In defense of Dry FLy Anlgers

In Defense of Dry Fly Anglers

I wrote a recent blog reminding us, we, the industry need to be a aware of the wants and needs of all anglers. Reminding us that whether you be a nympher, a streamer junkie, or a dry fly fanatic there is a place for you in this widely accepting recreation group.

While some of us make a life in this business, most anglers share this passion as a pastime. Some are more serious than others. Some are really serious. Some practice casting. Some tie flies ad nauseam. Some nymph fish. Some dry fly fish.

You could say, I would say without a doubt that the largest segment of focused anglers in the trout arena is the dry fly sect. And a bundle of them like to get after it.

In Defense of Dry Fly Anglers

Whether they be early in the game or mature educated dry fly hands or Headhunting as we like to call it the desire to hook a few trout on the dry exceeds all other interests. A common line is “I’d rather catch one on a dry than 10 on a nymph.” And, and that is OK.

A live and let live mind set. Just like the nymphing and streamer camp,  the dry fly set likes to hook’m how they want to hook’m.

Generally recognized as the group that possess the highest skill set, the dry fly only fellas generally deserve that honor. Many of these guys and gals practice casting at home. What? Yah, they practice. This angler usually fishes quite a bit more than the average angler too. Some even get casting lessons. What? (Ed: not enough!)

I had a guest a number of years ago named Phil Morris. Phil fished quite a bit and had a fierce passion for the sport. As with many of us, the Missouri River wind wreaked havoc on his dry fly game. He simply could not cast as well with the quite common and daily winds here in central Montana. Phil’s presentation was suffering and he couldn’t always find the distance the Missouri River trout often require.

What did Phil do?

This did not sit well with Phil. So what did Phil do?

Well, he is a smart fellow who recognized his deficiencies, took a large bite of humility, and sought out a casting instructor.

You certainly know the end result. I did not fish with Phil the first day of the next years trip. But I did see him. I saw Phil across the river and while I recognized his stature and his beard…I did not recognize his cast. I asked a member of the club who was fishing with me, “Is that Phil?” The response was “Yes, that’s Phil!”

I could not wait to catch up with the other boat at lunch and greet Phil. I was so damn excited about his improvement. At lunch I asked Phil if anything had changed in his fishing since last year? He said yes, yes there had a been a few changes.

He stated that he had been a little (a lot) pissed off at me and himself from the previous years experiences and his lack of execution. He went home and took casting lessons. Phil is from the casting instructor land of San Francisco so he had a ton of instructor options. He spent 5 sessions with a casting instructor with a month in between lessons. And he practiced.

The result? Phil can cast like a Rock Star. I could see the vast improvements across the river. He was 10 times better. Maybe 100 times better. His casts were precise. He carried himself with confidence, and he caught a pile more trout that year. It still continues with Phil. A 180 degree change. He once thought he was good. Then he embarked on a journey and became good. (Mark’s Quote) What a fabulous guy who realized that he could improve. It takes a strong man to recognize his inabilities. Weak men do not…

A Henry Ford quote that resonates in many facets of life is “If you think you can, or you think you can’t…you’re right.”

Another appropriate for today is “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

Check out the link on Henry Ford Quotes…so many ring true in fly fishing. Could write a number of blogs based on his quotes. Truly worth a look on this Thursday!

The Mind of a Dry Fly Angler

Back to the defense of dry fly anglers. This focused association of anglers is out early. They know the spot, the run, the timing of the hatch and are prepared for it. Usually these guys are not late sleepers. In fact, they can’t sleep in anticipation of the next day. They are constantly thinking and talking and discussing patterns, emergence behaviors, hatch cycles…all that stuff.

The other educated dry fly angler does sleep late. He is the Old Bull in the famous analogy. You know the one…“Hey let’s run down to those cows and…” He waits until the other anglers have passed by, frothing at the mouth and with the cast, furiously changing flies…The old bull simply slides into a run, drops the hook, and waits. He watches. He waits. He watches. Then he makes a cast. Not many. Just a few select presentations to a single solitary trout. His movement patterns are carefully measured. In his mind, Inefficiency is the devil.

Dry fly anglers can carry themselves with a sometimes pompous walk. But these are not the great ones. The great ones sit at the bar, smiling, sipping their drink,  and say nothing. The painfully average stand at the bar and let you know how great they are, how many stupid fish they caught, and so forth.

