The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fly-Fishing; the Dry-fly

Image: by D L Ennis, Otter Creek in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Until the mid to late 1800’s the dry-fly did not exist; not until changes were made to wet flies by British anglers such as, the addition of tails to make the hook position proper. They added more flotation to the wet fly by winding them with collars of stiff hackles. The famous angler Frederic M. Halford recorded these changes in the many books he wrote in the late 1800’s. Dry-fly fishing came to America on February 22, 1890, when three-dozen English dry flies where sent from Frederic Halford to, American angler Theodore Gordon of New York.

Theodore Gordon knew that the insects in Britain’ rivers and streams were not quite like the insects in American waters, so using the English flies Halford had sent him, he modeled his American version of the flies, with the appropriate changes, after them. Mr. Theodore Gordon gave us the legendary "Quill Gordon" and the "Light Cahill" as well as many others.

A lot of fishermen withdraw from trying dry-fly fishing, fearing that it may be too difficult to master. Dry-fly fishing can be quite challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. It has been said that, "the art of dry-fly fishing is the ultimate method of angling". I agree, for fishing the dry fly requires an exceedingly close imitation of the actual insect in hatch, a meticulous presentation and delicate tackle to be successful.

Mayflies are the most important, of all species of water born flies, to the dry-fly angler. Once the Mayfly emerges it is called a dun, as the wings are dun-colored; a dull grayish brown. The duns will spend hours or even days perched in bushes or low tree limbs over the water prior to their final transformation. During this transformation they molt, becoming spinners, more brightly colored and to some extent, different in size and shape, with three long tails. The spinners, as they are known at this stage, and often times in dense multitudes, plunge quickly downward and glide more slowly upward in a dancing flight while they mate. The females, then skimming the water, lay their eggs. Seemingly exhausted, their wings spread becoming uncontrollable and they fall to die as spentwings.

Sometime in May, June, or July, most often just before dark is when this happens and the trout indulge with a passion, gorging themselves darting about eating all they can. At this time trout will hit any reasonable facsimile in dry flies. The angler should try to imitate not only these three stages of the mayflies life, but also, the many colors and sizes of the assorted subspecies which hatch from time to time during the season. This presents an amazing complexity in fly patterns. Fly-fishing purist will go to no end to try and match a particular hatch, while the less fastidious anglers feel that a few representations are adequate.

The second most important insect to the dry fly angler would be the Caddis flies. Caddis flies look like small moths with long feelers and tent-like folded wings. Between April and June, their various types emerge, flying over the water in erratic meandering swarms. They are none as miller and sedge flies. After hatching and mating, the female miller and sedge flies will crawl down branches or blades of grass into the water to lay their eggs, after which they die. Trout in areas where this takes place will be shallow with their noses near the surface waiting for their meal. The angler should use flies of the miller and sedge type with a heavy hackle to avoid hanging up in the grasses. Here you would cast to the grasses or bank and slowly pull the fly into the water. Caddis flies will also fly over fast water sections of rivers and streams in an erratic way coming near the surface. On these occasions use a fly of similar color and size and skitter it across the water.

Image Right: Stonefly/golden pattern, Used with permission from Centralflies.

The stonefly is likely the third most important insect to the dry fly angler. Stoneflies will sometimes appear before ice is off of northern lakes. You may see them in shades of gray, black and brown. They average near one inch in length and have two pairs of wings, which fold flat against their body when not in flight. They will dip their abdomens into the water while in flight to lay their eggs; they may also crawl beneath the water to lay their eggs. Some good flies that can be used to imitate stoneflies are Adams, Brown Sedge and Grannom. The black, brown or gray Wooly Worm is alleged to be taken for a stonefly.

It would be quite difficult to say whish dry flies would be best, as it would depend upon your location and many other factors. The best thing you could do is start with some of the classic flies and build your collection from there. Flies such as the Black Gnat, Blue Dun, Cahill Light, Quill Gordon, Royal Coachman, Spentwing Adams, and White Wulff would be some good choices of flies to keep with you while fly-fishing. During the summer, though frowned on as being called dry flies, the grasshopper, small green caterpillar, and bumblebee are sometimes good to have. As I said earlier keep some of the classic dry flies and when you travel stop into a local tackle shop and ask what is working at the time in local waters.

Dry fly fishing is the ultimate for me, the rush that comes when that trout comes to the surface of the water, taking that fly is plenty enough for me too keep coming back for more. If you have never tried fly-fishing with dry flies, please do yourself a favor and try it, you will not be sorry!

Now grab some flies and your fly rod and go fly-fishing!

Also read, Ever Been Fly-fishing?

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