Timing Counts with Dry Flies

Timing Counts with Dry Flies

On my first attempt at fishing the dry fly I missed quite a few takes. The fish were clearly taking the fly because of the splashes. Is there a special timing involved or telltale signs to look for?
Mark Lambourne

Paul Procter replies: The general advice on timing is to tighten the moment you see a rise to your fly. It takes moments for our brain to tell our hand to act, so this usually allows time for the fish to close its jaws and turn down with the fly. By waiting too long, trout possibly feel resistance from the fly line or the fly, or they detect the hardness of the hook. Trout taking an imitation are quick to realise an impostor and instantly reject it.

Of course there’ll be times when you can be too quick. Large trout tend to rise more slowly and fish feeding on huge insects like mayflies and daddies, or cruising close to the surface usually seize their prey in a more deliberate, languid manner. If you lift immediately there’s a risk of pulling the fly out of the trout’s mouth before it has closed and turned down. If I fail to connect after a couple of times then I’ll slow down a fraction and see if that works.

Prevailing conditions and the type of natural fly the trout are feeding on can govern how they actually take these insects. For instance, on calm, cold, damp days emerging mayfly might struggle through the surface film. Trout know their potential meal isn’t going to fly off quickly, giving them the luxury of a more deliberate rise. On the other hand, I have seen daddy longlegs whipped across the surface on an autumn breeze when fish slash at them before they’re whisked away. So as a rule, start by lifting into fish the moment you see a rise. If this fails, try a slower response.

Missed takes could be the result of trout actually missing your imitation. Light bends as it passes between air and water and this refraction at the surface makes objects appear in a slightly different place than where they actually are. Picture a trout rising to a dry fly sat high on the surface. Because fish have eyes on the side of their head, there is a blind spot immediately in front of their nose, which means a nanosecond before they engulf a fly they cannot see it. If for whatever reason (a gust of wind or any push of water created by the approaching trout) the fly moves a fraction from where the trout perceived it to be, the fish will miss it. In all the commotion of a rise we naturally tighten and on feeling nothing, assume that we missed the fish rather than the other way round.

This is why emerger patterns and low-riding flies are so popular. Generally they’re designed so the bulk of the hook remains subsurface with only perhaps a wing or hackle visible to the angler. Clearly they are easier for trout to seize, hopefully resulting in more positive hook-ups.

Reprinted with permission of Trout Fisherman magazine.