The educated and practiced dry fly anglers sit at the bar and when asked how the day treated them, they simply nod and state “What a great day. What a neat resource. Did you see the amazing spinner fall late morning. That was beautiful. Oh, the fishing. Yeah I fooled a few and was fooled by a few. Can’t wait for tomorrow. How was your day? Can I get you a Scotch?”

Kind of a Quiet Guy

Hard core dry fly flickers don’t say much. It is the guy who quietly goes about his business without crunching your flat, who politely drifts by, waves, smiles, and searches. Generally a fellow by himself. It is not a numbers game for him. It is about the pursuit, the chase, the hunt. It is about respecting the the fish, the river, the history of the sport.

He commonly is a mentor to others. Happy to pass on his knowledge, the why’s and the how’s and such. Life moves a t a slower pace for him.

Hard not to like this faction of anglers. They follow the live and let live philosophy.

This path represents most of the dry fly anglers. Not all. Some folks do not get it. And that is why you, and us, and I educate. To perpetuate this sport. To bring everybody up. If we, you, and I carry ourselves with pride, passion, respect, all the while smiling and sharing information we can improve.

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”  JFK

In my article Monday about Not all anglers want to be dry fly anglers I spoke openly about the sometimes negative perception of nymph anglers by dry fly anglers. The man or woman I speak about above is not that individual. This angler is the polar opposite of that stereotypical angler I mention on Monday.

The bottom line is that this is a sport that accepts all. It accepts the spin fisher, the bait boy, the belly boater bobbling through our rising trout, the vacationer sitting in a  lawn chair eyes closed, enveloping the warmth of the sun and all that the day brings. All of those recreational users.


Having respect and a true love for our partners, our fellow anglers, our family of fishing friends. That is what this sport is all about. It is about sharing, humility, laughing, learning, growing, enjoying nature and the outdoor environment.

Thanks for reading, for commenting, for putting up with my rants. I thank you for keeping with the fishing traditions, making new traditions, and smiling. We all gotta smile more…

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25 Comments. Leave new

  • Too true SOL.

  • Nice post. Much appreciated on this snowy Bozeman morning.

  • Leonard Gross
    January 30, 2014 8:52 am

    Excellent!  Well said.

  • Mark Tunstill
    January 30, 2014 7:23 pm

    A great article. Can’t wait to get back to Craig.

  • Sqeek is bringing the blog back!

  • I thought everyone practices? I have fly fished for 32 Years and always practice months earlier than a major trip and it
    pays off. No matter how skilled you are practice is always important and it will be that one cast that catches the uncatchable 
     Nice Blog!

  • Wow!

    Haven’t read or heard such thoughtful comments on our great sport in a very long time.

    Regardless of technique (bait, spinner, trolling or fly fishing), fishing is a grand excuse to find yourself alone (or with others) some place hopefully scenic and with something fun to do. I’m not a purist fly angler. I’m a confident angler with just about any tackle in my hand, but I prefer to fly fish. I prefer this form of angling for one primary reason…the cast. The unique way we fly casters deliver our lure (fly) is not only beautiful and enjoyable on its own, it’s also the defining attribute of our sport.

    Far too often, angling days are quantified by fish count alone, instead of quality of experience. Learning to efficiently cast a fly rod is not only a responsible component showing respect for the sport of fly fishing, it also adds further enjoyment to the experience by celebrating the defining attribute of our sport (the cast) and validates the investment in finer, more-efficient casting tackle.

    I’m by no means a dry fly purist, but I completely agree that a dry fly caught fish is a more valuable experience than a nymph caught fish. I feel that a dry fly fish is an “earned” fish, while fish caught with other techniques are just plain caught…with the exception of maybe a streamer fish. Us anglers who’ve been at this game for a long time have a deep pocket of angling tricks and can pull them out as conditions or our moods dictate. Hopefully though, we’ve all experienced the awesomeness of a beautiful and efficient dry fly cast, the anticipation of watching our dry fly float over promising water or a sighted fish and the magic of a topwater grab.

    Again, too often, new fly anglers are quickly exposed to bobber nymphing. Sure fish are caught, but unfortunately, newbies become a “one trick pony” and also become hard-wired to the direct connection between slinging bobbers and nymphs and catching trout. I’d argue that exposing a new fly angler to the joy of casting a dry fly, the anticipation of the drift and the hope that a fish responds is a better first exposure. That might be enough for them. If not, they can later be exposed to other techniques, but at least they’ll understand the dry game.

