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ORVIS – Dry Fly Tactics – Using Small Dries

In the video “ORVIS – Dry Fly Tactics – Using Small Dries” by The Orvis Company, anglers are presented with valuable insights into the effectiveness of using small dry flies in the #14 – #22 range. The video emphasizes that in clear trout streams, where trout can be easily spooked, a smaller dry fly with a long leader can yield better results. Unlike a big plop on the water with a large dry fly, which is likely to spook feeding trout, a smaller fly presents a more subtle and enticing option. The video, featuring Dave and Amelia Jensen, offers practical tips on choosing the right fly size and highlights the importance of being patient and ready for the strike. For those seeking further guidance on fishing with tiny dry flies, additional resources are available through The Orvis Company’s fly fishing resources.

The video provides real-life examples of effective dry fly tactics. It shares the experience of fishing in a particular pocket on a creek that is fished a few times each season. By experimenting with different fly selections and casting techniques, the video demonstrates the varying results that can be achieved. It highlights the importance of understanding the fish’s feeding patterns and preferences, as well as the influence of environmental factors such as the presence of shadows or specific habitat features. The video showcases how using a smaller, non-intrusive fly, placed strategically within the fish’s feeding window, can attract and entice the trout without spooking it. Ultimately, the video emphasizes the value of using small flies, particularly in calm and clear waters, for successful fly fishing.

ORVIS - Dry Fly Tactics - Using Small Dries

Choosing Small Dry Flies

When it comes to fly fishing, choosing the right flies is crucial to success. Small dry flies, in particular, offer several benefits that make them a popular choice among anglers. These flies imitate adult insects that have landed on the water’s surface, making them irresistible to hungry trout. The small size of these flies, typically ranging from size 16 to 24, closely matches the natural insects found in many trout streams, increasing the chances of fooling trout into taking the fly. Additionally, small dry flies create a delicate presentation on the water, allowing for a more realistic imitation and increasing the probability of enticing trout to bite.

Benefits of using small dry flies

Using small dry flies in your fly fishing endeavors offers several advantages. Firstly, these flies are more challenging for trout to detect, as they closely resemble the tiny insects they feed on. This makes them particularly effective when trout are being selective and only feeding on specific insects. Secondly, small dry flies produce a more subtle presentation on the water, making them ideal for fishing in calm conditions or when trout are feeding more cautiously. The delicate nature of these flies often results in a more natural drift, giving anglers a better chance of fooling wary trout. Lastly, small dry flies are versatile and can be used in a variety of water conditions, from slow-moving pools to faster riffles, making them a reliable choice in any fishing scenario.

When to use small dry flies

Knowing when to use small dry flies is key to maximizing your success on the water. These flies excel in several situations, particularly when trout are actively rising to feed on the water’s surface. During hatches, when insects are abundant and trout are feeding eagerly, small dry flies can imitate the emerging or hatched insects perfectly. Similarly, they are effective when fish are taking flies in the surface film, a common feeding behavior among trout. In low-water conditions or when trout are being particularly selective, using small dry flies can be the key to fooling wary trout into taking your offering. Additionally, small dry flies can be productive when fishing in heavily pressured waters, where trout have become wary of larger, more commonly used patterns.

Leaders for Small Dry Flies

Choosing the right leader for fishing small dry flies is just as important as selecting the correct flies. A long leader is essential for delivering delicate presentations and ensuring a natural drift. The extended length gives the fly more time to settle on the water’s surface before the leader lands, reducing the chances of spooking the fish. Furthermore, long leaders allow for better fly control in tricky currents and facilitate stealthy approaches to spooky trout. When selecting a leader for small dry fly fishing, it is recommended to opt for a longer configuration, typically between 9 to 12 feet. This length will provide the angler with the necessary control and presentation capabilities needed to entice trout into biting.

Importance of a long leader

There are several reasons why a long leader is crucial when fishing small dry flies. Firstly, it allows for a more delicate presentation. The longer leader provides a gradual transfer of energy, resulting in a gentler fly landing on the water. This mimics the natural behavior of insects landing on the surface and increases the chances of enticing trout to strike. Secondly, a long leader enables anglers to achieve a drag-free drift. By extending the leader’s length, the line has a greater opportunity to settle and straighten out, reducing the chances of the fly being dragged across the water’s surface. Lastly, a long leader aids in accurate fly placement, allowing anglers to present their fly precisely where they intend to, increasing the chances of attracting trout.

