Dry Fly Anlgers

News Flash. Not all anglers want to be dry fly anglers!

I’ve been rolling around a personal progression of fly fishing for a couple years and as of late it has been haunting me daily.

I believe that we, as an industry, are educating our anglers in an improper way.

We are giving the perception that if you do not want to dry fly fish, that you as a person and sportsman are inferior and follow an incorrect path.

One of the ways we stray is not understanding what fly fishing anglers want from this sport.

Group Think is always bad!

Most dry fly anglers assume that all anglers want to be dry fly anglers and that there is only one way to get there. By only using dry flies. From day 1. That all anglers want to be dry fly anglers. And that if you use any other method, you are copping out, and a loser.

Well that is flat wrong. We have to stop impressing our industry group think mind set on all anglers. It just does not make sense.

Don’t some anglers just want to fish on vacation. Occasional anglers that enjoy many facets of the sport. Like catching fish? That some anglers may enjoy streamer fishing, indicator angling, watching the day go by, or just blind fishing a grasshopper.

Isn’t this wonderful fly fishing sport about the pursuit of happiness? Why does it have to be all about the dry fly?

The ski industry used to operate this way too. They assumed that every skier wanted to be an Olympian. The skis were designed from the top down. Race technology dictated beginner ski design.

Fly rod design, today, is dictated by the consumer. Finally. Rod companies make rods that we all can cast. Not just the dry fly pro. Fly fishing is enjoyed by many, by all, by those who do not want to achieve perfection and only catch fish using one solitary method.

That would be like assuming that every 16 year old that sits in the drivers seat of his mothers Toyota Corolla wants to be a Formula 1 driver. Wait, bad analogy.

But do you think that everybody that rests the cork in his hand wants to be a Headhunter?  A dyed in the wool DFO?  I would disagree with that theory.

But that is how we approach most novice anglers. We just assume that they do not want to nymph. That they want to throw their other passions aside and focus only on dry fly angling. That they will be consumed by it and see the sport as you, we, me, or the dry fly angler sees it. That the only way to be good, to validate themselves, is by following the most difficult path. That all anglers are striving to awards only fishing with the dry fly.

Well, I ‘m here to tell you that that theory is wrong!

Fly Fishing is for everybody

Isn’t fly fishing about bird watching? The learning process. Fellowship. Experiencing the outdoors. Roaming the banks looking for a good place to toss your fly? It is about some many other things than just stalking finicky spinner feeding prick fish.

The Missouri River is a dry fly mecca. Amazing hatches, a strong dry fly season lasting 8+ months, a biomass of insects that demolishes most other Montana rivers…we get that. A bunch of anglers come here seeking only the best in dry fly fishing. That is OK too! It is not a coincidence that our shop is aptly named Headhunters. It is a way of life for us and we love it while appreciating that many come here for differing reasons.

Like the high populations and large average sized trout!

If you want to go the dry fly way from the get go, then I advocate that too. But why does every angler have to take the same path? Is fly fishing based on making the process as difficult as possible? Does not catching fish for a period of time make the angler better in the long run? Is first day total failure the right way to teach?

I have read a bundle of articles in the last 5 years from guides, industry folks, fly fishing writers that bobber fishing is evil and we are teaching the wrong aspects of fishing.

These articles were truly concerned that we were teaching a culture of fish counters. That all was lost because we were not stressing the dry fly angle enough. I disagree. It is a natural progression that anglers follow. Catching fish is OK. And what is wrong with catching a bundle. Is it wrong to have a bundle of money? Is it wrong to outscore your opponent in football? Is it wrong to order the Super Size Big Mac Meal? Does that in itself make you a bad person? Don’t humans qualify success with numbers? What are salary is, how much we weigh, what are children’s GPA is?

Are we really teaching the angler to become an elitist? That everyday you are not doing it the way we think you should be is a bad day? A bad route? Is catching fish on the first day evil. Can fly fishing with a bobber be a means to the end? I believe it can.

