by Guide Blog


Ask anyone within the fly fishing community what their favourite method is to catch trout and the answer you’ll get, nine times out of 10, is dry fly!

The visual aspect of this form of fly fishing is what elevates it above all others. The whole drama is played out in front of us and that key element of what makes our sport so addictive, anticipation, is there in bucket loads.

There is nothing quite like watching the neb of a big, deep-bodied trout coming up to take your fly – we see EVERYTHING and that’s what presses our buttons.

In essence, dry fly fishing is very easy to sum up: present a fly that looks similar to what the trout are feeding on, in a manner that doesn’t arouse the fish’s suspicions.

This may sound simple but in practise there are many nuanced variables with this style of fishing. In this article we’re going to look at the basics. Get these right and the rest can be picked up along the way; nothing beats time on the water, especially when it comes to dry fly fishing!

The Correct Tackle

Fly Rods

Rod preference is a personal thing, and rightly so, but there are a few things to consider here. Rod choice really does depend on the type of river you fish and indeed the size of trout you’re likely to encounter.

On bigger rivers a reasonably stiff 4 or 5-wt, fast action rod is likely to be the best tool for the job. Windy days are common in the spring, especially on our bigger, more exposed rivers. A fast action rod with backbone will afford good turnover for casting into the wind. It will also offer supreme accuracy when targeting individual fish and allow you to pull the hook home on a big trout. The bigger specimens can have hard mouths and hooking them properly on the strike is vital.

On medium to small rivers, especially if more sheltered, a softer, medium action rod will fit the bill. A 7 or 8ft rod in 3- or 4-wt can be ideal for flicking your dry fly in tight spots. You will be able to load the rod more easily with less line out and be able to fully enjoy playing a more modest size of trout on a lighter outfit.

Fly Reels

Again it’s a personal thing but look for a dynamite drag system, something super smooth – you’ll hopefully need it. Light tippets are required and having a reel with an awesome drag means that with careful rod placement you’ll be able to cope with any lunges, head shakes or mad last-minute dashes from angry big trout – the drag will take the strain. A large arbour is beneficial too, ensuring a straight, no kink fly line and allowing fast retrieval.

Fly lines

A floater obviously but make sure you get a good one, something with a longer front taper; a technical one which allows you to get turnover but doesn’t hit the water like a bike chain!

It needs to be soft, easy to cast and shoot well. You’ll be mending the line a lot too, either in the air or on the water, so the running line shouldn’t be too thin.

I like my floater to have little or no stretch and prefer to build any stretch into my leader set up and rely on my drag. This allows me to pull the hook home with confidence. A springy, stretchy fly line isn’t ideal when you have a 3lb brownie going nuts in mid air 60ft away from where you’re standing. You must ensure that connection at all times.







Tapered Leaders

Essential for dry fly fishing, they offer that extra cushioning in the form of stretch and allow the energy transfer required to get the fly where you want it. Tapered leaders should be used at all times with dries, not just on windy days.

I normally use a 9ft tapered leader and then 3ft to 4ft of tippet. It’s the standard go-to for most dry fly fishing. However, when targeting larger or more pressured fish, a 12ft tapered leader, then tippet, is advisable. You don’t want a fly line to be in the trout’s window of vision, so keep as much space between the fly and fly line as you dare!


This can be whatever you feel comfortable and confident with. I like nylon or copolymer as I find them more supple with a little more stretch than fluorocarbon. Other people choose fluoro for the opposite reasons: less stretch and stiffer. It’s your choice. Be warned though, there’s a trade-off here; the thicker you go, the more chance you have of landing a trout, the thinner it is the more chance you have of fooling them in the first place.

Tippet Rings 

I like these as my connection point between a tapered leader and tippet. They allow quick changes, are fuss-free and I have seen no evidence to suggest they put the fish off.


Treating your line, leader, and fly will help you catch more fish. Apply grease/floatant to the end of your fly line to help it sit high. Degrease the tippet to ensure it gets below the surface and most importantly make sure your fly is treated with floatant so it sits on the water exactly how it should. Find out more HERE







Essential Patterns

There’s no need to get too technical here. It’s early, the flies are big and the trout are hungry so a rough approximation of what’s hatching is all you need. The flies to look out for are March Browns, Large Dark Olives (LDOs) and Brook Duns in size 10s or 12s.

