” is a rise form where the trout’s snout comes out of the water, usually taking small to medium adult mayflies. The key here is an expelled bubble of air that was ingested in the process. That bubble is the telltale of a take off of the surface. No bubble? Try an emerger or a cripple. The “suck” rise is when a very strong trout uses suction to ingest the surface objective without breaking the surface (caddis pupa emergers, etc). Tip: If your fly disappears, set your hook! The “splash” is one you will hear before you see it (caddis pupa emergers, salmon smolts). The “bulging sub-surface feeder” rise form is when a trout pushes the water up while taking a barely submerged nymph. “Tailing” is very similar as the trout feeds barely sub-surface and pushes water up while exposing his tail above the surface. “Porpoising” is again similar but only the back is visible. And lastly, “Kissing the sky” is a simple dimple left when a trout gently ingests an immobile spent spinner or adult midge.
The Trout’s Visual Field: It is interesting to note that the diameter of a circle that a trout can see on the surface is slightly less than the depth of that fish. So, a fish at a depth of 4 feet has slightly less than a 4 foot surface visual field, and so on. So, accurate casts are crucial for your fly to be seen! Also, note that the trout’s visual field will expand when it refracts at and beyond the water’s surface. Thus, the need for a low angler profile and a stealthy approach. [Tip: I view that complete visual field as an upside down floodlight bulb.]
Water Structure: Fish relate to structure and dark water. They utilize boulders, tail-outs, banks shaded by trees or over-hanging rocks, soft spots in fast water, riffles, log-jams, transition zones between hatch water and adjacent zones where fish stack up, runs, bubble or foam lines, feeding lanes and seams between different current speeds.
[Tip: Observe more, cast less!]
Tactics: As father Bob taught Jon in his youth, when on a big stream, break down the water into 30’ by 30’ sections and decipher the water within. Then, cast eight times within each section: First, focus upstream on cast numbers 1-4 beginning at the bank. Next, use reach mend casts on numbers 5-6 for more of a middle and downstream orientation. And finally, downstream casts on 7-8 ending up at the bank. Then, move on to the next section upstream. Note - don’t pass up complex currents such as swirly water, eddies, etc. Just cast for a short drift (6 feet or so) to target the fish you thought were unreachable.
Let hatches intensify before you slap the water. Then, slowly fish upstream without spooking fish higher up.
[Tip: Late spring to early fall, the Caddis fly rules.]
Refusals: When your fly presentation fails a trout’s initial inspection, it is a “refusal”. One trick to fall back on is to switch to a fly that is more sparsely tied – less material, lower profile. Next, try tying on an Ant or Midge or another fly that is appropriate for the situation. Then, try …. oh heck, just go find another fish ;-)
Excellent Reading: Inland Fishes of California, by Peter Moyle, discusses fish behavior and feeding times (ex. Rainbows in the evening). The Dry Fly: New Angles and Caddisflies, both by Gary LaFontaine. Learning from the Water, by Rene Harrop.
Gear: Medium action rod, soft tip (ex. Sage Mod). Weight Forward flyline for big flies/heavy winds. Double Taper Light Touch line for smaller flies/delicate presentations. Make sure your line tip is large enough to float. Consider cleaning and then coating it with ‘Water Shed’. The Reddington Behemoth Super Torque is an excellent reel for $109.
Spring Creek leaders (calmer water) – 5 feet of .024 stiff line, either 9 or 12 foot leader tapered to 6X, then 36 inches of 7X tippet. Another option – 3 feet of .024 stiff line, 9 foot tapered leader (Rio SuppleFlex Trout tapered leader).
Smaller Creeks – 7.5 foot tapered leader in 5X. Remove tippet where the leader tapers to 2X or 3X and install a tippet ring. (Double check the knot.) Then tie smaller tippet on to the ring.
Locator flies: Tie on a very large fly as the locator and a smaller fly (ex. size 20) 2 feet below on 5 or 6X tippet. Set the hook any time there is a splash within 2 feet of the locator fly. Tie on stoneflies, hoppers and even some of your nymphs using a Close-Looped Knot (Lefty’s Loop), a must-learn.
Jon’s Favorite Dry Flies: Sparkle Dun, Parachute Midge Emerger, Bob Quigley’s Hackle Stacker and Film Critic (Green Drake Emerger), Ralph’s E/C Caddis, Stimulator, Unit Skwala, Royal Wulff.