Dry fly fishing season is upon us! Watching a trout snatch a snack off the top of the water is just about as exciting as it gets! While rod and reel fly fishing utilizes dry flies, fixed-line fishing brings some advantages when it comes to fishing the surface.
There’s a certain approach I like to take while the activity on a stream is hot and the fish are willing to come up for their food. But, as I imagine most anglers do, I usually start with a dead drift. A gentle cast to avoid spooking fish, followed by a short drift in a seam or foam line may be just enough to get a bite. Be sure to keep the rod tip high and the line off the water if you can, as it may keep a feeding fish from rising to that tasty-looking fly with the weird, bright string attached to it.
Maybe you have tried a dead drift and the fish show some interest, but haven’t quite committed to a solid take. They may be looking for something to really sell them on their food – after all, the presentation can make a big difference. If this is the case, tapping the rod is the next trick I go to. The tapping will put a little wriggle in the line, translating to a fly that vibrates on the surface. I like to do three or four taps, with a brief pause, and then repeat in consistent intervals. It’s also worth noting that this presentation tends to work better in slower pockets of water. It’s a great surface presentation when using a stiff hackle fly like a futsu pattern or even one with a soft hackle such as a sakasa kebari. When using it with soft hackle flies, this presentation will be more effective if the fly is slightly submerged.
Consistency in the timing of your presentations can make a big difference when fishing. Almost all animation that you impart on a fly will bring more success when done in a way that makes it easy for fish to predict. This brings me back to a point about dead drifts.
While most may think of keeping the fly resting on the surface film of the water during “dry fly season,” there seems to be great benefit from drifting your kebari just below it. Sometimes letting the fly rest right on the surface can allow for too much movement or unnatural drifts. Letting the kebari float just below it can help to keep the fly anchored in a more natural flow without as much imparted movement imposed by the wind or drag from the line. This makes it easier for the fish to grab the fly, which potentially means more action for you as well.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that tenkara can offer some advantages to fishing your fly close to the surface. Being able to control the kebari by its suspension from the lillian can help you keep the fly where you want, both in a sense of depth and positioning. So while you’re setting up, keep an eye on the water and take note of what’s happening near the surface. Make a plan for which foam lines or eddies you’re going to fish and how to set up for the best presentations in those spots. Also, keep in mind that if you see a rise you may need to wait a few seconds for the fish to return to where it was holding before it can repeat that action. The same goes for any missed hook sets.
Along the lines of missed hook sets… Be sure to give a slight pause before trying to set the hook after a fish strikes the fly near the surface! Reacting too quickly can pull the hook away from the fish before it even has a chance to bring it back below the surface.
The last presentation for this post is one known as “Sutebari.” As the days get hotter and the season moves closer to summer, the fish may be starting to hold lower in the pools, you might need a little extra oomph in your presentation. (I like to utilize sutebari when this is the case.) Repeating casts around an area where you think a fish may be holding can grab their attention as they wait for the perfect moment to strike. After several repetitive casts, let the kebari rest on the water for a moment in order to give the fish a chance to try and take it.
This presentation offers a variety of ways to present the fly depending on what the needs call for. With more skittish trout, keeping the fly from touching the water through the use of false casts can be the best way to approach it. Maybe you prefer to let the kebari rest on the water for just a moment in time, whether it be a quick tap on the surface or a brief drift. Also, consider a more aggressive splash on contact with the top of the water to entice fish that may be holding lower in the column. However you prefer to present the fly for the conditions you’re fishing, this presentation can be a game-changer when the fish behavior may not favor a simple dead drift.
Of course, all of these presentations can be modified to what might work best for the conditions you’re fishing in. Next time you’re on the water I encourage you to experiment with some of these presentations and see what works best for the conditions you’re fishing in!
Martin Montejano is a Northern California-based fixed-line angler. From spring-fed creeks in the mountains to rivers that run through deep-cut valleys, he fishes a multitude of waters in and around the Sierra Nevadas.
You can follow along as he shares his adventures and experiences at @sagehearttenkara on Instagram.
Martin’s favorite TUSA rod is the ITO™ 13′ / 14’7″ (adjustable)