Fountains of Youth – Classic trout flies that have withstood the test of time … flies that remain “forever young”
by Rusty Dunn
Which is more important when fishing dry flies to rising trout: A good presentation? Or, a fly that imitates prevailing insects? The correct answer is “A”, a good presentation. Quality presentations are more important than everything else combined when it comes to fooling trout. Fly size, pattern, and color are important, but excellent presentations will always bring trout to hand, even with flies that look nothing like the insects du jour. On the other hand, you’ll rarely catch trout when your fly drags or floats unnaturally, no matter how perfect the imitation.
This principle of dry fly angling descends from the teachings of F.M. Halford, probably the greatest and certainly the most influential dry fly practitioner ever. In Halford’s own words:
“Place the fly lightly on the water so that it floats accurately over the fish without the slightest drag“. –in Floating Flies and How to Dress Them (1886)
Halford advocated dead-drift presentations in all circumstances, but he fished the fertile chalk streams of England, which are astonishingly rich in mayflies. In less fertile waters, such as the majority of North America, caddisflies are often more important to trout than mayflies. Caddisflies often violate Halford’s rules as they flutter, skitter, and flop on the surface during emergence, or dap and skim the surface during egg laying. In both situations, caddis dry flies presented with subtle jerky movements imitate naturals better than those that drift quietly. Such presentations can make the difference between a good day and a great day.
The undisputed champion of fishing dry flies with movement was Leonard Wright, Jr. (1922 – 2001). His 1972 book Fishing the Dry Fly As A Living Insect articulates principles of when, where, and how to manipulate a dry fly to entice a loafing trout. Wright was a New York advertising executive who summered in the Catskills and honed his skills on its heavily fished waters. He recognized that caddis were often more abundant than mayflies, but he found little detailed information in the angling literature on how to fish them. After studying the flop and flutter of caddis emergers, Wright experimented with flies and presentations to imitate their erratic motion. He discovered that dry flies fished with movement can be more effective than those drifting freely.
“Movement” is not the same as “drag”. A dragging fly is one whose movement is out of control. The current pulls the fly constantly, and it glides across the stream. An active fly is one whose movement is under control. The angler jerks the fly abruptly, and it should twitch a short distance in the upstream direction. Watch emerging caddisflies sometime. Their stuttering attempts at flight are always directed upstream.
Wright designed his Fluttering Caddis specifically for active presentations. Its magic lies in the presentation. Wright cast the Fluttering Caddis across and slightly downstream, with the fly line curving upstream. He mended line as needed to prevent drag and to counteract intervening currents. As the drifting fly approached a rising fish or likely lie, Wright raised the rod tip sharply and gave the fly one quick little nudge. He called the maneuver “the sudden inch“, because the fly darted upstream (or up-and-across) about that distance. Any other direction identifies the disturbance as a fraud.
Wright was not the first author to advocate active presentations of dry flies, but each generation of angler benefits from being reminded of age-old principles. Leonard Wright did just that. He reminded us that trout often judge the movement of potential food to separate the meat from the chaff. Wright’s method is a proven winner, and not just for emerging caddis. You would be wise to get a little twitchy when casting dry flies over suspicious fish.
Copyright 2017, Rusty Dunn
Wright’s Fluttering Caddis
|Hook:||Dry fly, #12 – #18|
|Thread:||8/0, color to match|
|Body:||Pheasant tail feather barbs or other feather fibers, color to match the natural. Keep the body slim.|
|Body:||Several strands of peacock herl, twisted with thread for reinforcement|
|Ribbing:||Fine gold wire, counter-wrapped|
|Wing:||Rooster hackle barbs or mink tail guard hairs, length about twice the body. Form a bundle over the upper half of the body, veiling it slightly.|
|Hackle:||Rusty dun rooster hackle, tied bushy|