Choosing the right leader length

Selecting the appropriate leader length when fishing small dry flies depends on various factors, including the size of the flies, the fishing conditions, and personal preference. As a general guideline, a leader length between 9 and 12 feet is generally suitable for most situations. However, there are exceptions. In calm, slow-moving water, where fish can be especially cautious, using a longer leader may be necessary to prevent spooking the fish. On the other hand, when fishing in faster currents or windy conditions, a shorter leader may be more manageable and less prone to tangling. Experimenting with different leader lengths and adjusting based on the specific fishing conditions and trout behavior will help you find the optimal leader length for your small dry fly fishing endeavors.

Techniques for Presentation

The presentation of your small dry fly can greatly impact your success on the water. Utilizing delicate presentations is essential when fishing with these flies, as it mimics the behavior of the insects they imitate. By employing delicate presentations, you can create a more realistic drift and increase the chances of trout biting. One technique to achieve a delicate presentation is the reach cast. This cast allows you to cast across the current and mend the line in such a way that the fly drifts drag-free for an extended period. Similarly, using a reach mend after the cast can also help create a drag-free drift.

Delicate presentations

To achieve a delicate presentation, it is vital to minimize the disturbance caused by the fly and line when it lands on the water. This can be accomplished by using a softer landing technique, such as using a parachute cast or dropping the fly lightly onto the water’s surface. The goal is to imitate the natural landing of insects, which typically land softly, without causing ripples or splashes. By employing delicate presentations, you can fool even the most discerning trout into believing your fly is the real thing, increasing your chances of success.

Avoiding excessive splashing

Excessive splashing when casting can startle trout and make them wary of your offerings. When presenting small dry flies, it is crucial to avoid any unnecessary splashing or disturbance in the water. Several techniques can help mitigate this issue. Firstly, using a softer line and reducing the amount of force applied during the cast can result in a gentler entry of the fly on the water’s surface. This can be achieved through a smooth acceleration of the rod during the cast, rather than a forceful snap. Secondly, casting at a slightly higher angle can aid in reducing the impact of the fly on the water and minimize splashing. Finally, focusing on accuracy during the cast can help ensure a more precise placement, reducing the chances of disturbing the water surface and alerting nearby trout.

Selecting Fly Sizes

Choosing the correct size of fly is imperative when fishing small dry flies. The goal is to match the hatch, imitating the size of the insects that trout are actively feeding on. Observing the insect activity on the water is crucial in determining the appropriate fly size. If you notice trout feeding on small insects, such as midges or small mayflies, selecting a fly size ranging between 18 to 24 would be ideal. However, if you find trout targeting larger insects, like caddis or stoneflies, adjusting your fly size accordingly is essential. Matching the hatch and selecting the appropriate fly size can significantly increase your chances of success when fishing small dry flies.

Matching the hatch

Matching the hatch refers to selecting a fly pattern that closely resembles the insects currently present in the water. When fishing with small dry flies, it is vital to pay close attention to the insects hatching and the size they are. By observing the water’s surface and looking for signs of rising trout, you can identify the insects they are feeding on. Look for specific behaviors such as trout taking insects off the surface or jumping out of the water to catch emerging flies. Once you have identified the insects, choose a fly pattern that accurately imitates their size and color. Matching the hatch will significantly increase your chances of fooling trout into taking your fly.

Determining the appropriate size

Determining the appropriate fly size for fishing small dry flies can be accomplished by closely observing the natural insects present on the water. Insects can vary in size, ranging from tiny midges to larger stoneflies, and the size of the fly you choose should mimic the insects the trout are actively feeding on. Start by observing the behavior of the trout and the insects they are targeting. If you notice the trout feeding subtly, sipping insects off the water’s surface, it is likely they are after tiny insects like midges. In this case, selecting a fly size ranging from 18 to 24 would be appropriate. Conversely, if you observe trout aggressively striking at larger insects such as caddis or stoneflies, adjusting your fly size accordingly, typically between 12 and 16, would be more suitable. Adapting to the specific conditions and fly sizes will greatly increase your success when fishing with small dry flies.

