Orvis Fly Fishing
How Do I Fish Dry Flies On Big Rivers?
Big rivers can be daunting. When you first set your eyes on the Delaware, Clark Fork, or Missouri, all that blue water can make you shake in your wading boots. While these large-caliber waters can deliver the kind of dry-fly fishing you’ll dream about for decades, they can also give you some of the most thorough skunkings of your life.
Fortunately, there are tactics you can use to break down large rivers into fishable chunks and then dry-fly fish them with more success.
Small views, big waters
Say you’re fishing a stream, tiny river, or any water up to about twenty yards across. On these, you can cast from one bank to the other and present a fly to any rising fish you see. This means that when you fish these waters, you can scan the entire view, looking ahead, down and across as you search for likely looking spots.
But on large rivers, this take-it-all-in tactic won’t work. Big waters present you with broad areas of habitat and numerous holding spots. Some you can get to; some you can’t. To fish this kind of water, you need to look at things in a different way.
Dries that do the job
Just as large rivers require special focus, they also require special flies and setups. A double-dry or dry-and-dropper rig is a great way for wade and boat fisherman to overcome one of the key problems big waters present: Keeping track of your fly.
To create double-dry or dry-and-dropper rig, start with a big, foamy or heavily-hackled indicator fly. Think “very visible” and “high floating.” To the shank of this indicator, tie 12”-24” of tippet material and then add a smaller dry fly, an emerger pattern or nymph.
The Chubby Chernobyl is one of the best all-around indicator flies you can use you can use for these rigs. It imitates a wide range of large terrestrials and stoneflies and will float high until the end of time. Other patterns to stash in your fly box are beefy Royal Wullfs, Comparaduns with bright orange, pink, or chartreuse wings, and other dry dries that really stand out on the water.
Micro flies, mighty fish
Big rivers are famous for holding the kind of big trout we all dream of catching. But because many of these fisheries are tailwaters (areas below dams or other hydro structures), these fantasy fish often feed on large hatches of tiny insects. Tiny BWO’s, midges and caddis flies can be tough to fish and the Trico hatch is the bane of many anglers. These bugs are minuscule. When you try to imitate them, you must achieve a perfectly executed, drag free drift.
When fishing tiny bugs, try a double-dry or dry-and-emerger rig. Keep your eyes on the larger, indicator fly since it’s easy to lose sight of those tiny dry flies. Rarely will you see the eat with such a small fly, so set the hook any time your indicator twitches or hesitates through its drift—or when you see a rise around the around it.
To make tiny flies easier to fish, try “High Vis” patterns with modifications like orange or neon colored parachute posts that help the angler see the tiny fly. If you tie flies, help yourself out by putting together small patterns with exaggerated features.
Don’t fear the river
To make big rivers easier to fish, focus on current seams, foam lines, undercut banks and boulders. Try out the dry-dropper rig as a way to fish those tiny flies at longer distances. Remember: Island breaks and side channels are always a great place to locate fish. Once you find rising fish, don’t leave them to try and find others until you’ve exhausted everything in your bag of tricks to fool them.
If you’re finding fish but not having any luck hooking them, remember: Most of the time it’s not your fly they’re refusing. Instead, it’s your drift. Work hard to get in the best possible position to get a good drift.
Larger rivers you can really test your mettle and patience as an angler, so give it a go and all of a sudden you may realize that these big rivers may not be as unfriendly as they appear at first sight.
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