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Dry Fly Fishing Tips and Tactics

Published: 16th June 2021 | Author: Sean Platt

Every style of fly fishing has its “peak” moments. For trout anglers, there is no better time to be on the water than when fish are willing to risk safety in order to slurp a fly off the surface. The pursuit of a dry fly fishing to rising trout might just be the most iconic of piscatorial endeavors, and it has undoubtedly brought more people into fold than any other single style of fishing. 

Short and Sweet

Like all great things the window of opportunity is typically short and sweet. Clustered in the early mornings and late evenings, hatches typically coincide with some form of attack from voracious blood sucking insects (at least here in the east), the grogginess of first light or the panic of the fleeting evening sun. 

The following are a few tips to make the most of any dry fly opportunity, especially those all too brief Witching Hours which we hope to find ourselves in. 

Back to the Basics

Before we dive right in, lets consider the basics. Without them, the following tips won’t be very helpful. Just like any aspect of fly fishing, each of these concepts could probably have a college course dedicated to the minutia/techniques within, but this is just a quick reminder. 

When dry fly fishing, you need to have a strong handle on the basics before adding more variables.


Put in the plainest of terms, you need to be able to cast your fly to the target. It’s as simple as that and yet it is one of the most overlooked fundamentals. Practice, practice, practice and then practice some more, if your neighbors aren’t worried about your mental health, you aren’t practicing enough.  

Line Management

If you put your fly in the zone and then allow a huge belly of slack to form in the current, you might as well just sit back and watch as that sucker swim mach five over any potential customer’s head. Reading water and knowing when and how to mend are crucial to getting the right drift. Which brings us to our next basic. 


I would argue that presentation— the culmination of a good cast and proper line management—is 90% of the battle. If your fly looks like food, chances are a trout will come and take a taste. Simple things like using foam/naturals to dial the drift of your fly, observing how the trout are eating and what they are eating goes a long way to improve your chances for success. 

Now let’s get to it! The following are some of the tips/techniques that I find myself sharing the most with my clients when it comes to fishing dries.

An evening fishing dries in pocket water.

Twitch it

There seems to be a universal thought that dry fly fishing is unanimous with dead drifting. Rest assured, the world will not fall off its axis if you move your fly, quite the opposite actually. You might just find yourself cleaning up. When you watch bugs land/fall on the water, very rarely do they lounge around and soak up the sun. More often they want to get out ASAP. The key to moving your fly correctly is to watch how naturals move and think small like a bug.

Depending on the species and stage of life, different movements work better than others. While there isn’t a universal twitch, there is a progression of drifts that can be very helpful especially when trout aren’t eating a fly on a dead drift. I always encourage clients to start off with a few good dead drifts. If that doesn’t work, we progress to a few alternated twitches and pauses, then a more consistent twitch and ultimately a skate followed by a continuous pulse. The idea is that we start with the least amount of disturbance and progress. Keep in mind that this progression is for my local rivers, it might vary greatly for you. Typically, with a little experimenting you can find a presentation that the trout will key in on. As with all my advice, take it with a grain of salt and go experiment.

Sometimes the dead drift isn’t enough.

Closer is better

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen an angler trying to cast 60 feet across multiple currents for a trout that they could walk 40 feet closer to and cast 20-30 feet for…I’d still have to guide, but my gas would be paid for. In all seriousness, get closer to rising trout. Trying to pick up a ton of line, if somehow the drift isn’t ruined, is 10x harder that picking up half or even a third of that amount.

So how do you get closer? First, avoid wearing bright colors and clothing that stands out. Second, get low, the taller you are the more likely you are to disturb the fish. Third, approach them from a downstream angle. Trout are typically looking upstream, so if you stay below their cone of vision, you stand a much better chance of them not seeing you. Once you are in position, take a few minutes to observe, especially if your movement seems to have quieted their activity. 

Get low and get close to the fish.

Tippet Size

I am a big fan of trying to use the maximum size tippet that I can get away with. With Fulling Mill’s Masterclass Fluorocarbon, I am often able to size up an x or two. That said, using 2x for a size 20 Blue Wing Olive is a bit excessive and will impede the presentation. I’ll keep this one short and sweet, make sure that the tippet you are fishing is correct for the size fly you are fishing. I’ve given an example in the photo below.

When day fly fishing, getting the right tippet size is key.

Hope this helps! Go out and experiment. As always, I hope to see you on the water!

To read more from Sean Platt, have a look at his other pieces on the blog.

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