The summer is here. The heat is here, the summer thunderstorms and rains are here, we’ve got bugs hatching and there are troot eating. It’s dry fly time.
The day time temps are starting to get into the high 70’s to mid 80’s. Midday is starting to be too bright and way too hot for fishing. But good for tubing, rafting, and other riverside activities besides fishing. This means mornings and evenings will start fishing really good.
Golden Stones, Yellow Sallies, Drake’s, PMDs, and caddis are what I have on the brain. Let’s talk about where I fish these types of flies and why. I do a lot of dry fly fishing. Typically on an 8 hour summer day we’ve got 2 hours of nymphing and or streamer fishing and the rest focused on dry flies. As a guide in search of dry fly eaters I have 3 things I am assessing when reading a specific piece of water for a dry fly eat.
1. Water temp. Just get used to this one. I am constantly looking for that sweet spot of 54-58 degrees.
2. Where is the food coming from. Let’s say it’s a riffle…is it the right time of day for mayflies to be hatching? If not then why would fish be hanging there? Or maybe it’s an overhanging branch along the bank with a nice cut out…are there stoneflies or caddis in that tree? Yes…then there’s probably a fish under there. Or maybe a big boulder garden, with 56 degree water, a decent yellow sallies hatch…yep…and active feeders….mmmmmm. Always try and determine the food sources when reading water…that gives you insight as to whether trout would be holding in that water or not. If there’s not food…and there isn’t gonna be food there for a while…probably not worth fishing. Fish rise in the water column when food is abundant up top but also when the opportunity for an easy meal presents itself. Looking for areas that give trout those options is key for dry fly fishing.
3. Presentation Angle. Probably not what you were expecting. But half the challenge of dry fly fishing is deciphering which way to approach trout and drift with your fly. Examples such as, a downstream angle, upstream angle, 90 degree, 45 degree, roll cast, arrow cast, where’s the sun in relation to my casting stroke? Or maybe it’s a complicated reach cast on your off hand shoulder, across 3 current speeds, the fastest being closest to the angler and the slowest being in the drift lane…asking how to approach the fish and which method is best is the real challenge of dry fly fishing. On the Yakima…this is why people don’t fish dries….these fish like it perfect the first time. If it isn’t…you may never even see them. If you never see the fish and you keep fishing and casting with no trout love…you might be a little disheartened to throw dries too. I’ve been there. And if I’ve learned anything about dries over the years…it’s to fish the water not the fish…and stick with it…when you get it right…it’ll happen.
Do you know how many times I hear people tell me they haven’t caught a fish in the upper river or in dries? Like 40% of my trips. The upper river has gin clear water, spooky fish, and lots of water to read. It also gives trout a lot of places to feed and hide in. Ever wonder why dry fly fishing can shut down so hard in the LC here? Would you wanna rise for, or eat anything for that matter, after all those boats and anglers go over and cast the same lines and drift lanes over and over day after day? Same happens in the upper but less because the fish move around more. Trout in the upper have more than just a bank and some boulders to hide along when the current is high. There’s just more to offer a practiced dry fly angler. And that’s what the upper requires…practice. In the lower dry fly fishing is best when the fish haven’t had a lot of pressure, and they still are just as picky as their upper river friends. It the lower river has a lot less feeding lines for dries. It’s almost all along the bank save for a few riffles. So this means fish stack up along those lines and feed. When they get lots of pressure they just go eat something else deeper…typically caddis. It’s always caddis I swear.
We get a lot of opportunity at fish on dries in my boat. Big, small, it doesn’t matter…dry fly eats are awesome on this river whether the fish is 12 or 20 inches. I say opportunity because lots of fish are missed. They are very fast, and when you get everything right with the presentation…the next challenge of dry fly fishing to tests anglers…setting the hook.
Nymphing is Indicator Fishing or Bobber Fishing for those of us who started out on gear, and exactly as the name states, there is something visual that lets the angler know they have a fish striking their fly. That indicator is very easy to see and it also gives you a bit of help by giving the angler a few more milliseconds to realize the strike and set the hook. That’s all there when dry fly fishing…but it’s the fish that is the indicator. This….is the single one thing I am constantly trying to improve on as a guide…how to set the hook and teach it. Because nobody likes to miss fish…especially me…I’m super f’ing greedy with this river. I can get the fish up…but setting the hook…to this day…is still a challenge for me…and lots of the anglers in my boat.
I think I’ve worked it out to three things to keep in mind when setting the hook on dry fly eats.
1. You have to watch. I mean intently, tunnel vision watch, while that fly is on the ride. You send it with a purpose and you follow through and make sure that fly gets eaten before you stick that troot in the face. You have to watch. When the fly is riding…all focus should be on it. Mine is, on both flies, so I need each angler to watch too…that’s 6 eyes on 2 flies. I’m also watching the next three lanes down river too. But watch your fly…it’s what you are paying for.
2. I said watch right? Next is: Anticipate the strike…otherwise known as be ready. It’s basically telling you to watch…but with Jedi like focus…to know that a trout will strike…that it can strike…that it must strike…and setting the hook when it does. Just be ready. So many times I’m just not ready and it takes me by surprise and I miss the fish. It happens with clients and I try and compensate for it by giving a big speech every trip about the different types of eats to watch for, when fish tend to hit in the drift, all the stuff in this blog basically…just more so and on the water.
3. Lift up and bend the elbow back. This is a techy one… and it has a second part to it that’s auditory.
When you set the hook on dry fly eats you should first lift the rod by the extending the elbow out while raising the arm at the shoulder. As you raise your arm up , your rod will start to bend from the tension, it’s about when my elbow hits my eyeline for me, then I bend my elbow back to get the rod to bend into a “Question Mark” shape ? . Fly rods, no matter the speed, make, or style, are designed to create tension through leverage by the rod bending. If the rod doesn’t bend…it’s too strong for the fish, if it folds in half…you need a bigger stick.
The rod needs to be in that Question Mark shape and it will give you a lot more control and leverage on the trout. When the rod straightens out it loses its leverage, which loses tension, which loses fish, which makes me super sad. It’s a fluid motion that is more reaction and muscle memory than skill. It takes practice, and for anglers that are practiced they can feel the way the trout eats and adjust the hook set accordingly. It’s amazing to watch, even better when you get it right. I still work on this as I miss a lot of fish when I personally fish. I catch a bunch too but it takes practice throughout the season to stay proficient at it.
The second auditory part I mentioned earlier and then forgot about is this. I make a lot of noise when trout eat. It’s something that isn’t gonna change and I won’t apologize for it. I get paid to show anglers a good time. I work hard at it. When I say ‘set’, or yell ‘there’!’ or say ‘right now!’ I mean you should be into the motion just described above. I say it when I mean it. Watching and reacting with the proper technique can really up your hook up ratio. Fighting and landing them is the next challenge and if you’ve been in my boat it becomes a team effort of coaching and playing that hopefully brings a handshake at the end of it all.
Hell ya…I’ve got the 20th, 21st and 24th still open this week. And the weather and conditions look good for dry fly fishing. Give me a call, shoot me a text, or send an email here from the website. Come test your skills on the Yakima River Troots.