Very few things can get the blood boiling more than a dry fly that sinks at the most crucial time. This happens to all of us, and so it should. A dry fly that floats like a cork just wouldn’t seem right.
Your dry will sink for several reasons: a bad drift, poor dry fly maintenance on the water, or just a badly tied pattern. These are all things that could make that little pattern break the surface film and slip under.
In the below sections, we will first cover what makes the pattern go under, other than the obvious and then what we can do on the water or at the vise to help prevent this.
Why is Your Fly Sinking?
Your dry will sink for numerous reasons. Some of them can be controlled by the angler on and off the water, while others can be by the tier.
Fish- my favourite reason a dry fly sinks is from catching fish. Whatever is in a trout’s mouth removes all the floating characteristics. Many times I’ll just switch the fly, because until it’s thoroughly dried and treated it’s a lost cause.
Drag- is a major contributor to that dry fly sinking or just slipping under the water. The drag comes from the fly line and comes down to line control and management.
When the fly line leader drifts/drags in the water and pulls the dry fly. This is what is referred to as drag. Drag isn’t great for presentations or control. When the fly is moving faster than the water or seam it is drifting, it looks unnatural and generally won’t get eaten.
Depending on the distance at which you are fishing, you want to try to keep as much fly line off the water for close-quarter drifts, and then on the longer casts and drifts, it’s best to mend the fly line correctly to prevent the drug-induced drift. The drag-induced drift will not only not catch fish but sink that dry in no time.
Dropper weight– is something to consider as well. The size of the nymph you fish below your dry will directly influence how it rides the water film and how long it last before it goes under. It makes sense that you can’t fish a 4mm beaded PTN under a size #16 elk hair. It just won’t work. It’s science. There are other things to consider, and it’s best to work from one point backward.
Decide what the average size of dry you fish on your waters is. Then test which of your patterns ride higher than others. These will be the ones to use heavier beaded nymphs with.
Lastly, it’s essential to watch how the rig, particularly the dry fly, moves in the seam when drifting. You don’t want a heavily suspended dry fly as the dry will look unnatural and won’t get eaten. The whole point of fishing the dry and dropper rig is to cover two sections of the water column.
Dry Fly Maintenance– This is key to helping that dry fly from repelling water and staying dry for longer. The water maintenance before and during the session makes all the difference. Various treatments like High Ride and Loon Dust’ by LOON work very well. Gink or Aquel is just as good, but we will touch on these a bit later.
Guide Pro Tip: I’ve got similar article that I wrote a couple years ago. 👉 How to Keep Your Dry Fly from Sinking
Tips to Keeping the Dry Fly Floating
There are a few ways to keep your dry fly as dry as possible in between drift and pools. Certain methods work better than others, and some ways only work best on certain types of dry flies.
An example of this would be, you wouldn’t use GINK on a CDC-based pattern as the CDC will become clogged/oily, and the microfibers will stick together and sink on your first cast. These types of tips are very valuable on the water and can make or break your dry fly session.
The same can be said for when you are at the vise. Using the right materials for the dry fly can make a massive difference in the pattern’s ability to float and repel water. The quality of your natural materials plays a big role too. Good CDC and deer hair are pricey but worth every penny when you see that fly floating like it should, out on the water.
1. Applying Floatant
Treating your dry before you fish it is a great way to start your session. As mentioned earlier, there are certain dry flies that you would not apply your silicon-based floatant.
Any CDC predominant pattern I like to leave any as naturally as possible to start with. Cul De Canard, or CDC as it is widely known, translated means duck bottom. These little feathers come from the hind area of the duck around the preen gland. This is the gland that produces all the natural oils the duck uses to waterproof its feathers.
So, when you get your good quality CDC to start tying those CDC Elks and Split wings, the first thing you notice is how oily the actual feathers are. It is this oil that helps the CDC and the pattern you tie with them to float so efficiently.
For all my hackle and hair-based patterns, I apply the floatant at I the beginning of the session.
2. Fly Maintenance
Just as important when out on the water. If the pattern is looking a little heavy and not riding as high in the water film, this is when I give it a shake in the Top Ride Bottle or apply some Floating Dust.
