Avoid “Drag” for Successful Dry Fly Stream Fishing

By: Andrew Jupina

As a lifetime fly fishing hobbyist, I have learned that natural dry fly presentation and drift are very important aspects of being successful in hooking fish. I mostly wade fish dries for trout in small to medium size streams and rivers but these basic points will increase hookup rates for any species. I will try to keep my points short and simple, as I believe fishing is a relaxing and contemplative endeavor, not a task or job. 

First, I will describe the term “drag”. Drag is when your fly does not float or drift in the current exactly as a natural insect does. This is easily caused by casting the fly to a wrong spot in the stream current, having too much line on the water, not having enough line out that can pull the fly against the current, or anything else that causes a poor drift. Watch the natural flies on the water. Observation is key here, before the all important first cast to your quarry.

Now, locate a rising fish or at least a fishy spot you’d like to cast to. Position yourself where you feel you can reach your target and naturally drift your fly through the entire area without creating too much disturbance that would spook the prey. Make sure it’s a spot you can safely wade in and out of and also land fish in with minimal risk of getting yourself unnecessarily soaked or worse. I have personally learned that lesson as a younger man! It’s also important to pick a spot that allows you to make that elusive “perfect” cast. Be aware of possible obstructions behind you that would hinder your back cast. Check for overhanging tree branches above, as well.

Find a good feeding lane. Many times the surface bubbles of the stream will concentrate in these lanes. If you will be casting to a feeding fish, aim to have the fly land a few feet above the fish, depending on the speed of the current. This gives the fly a chance to land and settle into the perfect drift before the fish sees it, inspects it and makes its decision whether or not to strike. Fish in their lie face the current and look for their next meal from this position, many times very carefully. An unnatural or dragging drift will set off an innate alarm to the fish and your fly will be rejected. 

Watch for cross currents. Sometimes these can be subtle to the eye but are more than enough to spoil your fly’s drift. Being familiar with the water you’re fishing helps but after some experience you will be able to notice potential tricky current problems more easily. In these instances it’s sometimes better to keep much less fly line on the water when possible. At times it’s best to have only the leader in the water, which can require some innovative arm placement to hold the rod in the right spot. Hey, whatever it takes to get results, right? I’ve gotten some quizzical glances from other fishermen for my technique only to be complimented on the bank later. Lol!

I hope this short if not comprehensive primer on avoiding drag when stream fishing helps you enjoy your trips. Because it’s all about having fun and it’s always more fun catching fish!

I’m a 65 year retired Casino Operations Manager. Lifelong resident of New Jersey that’s been fly fishing all my life. I mostly fish in the Catskill mountains of New York but have fished many of the great rivers of the western US in Colorado, South Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

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