We don’t teach babies to run before they crawl. We do not tongue lash them for crawling first. Why would we do this to potential participants of fly fishing.

Isn’t fly fishing about staying young and laughing? Does it always have to be so damn serious and unidirectional?  Is there only one path to follow?

No, those folks drive me bananas. Fly fishing is a sport for everybody. Not for those dry fly fanatics that believe that those who do not dry fly fish only are bad people.

Unhealthy for the Fly Fishing Industry

Those thoughts are not healthy for the industry. They are not healthy for those who choose to enjoy the sport on a platform that is all inclusive. That sometimes does not include only fishing towards fish with a single dry fly.

It is OK to only want to dry fly fish. That is your prerogative. You can skin the cat however you want too. Knock yourself out.

I have recently been fond of proposing this idea to dry fly anglers…

If every angler that DFO’s likes to rip on all those indicator anglers that you like to make fun of…what if all of them were fishing along side of you on your favorite dry fly flat? I figure that less than 10% of anglers follow the DFO path. What if the other 90% of anglers were up early creeping around holding a spot (your spot) for the Trico spinner fall?

How would that make you feel? Let that thought roll around in your head for a minute, or two.

I kinda believe it would make you angry. If dry fly anglers were successful in making every other angler a dry fly angler…there would not be many rising fish. Negative reinforcement is a very real occurrence in most nature circles…

So, why would we assume that all anglers want to follow the path to the most difficult aspect of trout fishing?

Should we assume that all anglers want to pursue the most difficult game fish, the Permit? Shouldn’t all anglers move this direction? How about the Steelhead gang. That is a crowd that believes fewer anglers is better!

Chew on these examples and analogies…

Should all cooks, like those who like to cook for their families, take classes and learn the mother sauces? Should all college students naturally move to need and want a doctorate degree? Should everybody in the medical field want to be a doctor? Should all actors want to win an Oscar? Should all recreational horsemen desire to win the Belmont? Should all wine drinkers be sommeliers? Can’t we just enjoy the $8 bottle once in a while. A nice inexpensive bottle of table wine?

Can’t we be recreational anglers and be happy with that? Boy, I really think we can. It is OK.

Not all anglers want to be ascend to the dry fly only stage. I can tell you that the non-DFO bunch does not rip on the DFO gang. Why would they. They recognize that there are many facets and skill sets in this outdoor sport and follow more of a live and let live mantra.

It’s true, and it’s OK.

So, I believe we as an industry, as guides, as a community of fly shops need to shed that higher than mighty attitude and embrace all anglers. Recognizing  that angling is a sport for all and amongst the participants include a plethora of reasons for fly fishing.

We believe in that concept strongly here at Headhunters and while we are big fans of dry fly fishing…we also love the bobber, the streamer junkie, the recreationalists, the floaters, the dry fly angler, the back of the boat reader, the birder, the light tackle angler, and the sunbather.

Not all anglers want to be dry fly anglers.

And that is OK.




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  • One Eyed Gene
    January 27, 2014 1:03 pm

    Good post. I had not looked at it this topic that way. It is ok to not be a dry fly only guy!

  • As always boys, good read. Well thought through and well written. An interesting perpective for sure. And no, I don’t want more dry fly anglers either!

  • Hi SOL: A good read, as always….but…but, I see so many guided boats and recreational anglers relying on the bobber, hour after hour, day after day, never switching to streamers or the dry. I’ve been on the Bow on August days when giant fish were hurtling up from the depths to crush giant hoppers, even as glum-looking anglers floated by staring at their bobber. I go to the Bighorn and listen to guides rant about how they’ve nymphed for 67 straight days and can’t get a client to stalk a sipper or go for giant predatory browns with a streamer, remaining convinced the Bighorn doesn’t even have such fish. I think Headhunters has some of the most well-rounded guides, almost always willing to try every method, and you probably also tend to get an above-average cut of clients, perhaps more dry fly purists than average. But among the anglers I see, if there’s a risk, it’s the risk of them turning the nymph into a perennial, catch-all security blanket, only stepping beyond the bobber-stare when the river is boiling with rises.