Fly Patterns for Small Dries

Selecting the right fly pattern when fishing with small dry flies is crucial to attracting trout. There are numerous options available, but it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with some common small dry fly patterns. Fly patterns like Adams, Blue Wing Olive, Griffith’s Gnat, and Elk Hair Caddis are popular choices among anglers when imitating various insects like mayflies, midges, and caddisflies. These patterns are known for their versatility and effectiveness in matching the hatch in many trout streams. Additionally, they are relatively easy to tie, making them a great option for anglers who enjoy fly tying. However, it is essential to remember that fly patterns should be chosen based on the insects present in the water and the specific conditions you are fishing in.

Common small dry fly patterns

  1. Adams: The Adams fly pattern is one of the most versatile and effective dry flies. It imitates a wide range of mayflies and is particularly useful during mayfly hatches. The Adams has a recognizable silhouette and can be tied in various sizes, making it a staple in many angler’s fly boxes.

  2. Blue Wing Olive: The Blue Wing Olive fly pattern is designed to imitate Baetis mayflies, which are common in many trout streams. This fly pattern is highly effective during Baetis hatches and can fool even the most wary trout. It typically features a slender body and a distinctive olive-colored wing.

  3. Griffith’s Gnat: The Griffith’s Gnat is a small and simple fly pattern that imitates midges and other small insects. This pattern is often tied with a peacock herl body and a grizzly hackle collar. The Griffith’s Gnat is a go-to fly when trout are actively feeding on small insects.

  4. Elk Hair Caddis: The Elk Hair Caddis is a classic fly pattern that imitates adult caddisflies. This fly has buoyancy and excellent floatability, making it ideal for fishing in faster currents or pocket water. The Elk Hair Caddis is typically tied with an elk hair wing and a body made of dubbing or floss.

Best patterns for different water conditions

When selecting fly patterns for small dries, it is essential to consider the water conditions you will be fishing in. Different patterns excel in various scenarios, ensuring you have the right fly for the job. Here are some suggestions for fly patterns based on different water conditions:

  1. Slow-moving water: In slow-moving water, when trout can be especially wary, using patterns like the Parachute Adams or the Comparadun can be effective. These patterns land softly on the water’s surface and imitate mayflies, fooling trout into taking the fly.

  2. Faster water: When fishing in faster currents, using flies like the Stimulator or the Yellow Humpy can be effective. These patterns have excellent buoyancy and visibility, making them ideal for fishing in pocket water or turbulent streams.

  3. Spring creeks: In spring creeks or clear, calm water, patterns like the CDC Blue Wing Olive or the Hare’s Ear Parachute are great choices. These flies imitate delicate mayflies and midges and produce a realistic silhouette that can entice selective trout.

  4. Overcast or low-light conditions: When fishing in overcast or low-light conditions, using a pattern like the Royal Wulff or the Black Gnat can be effective. These flies have a high visibility profile that trout can easily spot in dimmer lighting conditions.

Considering the water conditions, insect activity, and visibility will help you select the best fly patterns for small dry fly fishing, increasing your chances of enticing trout to bite.

Casting Techniques

Mastering casting techniques is crucial for successfully presenting small dry flies to trout. Two casting techniques that are particularly useful when fishing with these flies are casting accuracy and casting to specific targets.

Casting accuracy

To effectively fish with small dry flies, casting accuracy is paramount. The ability to place your fly accurately in a specific target area increases your chances of enticing trout to take the fly. Practicing your casting accuracy will help improve your aim and allow you to present your fly precisely where you want it. A good technique to improve your casting accuracy is to practice casting at small targets, such as hula hoops or floating rings. By aiming for these targets, you can refine your cast and gain more control over where your fly lands.

Casting to specific targets

Casting to specific targets, such as rising trout or submerged structures, is instrumental in fly fishing success. When fishing with small dry flies, it is vital to be observant and identify potential targets in the water. Look for rising trout, feeding lanes, or submerged rocks and logs where trout may be hiding. Once you identify a target, aim your cast to place the fly as close to the target as possible. This technique is essential for fooling trout into thinking your fly is the real thing. Practicing casting to specific targets will help improve your accuracy and increase your chances of success when fishing small dry flies.