    In an industry filled with uber-performance marketing, hyper-technical products, football-field-length casts and gadgetry designed only to catch more fish, it’s great to read that the essence of the sport is still alive and well in Montana. Keep it up!

  • Mark,
        As always you teach us through your writing and your humor.  I have to say I live vicariously through you.  Both post you have referred to are dead on. As I consider myself a  part time dry fly guy and a part time streamer junkie.  I am remained that sometimes we don’t get to decide.  We as anglers have to bow to the fish gods and take what the river offers.  When we claim to be a true blue die hard of a certain discipline of fly fishing.  We are selling ourselves short of all the river has to offer or lake for that matter.  As you also said their is more to fishing than catching fish. Its the whole experience from preperation, the journey, the setting, new and old friendships.  Well you get the drift.  I am just emphasizimg we as angler’s need to be fluid like the waters we fish when it comes to fly fishing.

  • On behalf of all dry fly fishermen-who are likely the craziest of the lot–thank you

    • Thank you LT. You are the fishing mentor that many need. I for one still draw on your vision for wisdom. Or the other way around…Mark

  • Mark –I wanna send ya some music–can you send me your real e mail address—don’t post this please…………if you get my drift.

  • Very nice post. I digg it. TJ

  • Great post Mark! In my early days of fly fishing I would have put myself in the DFO category. It wasn’t until moving out west 15 years ago that I really started to appreciate how productive nymphing could be, how downright exciting streamer fishing can be and how overall, on any given day you can catch fish doing all of these.

    The Trout Spey options now are adding even more to the mix. And I just wanted to say, on a personal note I was just down there for the last three days and your staff did a tremendous job helping me get setup for my first few days of Spey casting…. I’m hooked already!

  • David (aka Troutsoul)
    February 27, 2020 7:01 pm

    I check this Blog daily to keep my spirits high in anticipation of another week on the Mo in the summer. Thank you! These past two blogs have highlighted the benefits of being a fly fisher and the rewards that result besides fish count. That being said – I prefer dry fly because it represents the importance of understanding many facets of fly fishing including reading water, stealth, understanding rise types, insects and stages of emergence, good cast (including drag free drifts) and most importantly “headhunting” in the sense of finding a target and executing acquired skills and knowledge in the aforementioned areas. I love the Mo (like the HF Ranch) because it presents opportunities to exercise (and hone) those skills required to be a good dry fly fisher. At the end of day, the pursuit of rising trout and fooling them is for some of us dry fly junkies the pinnacle of this sport. However, as the recent posts highlight we shouldn’t pass any judgment on anyone else preferred method or rationale for catching trout and enjoying this wonderful sport. The remarkable Mo accommodates all of us and I’m grateful. BTW – this is my first post so regulars please take it easy 🙂

    • I don’t consider myself a regular or a “junkie” of any style of FFing. However I absolutely love your 1st Post here and am in complete agreement . . . bravo to you sir. All your reasons FOR “doing it” Dry Fly Style are exactly the ones that get me interested, Once In Awhile, to take on the challenges doing so. That and the “Conditions” being “just right,” or ( and don’t tell anyone) I’m just not getting any tugs any other way, ha!
      Lou (aka FlyFInaticLou)

  • HH dry fly school last summer… anticipation of using new found skills this summer. Thanks Mark, John A, Eric M

    Cheers from Canada

  • Paul Siddoway
    March 1, 2020 10:31 pm

    Mark, Great post and thanks for the thoughtful analysis. We all need to be grateful for any day we get to spend on the river and any fish caught(however we prefer to do it), is a gift. Most of us are well served with keeping a beginners attitude and then its all about yearning and learning. Hope all is well with you. Paul S.

  • Great stuff SOL, the more inclusive the fly fishing world becomes the better off we are.

  • Jim McLennan
    March 3, 2020 8:41 am

    Nice piece.

  • Rick Fairbanks
    March 3, 2020 10:58 am

    Thanks Mark. What a great read over my morning coffee today.

  • Layne Hepworth
    March 3, 2020 1:27 pm

    Enjoyed your article. Look forward to fishing with you this June.