    • Totally valid George and understood. We do have an inordinate number of dry fly anglers and we really enjoy that. I can say we all can fall into the nymph game addicted to the success of the nymph.

      Although, you certainly know that there are nymph anglers that are highly skilled anglers and enjoy nymphing. Nymphs outsell dry flies in every fly shop across America.

      Some nymph anglers do not want to move away from the nymph, and I think that is OK. I also believe that some anglers use it as a safety blanket as well.

      So…the guest makes the final decision. Some people like the taste of ham, and yet others don’t like ham, they like turkey.

      Thanks as always for your input George. Appreciate it greatly.


  • Terry Armstrong
    January 27, 2014 4:06 pm

    Personally I like to mix it up. If I had to chose only one way to fly fish the rest of my life it would be streamers, but I enjoy learning new techniques and experiencing new challenges. Change it up and try it all. If you are truely trying to ascend to the ultimate in fly fishing to me that woud be to master all disciplines. Not just one. Just say’n!

  • Too long! More funny shit please.

  • Well said Mark.  I occasionally fall into the Snobbish DFO attitude but luckily have smarter-than-me fishy friends who remind me of some of your same points. Cheers to all who enjoy pursuing the elusive trouts of our beautiful rivers and streams. 

  • Mark, great read as always.
    George, great writing yourself. You brought to lite something I’ve pondered many hours while staring at bobbers fore and aft of my rower’s seat.
    80+% of my outfitters’ clients have never fly fished before. I would love to have them casting salmon fly/dropper on their 1st day. Or tossing big articulated nasties to the depths using sink tips. Unfortunately, it is the rare beginner that wants to learn how or why. The rest just want to catch fish. So 80+% of my days are spent trying to get fish on the hook with no skills required. The best way I have found to make that happen is under a bobber. A good cast is one that hits the water. That is what the client has to accomplish. The rest ( fly selection, knots, depth, boat position, ect…) is up to me.
    I think you are seeing so many bobbers because we, as a society, feel the need for instant gratification. Pay your money,: catch your fish.  I, as a service provider, must fulfill the clients expectations.  Say “hello” to my little friend: the bobber.
    It has been fun over the years to see clients evolve  into fisherman that are well versed  in many different methodologies.  And for some reason, dry fly fishing seams the last one they master…

    • Thanks Ken,

      Always appreciate your insight. Lots of truth in those words. I know you try to go to the next level, as many of us do. It is important to push, and get the best of everybody. We as guides and the guests too. Rewards should be hard to come by. But…


  • Great write up, with a ton of truth. I think the general idea behind this all would be, who cares? Why are people so concerned with what others do? I fish exclusively streamers and dries. That’s just how I enjoy fishing. When I started trout fishing though, I was tossing double nymph rigs under a bobber for a few 10″ trout. And you know what? I learned a ton about trout fishing that way. Then, as fishing turned from a hobby to a passion, I decided to branch out and up my game. SOL, your analogies are spot on. I wish people would take a “who cares what others are doing” attitude in all aspects of life, fishing inluded. Not everyone needs to be nut jobs like I assume all us commenting are. Casual hobbyists who enjoy nature and would rather drift down a river than bobber fish crappies are fine by me!

  • […] 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 […]

  • The only thing worse than a dry fly only angler is a trout only angler.

