You’re standing at the river’s edge. The guys or gals at the fly shop have said that the dry fly fishing has been fabulous. So you’ve tied on the size #14 elk hair caddis they recommended. But where should you cast your fly?
If you are new to fly fishing, here are the best spots to cast your dry fly:
Where the trout are rising
This tip is not meant to insult your intelligence.
Rather, it reflects how easy it is to miss rising fish. Sure, the ones that jump halfway out of the water are obvious. But the largest trout often make the smallest ripple. Their snouts barely break the surface.
Spend a minute or two scanning the surface for the subtle rises that are easy to miss.
Where you are about to wade
Fly fishing legend Gary Borger says, “Fish it before you wade it.”
This is good advice. The trout are not always where you think they should be. The best spot might be the water through which you need to wade to get to the next best spot.
Where the drift boats fish
Fly fishers in drift boats do not cast to the middle of the river.
They typically cast to the banks — right where you are standing. If you’re fishing a large river, think of the first eight to ten feet from the bank as a small stream. You probably don’t need to make a twenty-yard cast. You’ve hit the jackpot if you see deeper water along the bank. This is where trout find shelter from predators and easy access to food.
The head of a pool or run
This is where fast moving water (a riffle) rushes into a slower, deeper section of current.
Sometimes, the riffle empties into a pool. I remember an afternoon on the Yellowstone River south of Livingston, Montana where I fished nothing but a riffle. That’s where the rainbows were feeding on blue-winged olives.
In the foam line of a run
Sometimes, the trout are below the riffle in the current itself. These runs can be short or long. Watch for a moving foam and bubbles. This is the food line! I especially rely on the foam line when fishing in slower moving rivers like the East Gallatin in Montana or the Owyhee in eastern Oregon.
The shallow water at the side or the tail end of run
You won’t always find trout in these places, because they offer minimal protection from predators.
But these are great feeding spots for trout when the insect hatches are in full force. Often, the more gentle side of a “seam” (the imaginary dividing line between fast moving current and slow water) is a great place to cast a dry fly. Trout will sip flies there, knowing they can quickly retreat to a riffle if they see the shadow of a bird swooping down on them.
Near a rock
Some rivers – or stretches of rivers — do not have pronounced runs.
Rather, they have a steady flow and depth from one bank to another. If this is the case, look for big rocks. I’ve caught trout in front of, behind, and beside big rocks. Some of these rocks stick above the surface, others do not. One of my favorite stretches on the Gallatin River south of Big Sky, Montana, works like this.
When I find a decent-sized rock, I know I’ll find trout.