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Stillwater Dries: The Forgotten Method

Published: 14th June 2022 | Author: Rob Edmunds

All anglers have preconceived ideas. These ideas usually originate from advice that has been passed on from other older, seemingly more experienced, anglers. Personally, I think it’s better to keep an open mind and learn from your own experiences and watercraft.

Unfortunately “Dries” is a method and a range of patterns that is often misunderstood. Partly I believe due to our preconceived ideas. For many years I was also one of those that wouldn’t entertain fishing a “dry” perhaps only in exceptional circumstances in an act of pure desperation when I had tried everything else in my box.  For me “Dries” was a method for the old traditionalists who were set in their ways, those lazy anglers who didn’t want to put any effort into their fishing and who though Blobs were the spawn of the devil and should be banned……at the time as a competition angler my idea of a dry was a size 12 blob booby !

I have to admit I was very wrong – or maybe it’s just because I’m older and able to appreciate that fly-fishing is not just about “numbers of fish.  I now consider dries an essential method for every pleasure and match angler given the right conditions. This is especially true during the warmer months from May to October when the fish are on the fin and looking for natural food, buzzers, shrimps, sedge, olives etc.

Fishing stillwater dries can be very effective.

The Opportunities

Dries provides you the angler with opportunities to fish water that is often considered unfishable. Usually this is very shallow or weedy water. It’s also a method that consistently picks out better quality resident or spooky fish as you are fishing a “natural” pattern rather than a bright garish lure. Additionally, it’s a method that works consistently well on heavily pressured waters where fish have been repeatedly caught and released.  Because it’s visible and you’re sight fishing, it’s also one of the most satisfying and enjoyable methods. I fully accept I’ve missed out over the years by not considering dries and I implore you not to make the same mistakes I did.

The Tackle

It’s important to use the correctly balanced tackle. A common mistake is casting a heavy #8 or #9 weight line on a stiff fast actioned rod. This will significantly increase the chances of getting broken on the take or snapping up when playing a fish. It will also spook fish more easily in difficult conditions (clear, shallow, calm water) In reality a 9 – 10ft rod with an AFTM of 4,5 or #6 is ideal.

Your leader in the majority of situations should be co-polymer in 6 – 8lb, this won’t drag small lightweight flies under the surface as fluorocarbon often does.

However, if you are using large, buoyant patterns that have foam incorporated into the dressing (Popper Hoppers or Foam Daddies), then a high quality fluorocarbon such as Fulling Mill Masterclass Fluro in 6.5lb is ideal. Whatever leader material you choose, it’s absolutely essential that you degrease it every 10 – 15 minutes so it cuts through the surface film. If not, presentation will be severely compromised and you get significantly fewer takes.

A fine brown trout.

The Setup

Another key factor to success is to keep your set up very simple. My standard set up when fishing dries from bank or boat is just 2 flies on a 11ft leader of 7.99lb of Fulling Mill Masterclass Co-Polymer. I have 7ft to the dropper and a further 4ft to the point fly. Remember, you may need to make fast and accurate casts. This is more difficult with longer leaders and multiple flies. Each additional fly increases the chance of tangles or your droppers getting fouled in weed. This can result in breakages and lost fish.

Rigging up with Masterclass Fluorocarbon.

The Timing

Dusk and dawn often provides the best opportunities for fishing dries. Or those warm, muggy overcast summers’ days when the air temperature is actually warmer than the water temperature. Low light conditions make it difficult to set up new leaders, so I plan ahead and always have 2 leaders set up on a cast retainer and ready to go complete with flies. The window of opportunity for dries is often just an hour or two so make the most of it.

The Flies

As regards flies, I use a surprisingly small number of patterns they include:

Foam Daddy in orange, natural and black.

Daddy Real Orange

Black Hopper

Hopper Black

Claret Hopper

Claret Pearl

Big Red

Bill's Big Red

Black Popper Hopper 

Popper Black

Black CDC Shuttlecock

Shuttlecock Black

When fishing still waters or reservoirs you should aim to get your fly sitting in the surface film rather than proudly standing on top as a river dry would. I trim (or rather cut back by approximately 40%)  the underside of hackled dries such as hoppers before applying floatant. This will mean they sit lower in the surface film, looking more natural like a trapped or hatching insect that’s an easy meal. It’s a simple trick that will result in more positive takes and less refusals.

As regards patterns it’s also worth noting that I will only fish “Shuttlecock” patterns as the point fly on my 2 fly cast. They have an annoying habit of spinning up leaders in just a dozen casts or so often requiring a new leader. This is far from ideal at last light when the fish are rising.

The Size

I always opt for a size 12 or even size 14 patterns on the dropper, as a fly’s silhouette looks much larger when viewed from beneath. I’ve found that fishing smaller patterns leads to more positive takes and less refusals. My point fly invariably has foam incorporated in it, so a popper hopper or foam daddy are my preferences. These low maintenance patterns require very little treatment to continue to float and remain visible in the low light. In contrast, the dropper will often sink slightly or lay flat in surface film. This is perfectly acceptable.

Focus at the point fly and assume that any rise just in front of it is a fish that has taken your dropper. Lift slowly but firmly (almost as if you are lifting off to cast) into the fish. If you miss the take you can cover the fish again quickly and easily as you are already in the motion of lifting the rod. In some instances the fish may rise 2 or 3 times before actually taking your fly confidently.

Don’t set too hard, and if you miss the take cast right back in!

The Tactics

When fishing dries you have essentially 3 slightly different options, and your choice should largely be dependent upon the conditions.

1 – “Park and Wait”

Make a cast to a generic area where fish are rising and just wait until you get a take—this is often up to 5 minutes —before recasting. In a calm flat with rising fish this would be my go-to option. With no ripple to disguise your mistakes and hide your leader and fly line, fish are easily spooked.  You are making a conscious effort to keep your casting to the absolute minimum so as not to disturb the water, you are simply waiting for the fish to find your flies. In a flat calm you don’t have the luxury of fishing fresh water as you would in a drifting boat so be very patient. Remember that a frightened fish is impossible to catch on any method.

When you encounter a calm flat, the park and wait is a great option.

2 –  “Ring the Bell”

By fishing a disturbance pattern such as a popper hopper or foam daddy on the point you can create a small amount of disturbance in order to pull fish to the cast and induce the take. Two or three short 6 to 8 inch strips will cause the fly to “pop” across the surface. The disturbance will often draw the fish to your cast just like sounding a dinner bell. It’s then just a case of pausing for 30 to 45 seconds after the “popping” before repeating the process. It’s a method that I would tend to use when faced with a ripple as the disturbance can put the fish off in a flat calm.

Often a fish will rise and will continue on a set path especially along the edge of a weed bed, this presents you with an easier opportunity, once you judge the speed it moving you simply cast in front of it. If the fish is moving quickly you must be accurate and ensure your flies land literally 2 – 5ft away from it so your fly is within its window of vision. If it’s moving slowly you can give it a bigger lead cast 8 to 10ft in front and slowly pull your flies literally into its path.

3 – “Cover the water”

This works from the bank or in a boat. If there is a reasonable ripple you can fan cast the water in front of you in an arc,  leaving your flies sitting on the water for a short time after each cast usually between 7 and 20 seconds. It’s ideal if you are fishing one area for a short space of time before moving on. From a drifting boat with a light 5 – 10mph wind it’s my go to method during the evening in the summer months on our reservoirs.

To read more on stillwater fishing, read some of Rob’s other articles.

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