  • Hmmm, couple years of contemplating you say? I’ve been contemplating for a couple years too – wether it’s ok to keep intact or remove the “fuzzies” from my navel? Yea, I even consoled my neighbors cat, who eventually licked it clean and I’ve been a happier camper ever since. Now as far as all the rest of this Ying / Yang Stuff . . . I’ve always been a “kiss-er” . . . and I’ve never had the desire to go backward and use a “bobber”. last time I used one – the classic red/white plastic 1.5″ diameter, was when I was trash fishing in a road side pond; think I was ~ 7 ? I’ve mostly HAD TO find my own path in life (being raised by Mom with 1 slightly older brother. It’s served me well over the years and has been a part of how I “look at fly fishing” too. Early on (~12) I 1st learned with a bamboo rod and a few Classic Attractor Dries – cause that’s all I was given & didn’t “know from Adam” ! Right off the bat 1st local river I ventured in up to my belt in a mans sized rubber chest waders (what a sight!). But long story short I caught and kept (to later eat) six, 8″ rainbows. Fast forward 54-years and I hardly ever dry fly fish – on occasion IF the conditions are “right” and I “feel-it” in my gut, I’ll take the Risers on. I’ve accepted the fishes Taunting Challenges, one sip at a time. Usually thought the “game” only lasts maybe an hour, but varies, and then back to my favorite way – the streamer way! I’ve always been “told” and I also learned this at Utah State (Fisheries Biology major) that the vast majority of the meals they eat are closer to the bottom than on the surface.
    IF I were to ONLY fish the DRY Fly way, my Catch rate would be ~90% less . . . based on where they eat the most. Now I haven’t been a #’s guy in decades. Fly fishings become so much more than what most beginners perceive it to be. As you say, it’s getting out in Nature, enjoying all you see and smell and touch. Don’t touch the fish, keep’em wet in the net especially the gills (breathing is a good thing). Glad you shared Mark . . . sometimes I’ve wondered if you had a certain avoidance-manner about you because of your tendency to be “that guy” – the Dry Fly Guru arrogant guy. Of course I don’t think you are that guy, it’s just something I have to work on in myself perceptions of others. Always the skeptic, always asking “too many” questions . . . . , gee thanks mom. Ha.

  • I love to catch sipping trout on dry flies but, I also enjoy throwing big streamers looking for the apex predator. Wait a minute, some days I enjoy taking out my euro nymph rig and catching a pile of fish. When spring turns to summer, I can’t wait to toss mouse patterns after midnight just waiting to hear the splash of the grandpa brown that lives under the bridge like a troll and only comes out at night. Between spring and summer the big bluegills are up in the shallows and make a great fish fry. As summer turns to fall and WI trout season ends on October 15th, time to get our the heavy gear and cast 10,000 times to catch one Muskellunge. Forgot to mention the last minute phone call that ends up with a steelhead trip to some GL trib.

    Maybe I am just to ADD to every be DFO.

    When I was a ski instructor I told students “If you are having fun, you are during it mostly right”.

    For me the same is true about fly fishing and I know I am having fun.

  • The great things about flyfishing are:
    1 – you can dry fly only
    2 – nymph only
    3 – throw streamers only
    4 – fish solo
    5 – fish with friends
    6 – fish from a boat
    7 – wade fish(although hard to carry enough beer)
    8 – throw caution to the wind and use two-handed rods all year long.
    9 – you can use a 2 weight, 3 weight, 4 weight, 5 weight, and 6 weights, of all sizes and styles.
    10 – Don’t follow the herd!!!! Blaze your own trail!!

  • Only humans really care what others think and feel their judgement matters most… Good write up mark as always… I appreciate that I can choose my own, the beauty of being a human… I give the bird to the rest that feel their judgment matters… just go fish..

  • Hahaha have you ever fished with a bird? It works.. just saying. Is it a dry fly?

  • I am said “DFO”. I fish with ‘boo only (ya, on the Mo!). Why? Just because. Leave me alone and let me fish. Geez…

  • It’s been said that 10% of the fisherman catch 90% of the fish and trout get 85% of their diet subsurface. I am the dry fly fishing only elitist snob of which you speak. I don’t care how other people fish dance fight or f…—let people fish the way they want –all they really do is get in the way anyway, not hurting the fish population much. The biggest problem with fly fishing is that fly fishing and industry can be used in the same sentence. Sorry but you started it.

  • “If everyone is thinking alike, the no one is thinking”.

    -Benjamin Franklin

  • ATTENTION: Lieutenant Dan! 🤣

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