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Prospecting with Dry Flies

One of the great things about summer fishing in Montana is that you don’t always need to have a hatch to fish dries.  In fact you’re more likely to have opportunities to search with dries than to fish to actual rising fish.  Often times the fish can be “pounded up” to the surface to eat dry flies like attractors, terrestrials, and flies fish recognize from recent hatches.

Attractor dries are the classic searching patterns of the west.  Flies like Royal Wulffs, Humpies, and trudes don’t exactly imitate anything but seem to exactly imitate anything but still look enough like food that trout will eat them.  These gaudy, unrealistic creations seem to have more pull on the fish and can get them to rise when more drab and realistic patterns won’t get the fish’s attention.  Some general imitations like the Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, and Stimulator blur the line between attractor and imitation.  These flies work well on rising fish and when fishing the water.  Normally attractor dries work best in broken water.  Pocket water and riffles anywhere from knee to hip deep are classic places to fish attractor dries but bank feeders often hold in considerably shallower water.  Normally a couple of casts are made to systematically to different looking spots and then you move on.  Usually a trout will either eat an attractor or not.  There isn’t much use in spending a lot of time in one place.  Your normal nine foot five or six weight rod is usually perfect although you may want something shorter and lighter on small streams and something like a eight and a half or nine foot four weight can be a lot of fun on medium size rivers like the Gallatin and Rock Creek.  Long and light leaders are generally not necessary.  A standard seven and a half foot leader with two or three feet of 4x or 5x tippet added should be fine.

Terrestrial fishing is usually more effective in meadow water or at least water that is close to grassy banks.  Terrestrial flies imitate land based insects such as ants, beetles, and of course hoppers.  Usually these flies are cast close to a shore in search of bank feeding trout.  Perhaps the most effective way to do this is from a drift boat.  With a good oarsman the boat can travel down the current at the same speed as the fly, making incredibly long drifts possible on one cast.  Terrestrials work in a wide variety of water so be flexible in what leaders you use but usually a seven and a half foot leader with a couple feet of 4x tippet is good for hoppers and other larger terrestrials and a nine foot leader with a couple of feet of 4 or 5x tippet is good for beetles and ants.  Don’t be afraid to use a terrestrial during a hatch if your mayfly or caddis imitations are refused by the trout.

Oftentimes imitative flies can still catch fish when the actual hatch is no longer around.  This is especially true with some of the larger insects.  Angling during the famed salmonfly hatch is usually blind searching more than casting to risers and the same is of goldenstones and often yellow sallies.  Green drakes are another insect the trout can’t seem to forget and often work very well as a search pattern, especially on the Gallatin.  Technically the spruce moth is a terrestrial but reaches the water in such great numbers that it creates a “hatch” situation.  Even after the moths have quit fluttering over the water, the flies that imitate them will still take plenty of trout.  This past season the moths on the Gallatin were not as thick as in the last few seasons and more of our fish taken on moths were blind searching.  Search with imitative flies with similar leaders and tippets that you would use when fishing to risers with the same flies.  You can usually go with shorter leader in fast water and will need a bit longer leader on calmer water where the fish are more likely to be spooky.

While everyone loves to cast to rising fish, many of our best days of dry fly fishing every year are experienced while fishing the water.  This kind of fishing is some of least frustrating of the year, especially early season.  Pounded up fish usually don’t give the angler the heart break of a refusal, at least until late summer when the fish have seen every hopper and attracter in the shop and the precise accuracy needed on rising fish isn’t usually as necessary. Most importantly, rising trout are a beautiful thing even if the only rise you see is the one to your fly.