I can’t see past a Jingler, a big fly and one that many have balked at, yet it catches fish all over the world. It’s an old fly, with not much dressing – some thread, and two feathers – but this pattern is pretty spectacular when it comes to fooling trout. It can be deadly for fish taking the duns properly though it will take trout no matter what stage of the fly they are feeding on.

Another, although not a dun, is the Deer Hair Emerger. Again it’s not much to look at but will take its share of early season trout, big and small. It sticks out like a sore thumb and floats all day long too.

Last but not least I’d choose the Duck’s Dunn, although a little more technical when it comes to tying it’s well worth the time. This one sits right in the surface film and bridges the gap between emerger and dun.







Timing is everything

Early season dry fly fishing is all about timing. The water is cold, yes, but the start of the season can herald the most prolific fly hatches. The aforementioned species are big insects and when they hatch in good numbers the trout are quick to gorge on them.

However, and this is the tricky part, the hatch can be shortlived. At times, the fly will be on the water for 10 to 15 minutes, half an hour if you’re lucky. You may even be fortunate enough to witness multiple hatches, though this often doesn’t happen until further on in the year.

Early season hatches have a habit of occurring at specific times, and this is where local knowledge can be priceless. The local angler can rock up at a given time, fish for an hour, catch every fish they cast at, and head home. Without this knowledge, we need to take our chances but hatches at this time of year tend to happen between 10:30am and 2pm, or the warmest part of the day. If a hatch hasn’t occurred in that window, the chances are it’s not happening. Get to the water for 10am and you’ll be good.

Fish Location

When a hatch gets underway you may see fish up and feeding at the surface all over. But you can up your chances of capitalising with a little watercraft.  Parts of the river that are shielded from a prevailing wind will fish better. A strong wind will pick the duns from the surface, away from the fish. Trout don’t want to commit to a fly that may get blown away any second. They are looking to feed with the minimum of effort, that’s how they get big. An easy meal is what they’re after.

In faster, popply water two to four feet deep, the fishing can be awesome. The trout feel safe in this type of water, there are lots of places of safety for them to go should they encounter danger. As the water is relatively fast, they are up high and they have less time to inspect your flies, so you’re more likely to catch even if your fly isn’t quite right.

Finally, this type of water means that you can get far closer to the fish than you normally would. Close-quarters fishing aids drift and therefore presentation.

It’s this water that most competitive anglers would look to target as the yield in this water is going to be higher.

Specimen Trout

If you’re after something a little special now is the time to target big trout. Although these larger fish can turn up anywhere early season, they often search out certain parts of the river after a few hatches. Slower and often shallower water is where they like to station themselves. I have caught some of my biggest trout in very shallow flow; I’m talking depths that barely cover their backs!

Pool tails are a good bet, where the water shallows off over a gravel bed, especially where it starts to gather pace towards rapids and where duns, cripples and nymphs will be concentrated. However these are the fish that test us. We need to get close enough to deliver a perfect cast, the fly landing accurately and gently, with no discernable drag, to within a foot of the trout’s position. If that fly or leader arouses any suspicion, you’ve no chance. More often than not the fish will move off to deeper water.

Stealth and presentation are key.


There is little point in fishing dry flies blind at this time of year. Try a nymph or wet fly pre- and post-hatch, but fishing dries long after the flies have stopped is just an exercise in futility.

When trout are up and on the feed, that’s when you’re good to go. I tend to let a fish come up a few times before I try and tempt it, let it gain a little confidence. Try targeting your quarry from the side and slightly downstream of its feeding position. It’s less chance of seeing you and you’ve less chance of ‘lining’ it.

The key thing to remember with dry fly is to present it in a manner so that it behaves naturally at the whim of any surface current. Do this and you won’t go far wrong. You may need an aerial mend as you cast, it’s a good habit to get into. As you deliver the forward cast, and just before it lands on the water, sweep your casting hand upstream. This allows some room for manoeuvre.

You may need to do more as the fly drifts, impart some mends, if necessary, to get the fly to drift down as you wish. Don’t be too aggressive with the mends though, too much heaving and hauling will sink the fly and render it useless.

Whether you go for numbers or targeting specimens, early season is a great time to be on the water. By employing a little strategy into your day you’ll have such a good time and not just with the fishing. Look around you, it’s as if everything is gaining colour and volume.

George Orwell sums it up best:

“The pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing”

Happy hunting!

How to tie the Sparkle DHE below: Sparkle Deer Hair Emerger

Steve Cullen

Steve Cullen Fly Fishing

Steve Cullen YouTube Channel

You may also like