October 29th, 2001

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

My First Dry Fly

By Clay R. (AK)

A difficult decision awaited me as I walked down the path between the Alders to this Clearwater mountain stream. What fly should I use? My choices were rather simple really, a modified white Wulff, a tan and white Humpy, a standard Adams, or even possibly a CDC/Elk. The scuttlebutt I had heard was this stream supported a unique-to-this-area white Mayfly hatch. Thus, after looking over my choices, I settled on the White Wulff as my first choice. I had tied these flies up special for just this stream, my first ever attempt at Dry Fly Fishing. My previous Fly fishing experiences had been limited to nymphing for Dolly Varden using egg type patterns on my home water.

Dry fly fishing in the waters near where I live is pretty limited. Even the sole fly-fishing shop didn't carry many dry flies, nor did they have any helpful information on how to fish with them. Around here the Mantra is 'Big, Ugly, and Deep.' 8wts are the norm, not the exception. 'Chuck and Duck' fishing at its finest.

The stream where I was headed was reportedly loaded with transplanted Brook Trout that the miners from the early 1900's had brought up from the lower 48 in buckets. Cross checking that information with the local Fish and Game Biologist confirmed this fact. My informant, after having fished this stream the past several years, remarked that these little brookies really hammered a dry fly. So with each step closer to my maiden excursion into dry flying, I was becoming edgy, anticipating the first rise, the first take, trying to remember everything I had read on how to present my fly. How I was to create a drag-free drift, and how to set the hook.

As I finally reached the bank and gazed over these pristine waters, attempting to locate potential holding lies, feeding lanes, flow rates, and presentation angles, I was secretly questioning my abilities as a fly fisher. I had only been fly fishing for the past month. My casting is far from polished. My line control, amateurish at best. Yet as I tied on a new 7 and a half-foot leader to my fly line, I knew I had to start somewhere and bravely prepared to make my first cast.

I was standing on a nice pebble beach, looking over a rather narrow riffle/run that was moderately fast. The water level was very low; water was smashing into submerged boulders, cresting up and rolling back over itself, presenting a challenge in achieving a nice long drift. I spotted a likely looking patch of water, a smooth patch amid the turbulence that looked fishy. As I false cast to the side, as to not spook any fish that might be looking for a tasty morsel, I cleared my head of any uncertainty, and threw my first cast in the stream.

I watched intently as my fly drifted quickly through the calm water, my excitement grew. Finally I had begun my journey as a Dry Fly Fisherman. The first drift produced no movement. I cast again, adding a reach to hopefully present a more natural drift. Again nothing. My drifts were very short as I was attempting to float a fly between two submerged boulders that were creating a rolling wave that smashed my fly subsurface under its wake. Thinking perhaps I might find a better stretch of water downstream, I carefully waded the 12 foot wide stream and proceeded to walk downstream, casting to likely looking spots.

20 minutes of walking, casting, and wading, I still hadn't seen so much as a shadow of a fish, I was getting rather frustrated until I rounded the next bend. The most picture perfect dry fly run anyone could hope for. The stream had widened out to 20 feet at this point, deepened to 4 feet, and the surface of the water was almost glasslike in its lack of turbulence. With my polarized glasses I could see submerged rocks, boulders, and logs to provide shelter to the fish. I set up on the right bank, and made my first cast across stream, adding a reach to extend my drift. I was nervous as my fly floated slowly downstream, drifting right along a seam in the flow. Still I had received no rise to my fly on this picture perfect patch of water. Another, slightly farther cast produced the same results so I decided to step a few paces downstream and cast around a partially submerged tree stump. I made my first cast so my fly would drift through the faster water that was channeled around the stump. Thinking any natural insect foolishly trapped on the water would be washed around the stump to the waiting fish.

Halfway through the drift the water in front of me erupted in a horrendous splash; shocking me out of my intense study of my drift that I jerked my rod so quickly I had to duck to avoid my errant fly. I cast again to the same spot with the same violent take. Again I miss timed setting the hook so I repeated the drill, cast, reach upstream, get ready, see the take, and jerk the fly out of the fishes mouth! At this point I paused to calm myself down, and attempt to reconcile what I was seeing with what I had read about trout rising to a fly. I had been expecting a gentle rise, a barely noticed dimple as a fish delicately sips at my offering. Not these fish though. These brook trout were jumping clear out of the water to smash my Wulff as if it was trying to crush the fly and smother it with its weight.

I cast again to the exact same spot. This time holding my rod tip next to the water, and upstream of my fly, ready to strip and set the hook in a short controlled pull of my rod tip upstream, hoping to use the water tension as a shock absorber to my adrenaline fueled arms. This time I was ready for the take. As the fish struck, so did I, and was rewarded with a frenzied thrashing below the surface. I literally ran downstream to get below my first Brook Trout, my first fish on a dry. I played this monumental fish carefully, yet firmly to the bank. At last, this beautiful wild trout accepted my wetted hands as I gently picked him up out of the water to admire and remove my fly. All 11 inches of him glistened with color, from its darkened back, to its white tipped fins. I held him but a moment longer, then bent down with this wonderful fish in my hands, held him for but a second in the fresh current flow and watched him swim back to its natural home.

I stood on the bank for a few minutes, going over in my head what will most definately be a memorable experience, reverently unclipped my Wulff, and slowly walked home. ~ Clay R. (AK)

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