Monday, June 22, 2015

Dry Flies: I am a Beginner, what do I Buy?

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You've spent years telling yourself that someday you'll learn how to fly fish.  Well, for the purpose of this post, that time has finally come; your doing it, lessons are scheduled!  What next?  If you're like most beginner anglers, you'll spend many hours on the internet, viewing sexy fish porn photos.  If you look closely at these photos, you'll notice how the angler(s) clothing and equipment are spot-free new; these anglers get paid to model and on a day-to-day basis, may not use much of the equipment/gadgets that you see being featured. Also, you'll probably visit a handful of stores and you may begin to wonder why one fly rod cost $100 vs. another that cost $900 USD.  You may find yourself standing amongst 100's of flies, wondering which to buy. In a short while, you'll end up looking at 1,000's of purchase options, and most likely, be overwhelmed. Unfortunately, based on my experience, many of the items sold to beginner angler's, are unnecessary. With all that said, the purpose of this post, plain and simple, is to help you.  Specific to flies, I'll narrow down your choices to a handful of flies that will catch fish any where in the world.  Before I begin, allow me to lay a foundation for purchasing fly fishing equipment.

  1. Always remember, Less is More.  (you'll be surprised how little you need) 
  2. Don't believe everything you see or read. In other words, just because the model in the photo has all the gear, doesn't mean you need it.  Plus,  I have met employee's in fly shops that have no real world experience = they really don't know if the product works (I have also met some fly shop employee's/owners, who are experts).  Bottom line, buying fishing equipment can be a tricky game, so take your time.
  3. If you are on a tight budget, shop Craig's List and visit local yard/garage sales.   In other words, start off with equipment that cost $ vs. $$$$$.  

Dry Flies: Beginner vs. Expert Angler

Let's keep this simple:  I'll assume you'll never be able to match the hatch.  Matching the hatch is the process of identifying aquatic insects that fish feed on, and then picking a man made fly that exactly, or best matches it.  So, whether you are a beginner or an expert bug man, if you fished with the following flies for the rest of your life, you'll catch lots of fish.

  • Parachute Adams. Size #10-#20.
  • Elk Hair Caddis.  Size #12-#20 (I tie #08 and #10 EHC. You won't find these in shops.  I tie these larger EHC for Patagonia only).  
  • CDC Elk Hair Caddis.  Size #18-#22.

Why Parachute Adams?

#10 Parachute Adams = The one fly I never leave home without.

  • They WORK any where in the world and it will catch a wide variety of cold and warm water species! Tip: you could spend the rest of your life trying to match the hatch, name and identify the gazillion species of mayflies, or you could keep it simple by using a Parachute Adams. Regardless of hatch or latin name, you'll catch fish, build your confidence, and in time, begin to properly identify specific species of mayfly's.  
  • The Parachute Adams is known as an attractor dry fly.  In other words, it was not designed to replicate a specific specie of mayfly.  It was designed to mimic a variety of bugs (mayfly's). 
  • Typically, when you use a Parachute Adams, your using it to mimic a mayfly (specifically, what is called a Dun Mayfly). Down on the river, you may not know which mayfly is hatching; or, there might not be any mayfly's hatching. If your see bugs hatching, your best option is to match the size of the Parachute Adams to the size of bugs you see hatching.  How do you do that?  A) Catch some bugs in your hands. B) Over time, with some experience and understanding of hook sizes, visibly you'll be able to guess the most appropriate size hook/fly. If you see no hatch, think about seasonal trends, or time of day, etc (big bugs vs. small bugs). FYI, I use a #10 Parachute Adams all the time... anglers look at me like I am crazy (see pics below... who's crazy?).
  • Used properly, this classic dry fly, is DEADLY.
  • Worldwide, it is readily available in ALL fly shops.
  • It's one of the most inexpensive dry fly's that you can buy.
  • If you tie, it's SUPER easy and very cost effective.    

Can you see the Parachute Adams?


Why Elk Hair Caddis?


Sometimes, I tie very bushy Elk Hair Caddis flies =  the excess elk hair makes a great profile/shadow in the sun.  


