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Dry Flies – What’s the Draw?
Before I delve into the subject, a disclaimer, I’m not a dry fly guy, I’m a streamer fisherman, and so my perspective on dry flies comes from my desire to catch big fish, therefore you won’t find me chasing a Trico hatch, or even a Sulphur emergence anywhere. However, I am a fisherman plain and simple so I will catch fish on anything given the opportunity. But, if you were hoping for an article on the finer points of the Latin names of insects and diving versus ovipositing Caddis, turn elsewhere…
So every year summer rolls around in Montana and I start getting the itch to get out on the water and start pitching big bushy dry flies. It begins with the Salmonfly hatch in June and ends with hoppers and terrestrials around late September, sometimes October if you’re adventurous. For those of you who know me or have ever read anything about the types of fishing I enjoy, you know that I would never be described as a purist – blood and gut soaked shark flies, streamers the size of your arm, double worm rigs, the occasional spin rod and bait fishing under the right circumstances… But when it comes down to summer time I go all “Dry Fly or Die” for months at a time, and I just can’t help myself. At times when it gets so bad that I’m buying dozens of flies that I know I have already, only because I don’t want to be without the one that’s working that day, I know I have a problem. Unfortunately for me there isn’t a cure for this dryflyitis other than cooling weather. When the weather cools and the dry fly fishing drops off I’ll be back to streamer fishing where I can return to my comfort zone of pitching big ugly pieces of animal attached to massive hooks in search of kipe jawed brown trout.
But during the summertime I will occasionally take a break to toss oversized pieces of foam with some dubbing and rubberlegs in riffles searching out those same big fish that chase streamers the rest of the year. As an avid angler the summer dry fly fishing is only fun when I’m looking at a big floating mass waiting to get inhaled, not straining my eyes to see if I can spot the size 18 or 20 whatever on the water, you can have that. I’ll save the eye strain and headaches for the colder months when nothing much else is going on and the occasional midge on the water provides some distraction from staring at an indicator as you break ice out of your guides trying to ignore the stingingly ice cold water. Summertime in Montana is for soaking up the rays and tossing big dries, period.
Now what flavor of big dry fly you like to throw is certainly open for debate and discussion – I personally prefer just about anything that looks like a grasshopper… You can call it an affinity, an obsession, I’m not sure that it doesn’t lie somewhere in between, but I own more grasshopper patterns than a sane person could fish in a lifetime. Yet every year I pile a few more in the flybox “just in case” the new fly is the hot one. Now, the Salmonfly hatch may be some of the most intense and fun big dry fly fishing of the year, but the elation is fleeting and the hatch is gone as quickly as it starts. For sheer staying power, terrestrials would have to be right up there with any big dry fly option in Montana.
Interestingly enough, about the time that hoppers really get going, there’s a little hatch of stoneflies that get the fish thinking about looking up in shallower waters along the bank. The midnight stone, as it’s referred to by anglers, is a nocturnal stonefly that comes off on nearly all the freestone rivers and streams around Southwest Montana towards the end of July. The insect itself has a tan body color, distinct variegated legs, lacks fully developed wings and doesn’t fly very well, and thus is a writhing, splashy little meal that scurries around the banks and rocks alongside the rivers tempting trout. The only tell tale sign of the stones themselves is their dried up little shucks along riffles and banks where you swear they couldn’t have hung on since the Goldenstone and Salmonfly hatches months earlier. That’s where your Chubby Chernobyl comes into play – when it’s too early for full blown hopper eats, but there’s enough fish starting to look up around the bank for big meals. I call it the kick starter to the hopper madness that occurs just a week or two later in August.
If cornered, I would willingly admit to being a hopper freak. I love hopper fishing just about as much as streamer fishing, partially because you can start pitching and twitching hoppers along grassy banks like a bass plug, and partially because it draws out bigger fish. Chugging flies along the surface, skittering them around riffles, and adding a little bit of life to the boring and mundane “dead drift” requirements of many dry flies is what sets hopper fishing apart from the rest for me. With your smaller dry flies, the moment your fly starts dragging across the surface picky fish turn off and shy away from something that is creating a bubble trail or wake. Not so with hopper fishing. Instead of shying away from movement, fish oftentimes prefer a pattern fished to imitate a grasshopper struggling in the water. If you’ve ever witnessed a natural hopper in the water, they don’t just drift along with the current, unless they are dead.
So the next time you’re thinking of putting on a nymph rig or ripping some streamers, pause, give it some thought, and then give in to the desire to fish big dry flies. If I can do it for a few months, so can you.
Kris Kumlien is the General Manager at Montana Troutfitters and can be found rambling about anything to do with fishing at www.troutfitters.com