Both these dry powders are super absorptive and dry out all the tiny feather fibers. I’m a personal fan of the High Ride bottle in which your fly gets placed, and you close and shake the bottle a few times and blow off the excess dust. Note, for both these floatant powders to work, you need to dry the fly off from as much excess water as possible.
3. False Casting
Probably the easiest way to dry your fly off. It works great to get the excess water off a pattern that isn’t too water clogged, as well as to get rid of unwanted water before you use the dry powders, as mentioned above.
One tip worth a mention is not to do too many false casts over the water. You still need to fish. If the fish are particularly sensitive, they will probably spook. Best to make as fewer casts as needed or to cast off to the side of the vegetation allows.
4. The Armpit Clamp
This is just what I call it because it’s what I use to dab the water off the fly. Some anglers carry a little cloth for this purpose and to wipe the shades, but I don’t worry about that. You also get a little wool patch that works well too. Use what you are happy to carry. It all boils down to absorbing as much extra water as possible.
5. On the Lips
is a great way to dry your dry your dry fly, A good hard blow of air onto the dry will disperse most of the excess water. A few of these hard blows and the fly should be good to go. Applying your floatant after you have blown the water off is key. Sometimes this isn’t enough to dry the fly, so the below rubber band or armpit method will also help here.
6. Rubber Band Strum
A nifty little trick to use to get the excess water off your dry fly. Using a rubber band, hook your dry fly on the rubber band and apply tension. You then strum the rubber band like you would a guitar string, and this shakes the dry and sheds the water.
A rubber band needs to be replaced every couple of weeks. If you use a few rubber legs as the band, they tend to last a little longer. This is, of course, all dependent on how often you fish and how much sun the rubber gets before it perishes.
7. Tippet Materials
Use NYLON MONOFILAMENT when fishing predominantly dry flies. The age-old argument of Fluoro vs. Mono still happens, and it will continue to be a heated topic in the future. My view is to use both materials for the best conditions they are suited for.
Fluoro is thinner and stronger per diameter but also tends to sink. This is obviously not ideal for dry fly fishing, especially if you are fishing the size 16 and smaller patterns. I usually use a low density copolymer mono for my dry flies. It is super strong for its diameter and sits in the water film nicely.
Guide Pro Tip: If fishing for easily spooked fish, DO NOT apply any floatant on your tippet. The possibility of light reflection is great and will scare the fish.
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At the Tying Vise
When behind the vise, there are a few things that you can do to aid the flotation of the pattern.
The use of foam in certain patterns works great. Using either the larvae lace foam or the high-density 2mm sheets is great to add as heads, extended bodies, and at times whole patterns.
In your larger patterns, you can spin the foam strips like deer hair and trim them back into your intended shape. I do this quite often with certain saltwater prawn and shrimp imitations.
The way you spin your hair is also worth a mention. Spinning the deer hair in a very tight stack is key to creating a very dense body and one that will hold out water for longer. The same can be said for CDC feathers.
Ensuring that the fibers aren’t trapped in the split thread or dubbing loop is vital to ensuring a neat and dry pattern.
Regarding the two above-mentioned materials, it is very important to use the best quality feather and deer hair you can find. With the deer hair, there are a few things to note. Not going into too much detail, but the early-season deer hair is good for wings, legs, and bullet heads. This hair is thinner and has a slightly smaller hollow to it.
The late winter hair is great for spinning and is my recommended hair to use for bodies and shaping. It is at its best now, thick and strong. It also bends better when under thread tension, thus allowing the tier to stack it very tightly. Once cut and shaped, the result won’t even resemble deer hair. This is ideal for bass bugs and DDDs.
Guide Pro Tip- unfortunately nothing magical here, but I want to emphasize the importance of dry fly treatment before you start fishing. Apply that Gink or dry dust. It doesn’t take long and will help that fly ride well to start with.
Dry fly fishing is one of the most enjoyable methods to catch fish when they are eating off the surface. Keeping that dry fly dry can be an issue, but luckily we now have a few tips and tricks to handle the water-clogged flies.
Get that fly dry again and get it back in the water. We all know you can’t catch fish if your fly isn’t in the water.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.