Fishing Clear Trout Streams

Clear trout streams offer unique challenges and opportunities for fly anglers. Understanding trout behavior and employing the right approach is crucial to successfully fishing these pristine waters.

Understanding trout behavior

Trout in clear streams behave differently than in other types of water. The clarity of the water makes trout more cautious and keenly aware of their surroundings, making them more challenging to fool into biting. Additionally, clear streams often have slower currents and give trout more time to inspect flies before deciding to strike. Understanding trout behavior in clear streams is essential to presenting your small dry flies effectively. Observing trout movements, feeding patterns, and subtle cues in the water will provide insight into their behavior and increase your chances of success.

Approaching spooky trout

In clear streams, trout can be more easily spooked by angler presence and the casting shadows. To approach spooky trout successfully, it is essential to adopt a stealthy approach. Walking softly, minimizing noise, and keeping a low profile will help prevent alerting trout to your presence. Additionally, using longer leaders and smaller tippet sizes will further enhance your chances of fooling wary trout. When spotting a trout, slow your movements and carefully plan your approach to avoid casting shadows over the fish. By employing these techniques, you can increase your success when fishing small dry flies in clear trout streams.

Tips for Success

To maximize your success when fishing with small dry flies, several tips and strategies can be employed. Observing the water and adapting to changing conditions are two critical aspects to consider.

Observing the water

Carefully observing the water before you start fishing is key to success. Look for signs of rising trout, insect activity, and feeding behavior. By taking the time to study the water and its inhabitants, you can gain valuable insights that will guide your fly selection and presentation. Pay attention to the subtle movements of trout, the type of insects present, and any changes in water conditions. This information will help you make informed decisions and increase your chances of success on the water.

Adapting to changing conditions

Fly fishing conditions can change rapidly, requiring anglers to adapt their strategies accordingly. Weather conditions, water levels, and insect activity can all impact trout behavior and feeding patterns. Being adaptable and changing your approach when needed is crucial. If you notice trout becoming less active or switching their food preferences, be prepared to switch fly patterns or adjust your presentation technique. Similarly, if the weather changes and wind picks up, consider using shorter leaders and heavier flies to improve your casting accuracy and fly control. Adapting to changing conditions will ensure you remain successful when fishing small dry flies.

Challenges of Fishing Small Dries

Fishing small dry flies presents anglers with unique challenges. Dealing with visibility issues and overcoming angler skills challenges are two primary obstacles to overcome.

Dealing with visibility issues

One of the major challenges of fishing small dry flies is their size. Their small size can make it difficult for anglers to see them on the water, especially in low-light conditions or when there are ripples or glare on the surface. To overcome this challenge, using high-visibility fly patterns, such as flies with a distinct wing or bright colors, can make it easier to track your fly on the water. Additionally, using polarized sunglasses can help reduce glare and enhance your visibility of the fly. Regularly checking and drying your fly to ensure it stays visible is also important, as small dry flies can become waterlogged and difficult to see.

Overcoming angler skills challenges

Fishing with small dry flies requires a level of finesse and precision. It can be challenging for anglers, especially novices, to achieve the delicate presentations and accuracy necessary to fool trout. To overcome these challenges, practice is essential. Dedicated practice sessions, focusing on casting accuracy and achieving a soft landing, will improve your skills over time. Additionally, studying the behavior of trout and observing insects in their natural environment will help you understand their feeding patterns and increase your chances of success. Remember, fishing small dry flies is a skill that develops with experience and practice.


Fishing with small dry flies can be both challenging and rewarding. By understanding the benefits of using small dry flies, the importance of a long leader, and techniques for delicate presentations, you can increase your chances of success on the water. Matching the hatch and selecting fly patterns appropriate for different water conditions will further enhance your fishing experience. Mastering casting techniques, understanding trout behavior, and adapting to changing conditions are crucial aspects of successful small dry fly fishing. While challenges may arise, such as visibility issues and angler skills challenges, with practice and perseverance, you can overcome them and experience the thrill of fooling trout with these small and delicate imitations. So grab your fly rod, tie on a small dry fly, and venture out to the water, where countless opportunities await you.

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