When new anglers embrace the intricate world of fly fishing the ultimate goal is to catch a trout on a dry fly. The iconic image of a fly angler floating down the river or wading through a stream with a rod bent over from a heavy fish that has taken your dry fly is the peak of our sport for many. Approaching dry fly fishing with a few helpful hints will enhance your fishing experience and increase your success. 

Fly selection:

The most important factor to dry fly fishing success is fly selection. Size, silhouette, and color steer the selection process when choosing a dry fly.

Size falls under the old adage of “match the hatch” anglers need to choose flies that mimic the same size of the insects that are actively emerging. Fish become very selective during the hatch and size is the most dominant factor.

Silhouette refers to the shape of the fly on the water. Mayflies are easily mimicked with a parachute dry fly. Caddis can be copied accurately with the appropriately sized elk hair caddis. Grasshoppers have a very distinctive shape that even anglers recognize from a distance. The size and shape of the predominant insect in your watershed are the factors you should strive to imitate.

Color is the last factor in dry fly selection and can often be more for the angler than the fish. Dry flies become very difficult to track in broken water for anglers and fish. Indicator or Hi-vis dry flies allow for the first two factors, size, and silhouette, to seal the deal while the bright color assists anglers in setting the hook. Color could be as simple as changing the body color of your caddis fly from tan or olive to black. Trout notice the difference.

Dry Fly Dressing:

A dry fly is an adult bug that belongs on the surface in the air. Very few situations allow for a dry fly to be fished effectively drowned. Therefore there is a necessity to dress your dry fly for optimal performance.

Aquel, Flyagra and Shimishake are just a small sample of the myriad products available for dry fly dressing. Aquel made by Loon Products is an industry leader in environmentally safe products. Aquel is applied in small amounts with your fingers before the casting begins and is reapplied riverside when needed. Flyagra is a liquid you dip your fly into. Not so environmentally safe. This product needs to be applied ahead of time for the best effectiveness. Shimishake is a dry powdery desiccant you shake your fly into. The shake is used on the water and will require reapplication regularly to maintain high floating flies.

Leaders and Tippet:

Trout have an inquisitive eye requiring long leaders and fine tippets to present a dry fly effectively. Leaders longer than 9 feet in length and thin tippets are necessary in highly pressured waters like many tailwaters. Catch and release sections allow trout to become educated requiring extra stealth to entice a dry fly bite. 


Accuracy is critical to put the fly where you need whether wading or float fishing. Misplacing your cast by inches can be the difference between a hookup and a pretty drift. As your skills improve a reach mend performed during the cast extends the effectiveness of your cast.

The Drift:

The drift, the way your dry fly floats upon the water, is critical to selling your dry fly. Careful mending both upstream and downstream is the only way to deliver your dry fly with the illusion of reality. Well-timed mending presents the fly for the longest amount of time unmolested by drag or negative water currents. 


Seasonal hatches are predictable for the time of year and water temperatures. However, rely on your fly shop for up to date info. Be aware of simultaneous hatches such as Pale Morning Duns emerging alongside Yellow Sallies as this is a common occurrence on Colorado rivers.

Be Observant:

Watch before you cast or enter the water. Knowing where the fish are feeding and what bug they are eating gives you the edge when you make your first cast. The observant angler understands where to place their first cast and that is often all it takes.

Best Positioning:

As part of being observant, there is always the best position for presenting your dry fly. Whether there are casting obstacles, difficult surface currents or mid river structures moving into the best position minimizes troublesome conditions. This is a task more easily achieved wade fishing by repositioning your casting angle. Positioning is crucial in netting your fish too.


Move slowly when wading. The slow-moving angler has more time to observe and spooks less fish. Wearing naturally toned clothing helps to hide the angler allowing for more accurate casting, less mending and better positioning. The angler bumping boots off underwater rocks and logs has already alerted fish of your presence. Be stealthy.

Dancing Game:

After the hook set, be prepared to move. Don’t stand still, now is the time to dance. Sitting square, boots planted in the river or without arm movement is a quick way to loose a fish during the fight.  Repositioning yourself for landing the fish is a regular occurrence.

Targeting trout with dry flies is the ultimate goal in fly fishing. Approaching dry fly fishing with these key points in mind will not be as intimidating to beginning fly fishers. Enhance your next fly fishing experience by booking a dry fly trip with your local fly shop. And to experience dry fly fishing in the most picturesque trout country in all of Colorado contact Vail Valley Anglers. Located in the heart of the Colorado Rockies Vail Valley Anglers specializes in float and wade trips that focus on dry fly fishing. Vail Valley Anglers can be reached here.

This article is written by Michael “Sal” Salomone @mikesalomone88 (www.michaelsalomone.com) a trout fly fishing guide and writer based in the mountains of Colorado at Vail Valley Anglers. Photos by the talented Nolan Dahlberg @dahlberg.digital. Follow along with them at @vailvalleyanglers for the latest in trout fishing in the west. 

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