Fishing on the Frontier – Part 16

Micro Dry Fly – Presentation

As with any approach, it is the presentation that counts. We are focused here on micro dry fly, partly because it is that time of year; when pale wateries, reed smuts, midge and, above all, aphids become important food-forms to trout and, especially, grayling.

A small fly needs a fine leader, down to the 0.1mm region. Perhaps obviously one needs an appropriate, soft-actioned rod for this, which will probably be a number 3 or 4 weight. Also, the longer the leader, the more it can absorb the shock of the take (or more likely the shock of an over-enthusiastic strike). Short leaders are very exacting in that they will absorb very little shock. The longer the leader the better. Four metres of fine copolymer will be a lot better in this regard (will be much less likely to break on the strike) than a leader half this length.

We also tend to use a long, level copolymer tippet section on a tapered butt leader. Overall length, from fly line to fly might commonly be four metres plus. For downstream presentation (in a gusty downstream wind) we often use overall leader lengths of up to eight metres. I have also attended a master class by French national team members using 10 metre leaders with micro dry, with no fly line at all extending from the rod tip. I hope to make the reason for all this clear in this article.

One of the purposes of fishing micro dry fly is that they are imitative in terms of size (at least) with a prevalent food form as above, during high summer and autumn, when the larger ephemerids are fewer and the sedges are dwindling. Fish tend to be at their spookiest at this time of year, with grayling particularly selective and sensitive to the presence of predators. Big grayling and wild brown trout are at their best now and as we all know are usually extremely line shy, and spook at the merest line disturbance. Long, fine leaders are the answer, but only when presented properly. It is better, after all, to cast a short leader with good, precise turnover, accurately, than land a long leader in a heap! Remember that a long leader, particularly untapered and fine, will not turn over into the wind, no matter how good the caster.

Grayling like this one from the Eden in Appleby can be notoriously finicky which is where micro dry flies can be worth a try. Photo by Fish&Fly
So, a long leader will help us present a fly well away from the fly line – absolutely crucial with shy fish. We must use them tactically, however, knowing their limitations or, rather, when and how to use them. Given the position of a fish feeding on the surface, we have to position ourselves such that we are as close to the fish as possible without spooking it, and at an appropriate angle to the currents and most especially to the wind. If it is calm or a nice, steady up streamer, then the variables are reduced and the solution is simple, provided there is a position from which we can cast to reach a fish lying upstream. In other directions of wind we have to abandon a purely upstream approach (with any length leader other than steeply tapered and short) and assume a position from which the wind will actually help us with turnover. In strong down streamers there is usually only a reasonable chance of presenting a dry fly only with a down stream presentation.

The British, particularly, seem to have a hang up with this sort of approach with dry fly. I did for many years, but not because of any deviation with the classic approach. Rather, it was a case of potentially compromising the presentation. The key issue is that a fly presented down stream will drag almost immediately if there is no slack line. If you cast with either a wiggle or parachute cast, however, you can build in a bit of slack and attain a metre or two of drag free drift. It is even better, however, to cast a very long leader (this is where the French employ leaders up to 10 metres) and use what I call a ‘stun’ or ‘drag-back’ cast in which you allow the wind, mostly, to take the fly out (remember you are casting down wind) and hold the rod at the forward stop point, high in the air. You can even drag the leader and fly back (with the rod tip held upstream of your position, but still high) before dumping them on the surface. You can then track the fly downstream and enjoy up to six metres, sometimes up to 10 metres, of drag-free drift, maintaining contact with the fly all the way in the event of a taking fish and setting the hook.

In all cases of dry fly presentation we have to use the prevailing conditions and situation in order to find the best compromise and the best presentation possible. With nymph, because of their comparatively small air resistance, it is far easier making that ideal 45 degree angle on a fish upstream, say, but with dry fly, and particularly micro dries, we must work so much more efficiently and sensitively with the conditions, particularly the wind.

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Fly Fishing in the Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada