Perhaps the most satisfying thing in all of fly fishing is to find trout rising to a specific insect, tying on a fly that both the trout and the angler recognize as this in sect, then making an accurate, drag free cast to that fish and see the fish eat that fly. This can be both the most demanding and the most rewarding fishing you can experience and it happens on pretty much every trout stream in Montana and it can happen here any time of year.
Steadily rising trout usually mean that some sort of aquatic insect is hatching or returning to the river to lay eggs. In Montana the most common aquatic insects are caddis, midges, mayflies, and stoneflies. Insects that hatch in numbers great enough to get the fish up are usually well known to area shops and they can provide you with the flies to match the prevailing insects. If you don’t have anything that exactly matches what the fish are eating, you can usually do fine with general patterns like Parachute Adams, Elk Hair Caddis and Griffith’s Gnats. It’s always a good idea to stay stocked up on these types of patterns regardless of time of year and what you’re actually expecting to fish. The exception may be a technical tailwater or spring creek where the fish have a great deal of food to eat and see a great deal of pressure. Here more realistic patterns can be very important. Flies like Sparkle Duns, CDC Comparaduns, Iris Caddis, and Stillborn Midges will help fool the more sophisticated trout. It’s always important to remember that no fly comes with a guarantee and that the angler has to do their share of the work.
The real key to success with rising fish is presentation. In most situations with rising fish the best presentation is an accurate cast and a drag free drift. In other words you want to cast above the fish so that the fly floats down and cross the fish’s eyes, then drifts through their feeding lane as if it’s not connected to anything. Your accuracy will improve with your casting proficiency. Your ability to get a good drift over the fish will also depend on your casting and knowledge of how to manipulate your cast so that your fly is less affected by the current.
The first two “presentations” casts a dry fly fisherman should learn are the check cast and reach cast. The check cast is usually used when you are below a fish or so close across stream that your line doesn’t have to cross strongly conflicting currents. The check cast is made by casting your line so that it straightens out at about eye level. This will vary depending on how deeply you’re wading. The deeper you are the higher you want your cast to unroll. As the line finishes straightening out, keep your rod tip high then slightly “check” the rod back so that the line recoils and gently falls to the water in curves as opposed to a straight line. While the line falls follow it down with your rod tip as it lands. The curves in your line will act as a buffer against the currents effect on the fly; the current will pull out these curves before it affects the fly in an unnatural manner and spooks the fish. As the current brings the fly back to you either raise your rod tip or strip in the excess slack line. One of the real keys to being effective with the check cast is getting a feel for both how hard to “check” the rod and how far above the fish to cast so that when you check the rod the rebounding fly still lands upstream of the fish. One of the biggest disadvantages of the check cast is that anytime your line straightens so high it is very vulnerable to the wind.
The reach cast is usually used when casting across or down and across for to a rising fish. The cast starts out much as the check cast does. Allow the line to unroll at about eye level. As it straightens, reach the tip of the rod upstream as the line falls. Once the fly has landed, follow it with the tip of your rod, allowing the line to drift freely down the current and the fly to drift freely down to the fish. Again, the trick in getting the reach cast down is just how much you need to reach and to be able to do it and still be accurate with your fly. One advantage of the reach cast is that an angler can unroll their line closer to the water during windy conditions then make his/her reach equally close to the water and still be effective with the cast.
Many anglers are intimidated by rising fish but in a lot of ways they’re much easier. You can see where they are, you can see what they’re eating, and only have to deal with the currents on the surface. All that’s left is to put on a decent fly, make a good cast, and wait the fish to eat. Easy.