Which dry fly for trout?

Choosing dry flies for trout should be a simple exercise. Surely all we need to do is work out what the fish is feeding on and then present an imitation. That logic is at the heart of the traditional approach to chalk stream fishing developed by Marryat and Halford in the 1880s. They codified the process of fly design and selection, developing a direct one-to-one mapping between a natural insect and its artificial representation.

In practice it doesn’t always seem so straightforward. The trout often appears to prefer flies that behave in a particular way. It seems to be the attitude of the fly in the water and how it sits in rather than on top of the surface that provides the trigger for a confident rise. Looking through my fishing records for the year I see that I used remarkably few conventionally hackled dry flies, instead fishing increasingly with no-hackle styles.

The exceptions to that have been the flies with parachute hackles, either tied in the style of a klinkhamer or as para spinners.

So what were the flies of the season, here on our Cotswold streams?

CDC & Elk – I first came across this fly many, many years ago when its inventor the Dutch flytying genius Hans Weilenmann showed me how to tie it and assured me of its efficacy. It has been a staple of my fly box ever since. It is extremely versatile but I find it most effective as an adult caddis pattern in the summer months.

DHE – The next pattern is Bob Wyatt’s deer-hair emerger, another simple, versatile and rugged style of fly that somehow captures the tangle of legs, wings and shuck evident at the moment of emergence of an olive dun. There is a nice story in Bob’s book Trout Hunter about how he dueled with Hans on the Elk River in British Columbia, each fly tier using their trademark pattern. That day the DHE shone while the CDC & Elk failed.

Sparkle dun – The sparkle dun is a simple derivative of the compara dun, originally tied by Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi, with the addition of an antron yarn tail. The theory is that the antron tail represents the shuck from which the dun has just emerged. No trout has ever confirmed this to me but this is a fly in which I have great confidence in a hatch of small olives. By changing the colour of the dubbing, all the upright flies we find on the Cotswold streams can be imitated.

Black klinkhamer – The banks of our little Cotswold streams are well lined with willow, alder and hawthorn, all of which are home to a wide range of terrestrial insects such as caterpillars and beetles. The trees also attract land-based flies like hawthorn flies and black gnats. So my go-to pattern if no olives are hatching is a small black klinkhamer tied to represent an unfortunate insect that has fallen from the trees above and ended up trapped in the surface film of the stream.

I’m offering a 24-fly selection box containing hand-tied examples of all these flies for £50. These will be delivered before Christmas and will set the recipient up with a proven selection for the new season.

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