  • Worldwide, there a more caddis flies than mayflies.   
  • They WORK any where in the world and it will catch a wide variety of cold and warm water species! 
  • Within the industry, Elk Hair Caddis flies are not known as attractor flies; they actually look like, or come close to looking like the real thing.  With thousands of caddis species spread throughout the globe, I would say the Elk Hair Caddis fly can be used as your general/attractor fly.  In other words, at any fly shop, there are many varieties of caddis flies to purchase (the Elk Hair Caddis fly should be your 1st choice).
  • On the river,  you may not know which caddis fly is hatching; or, there might not be any caddis hatching. If your see caddis hatching, your best option is to match the size of the Elk Hair Caddis to the size of bugs you see hatching.  How do you do that?  A) Catch some bugs in your hand. B) Over time, with some experience and understanding of hook sizes, visibly you'll be able to guess the most appropriate size hook/fly.  If you see no hatch, think about seasonal trends, or time of day, etc (big bugs vs. small bugs).  FYI, in Patagonia, I use #08/#10 Elk Hair Caddis all the time... they float better in faster water and make for great dry-dropper rigs.
  • Used properly, this classic dry fly, is DEADLY.
  • Worldwide, it is readily available in ALL fly shops.
  • It's one of the most inexpensive dry fly's that you can buy.
  • If you tie, it's SUPER easy and very cost effective.

Why Caddis Flies with CDC?

This is known as a Splitsville Caddis with CDC.  


  • The same features and benefits mentioned about an Elk Hair Caddis apply.
  • You have tried a Parachute Adams, with no strikes. Your standard Elk Hair Caddis is not working. You see fish gently bulging at the surface, but you don't see a hatch.  Be patient, and proceed to put on a small (#18-#22) caddis with CDC feathers. Fish it dry and at times, especially on a slow down-swing drift, allow it to dip below the surface = get ready for a strike.
  • What the heck are CDC feathers and why are they so effective?  CDC translates to 'Cul de Canard.' These feathers come from the back of waterfowl, along the spine, just before the tail. The benefit of these feathers are:  A) these feathers are buoyant, and trap air bubbles = when the fly is dry, and floating high in the water, I believe the CDC feathers give a pulsing effective that no fish can resist.  B) CDC feathers will become saturated and pull the fly down lower into the slime coat/water, or possibly sink it = this action mimics a crippled or emerging caddis...either way, from my experience, when fish are picky, submerging a CDC caddis is EXTREMELY effective.


Upper lip..can you see the CDC caddis fly?  In this very wild setting, with glass like water, this fish would not take anything else! 


How to Fish these Flies?

The easy part is buying the flies that I have recommended.  Now comes the hard work; how to fish each fly in a variety of locations/conditions.  Specifically, you'll need to learn how to cast, set up your leaders/nymph rigs, perfect your presentation, and properly catch-n-release fish. So, if you try it on your own and don't have much success, this is what I suggest:


  • Get Help: read books, watch videos, join fishing clubs, attend fishing seminars, etc.
  • Working with an instructor/guide may help you avoid years of frustration and stress.
  • Most importantly, if you work with an instructor/guide, be patient, honest,  communicate, and come prepared to learn, not necessarily catch fish (I know anglers who would rather BS all day long about how/why they are not catching fish.  In other words, they really don't want to learn... they just want a guide to catch them a trophy fish). 

At FCFF, we spend more time teaching than guiding. Our rates and programs are designed to take you through series of classes, rather than a one or two day cram session.  If we can help, please feel free to contact us.


Final Word

Not many guides will show you their fly box.  If you have read a few post and if you have met me in person, you know I believe in sharing info and knowledge.  So, I leave you with this photo.  The take away message is, you don't need dozens of fly boxes and hundreds of flies.  This fly box fits into my shirt pocket and the amount of flies seen in the photo, will last me for a couple of seasons.

For information on nymphs and super flies, read the following post:
http://firstcastflyfishing.blogspot.com/2015/06/nymphs-i-am-beginner-what-do-i-buy.html
http://firstcastflyfishing.blogspot.com/2015/06/super-flies-i-am-beginner-what-do-i-buy.html


I do fish with larger dry flies, but day after day, this is my go-to fly box.  If you have a good eye, you can see lots of Parachute Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, and CDC Caddis. 




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