Swedish version

Foto: Johan Klingberg ©
"Draggin´ fly" fishing works best where the current breaks the surface
so that the movement of the leader doesn´t scare the fish so easily.

"Draggin´ fly" fishing with dry flies
Text and photo: Johan Klingberg

That dry flies must always be fished
drifting freely with no drag is a rule with exceptions.

  Isn´t it amazing that you always remember your childhood summers with such a sense of pleasure? Maybe it has to do with the long carefree summer holidays when life was just fun. On the evening of just such a day I had biked down to the river to fish.

  The trout were there as usual between the big rock and the neck just to the left of the where the current wound around both sides of the grassy island. The branches of the alder wood trees on both shores almost touched the water and gave perfect protection for the trout underneath. As a twelve year old novice these branches were a problem for me as they stole my flies one by one.

  But, as for most 12 year olds, my imagination solved the problem. I just let the fly drift under the branches and then stopped it where the fish were. If I had been fishing with a wet fly I´m sure most people would approve of this but I was dry fly fishing and thereby breaking the rules!

  Why the fish took my "draggin´" caddis fly that evening can be explained in several ways: luck, one off occurrence, or maybe a variation of the well known "induced take" – but with a dry fly!

  My fishing experiences in later years and similar situations have eliminated "luck" and "one offs" as the reason why fish take my fly despite my "draggin´". On the contrary, this method has worked well for me and my fishing buddies on many occasions. So, why fight it? Well, because almost everybody says that a dry fly should not "drag" on the water.

  This somewhat puritanical rule comes from the legendary dry fly fisherman F M Halford who together with his like-minded fly fishing friends defined the unwritten rules for dry fly fishing in England´s southernmost chalk water streams. These are usually clear, shallow, and slow moving in contrast to our own streams which are often fast and humus colored.

  A fleeing insect

  The streams I usually fish are on the Småland high plateau east of Jönköping . These streams, in contrast to The English chalk streams, are often low in nutrition. In my waters trout simply can't afford to let a moving meal just drift by. This is where "draggin´" fly fishing is best!

  "Draggin´" fly fishing is simply the imitation of a fleeing insect on the surface. The method is simple: the fly is delivered upstream from the fish, but instead of trying to let the fly drift down towards the fish, you mend the line upstream. In this way you avoid slack in the line and leader. Simultaneously, you lift the rod tip and then lower it a little at a time until the fly is at the right place. As the rod tip is lowered a step at a time the line will be stretched and the fly will "drag" on the surface. I usually let the fly drift until just behind the fish as added insurance. Usually the fish will strike just in front of his lie but I often get strikes as I take home the fly from behind the fish.

  Another somewhat dubious rule for presenting your fly is, instead of, as above, to let the fly drag on the surface and lift it so that it dances on the surface. This method imitates caddis movements in a wonderful way. But to accomplish this you need a somewhat longer rod than for "draggin´" fly fishing.

  Personally I think the method works best in faster moving waters rather than pools or still waters where nylon lines or fly lines can rip up an all too disturbing scar on the surface which can frighten the fish. Since this method demands 100% control, a short line and a short cast is necessary. In my small streams, a cast of 10-12 feet is enough. I usually use an 8-foot rod which works well in most situations.

Foto: Johan Klingberg ©
Small "brownies" caught with "draggin´" fly method

  Induced take

As I have already mentioned, this method is similar to "induced take" as with "Leisenring´s lift" which is an excellent way to entice fish to strike. The success of "induced take" is due to the fact that all predators react to fleeing or abhorrent behavior. Just think of a cat´s game with a string and how it waits until the string moves before it attacks. Induced take, Leisenring´s lift, or "draggin´ fly" stimulates a fish to strike in the same way even if this occurs on the surface by giving your fly movement which the fish is alerted to and tries to take as the fly seems to be fleeing.

This method works even when blind fishing where no fish are visible. Often a fish will rise to the movement of a fly but not strike. This, however, lets you know where they are either by the wake from the rise or the reflection from the fish under the surface. If this happens repeatedly then you should probably revert to traditional free drift fishing with dry fly or nymph.

I have a special memory from my stream. It happened a few years ago in early May. The flow was much higher than normal and I saw no promising action on the surface. I had fished one of the best pools with both deep nymphs and skaters without a single strike.

  As the day progressed, I moved to the less promising stretches farther upstream. No luck there either with my free drifting nymphs. It was time for my "last cast" before trekking homeward. I chose a large bushy caddis imitation for my last try. Nothing happened as the fly drifted downstream. But as the fly drifted to the edge of the stream, I saw a small plow on the surface. This happened several times without a strike. Then I changed my "draggin´" "fish finder" for a pheasant tailed nymph and when I presented the fly where I had seen the fish the strike came. This time it was not timid but with resolution and after several minutes of combat I landed the biggest spring trout of the season.

  Leonard M Wright Jr

  Leonard M Wright, Jr I had no idea that the summer fishing of my childhood would, as early as 1972, turn out to be like what the American fishing writer, Leonard M Wright, Jr, described in his book "Fishing the dry fly as a living insect". It took almost 10 years of my fishing excursions before I got hold of a copy of this book.

  Leonard Wright describes not only the basics of dragging fly fishing but also the practice of fishing with "fish-finders". Of course, even other fly fishing authors have described this technique so dragging fly fishing is not a new concept. Which is why it is even more surprising that this method of presenting the fly hasn´t received the recognition it deserves. Perhaps it has to do with what I said in my introduction – that Scandinavian fly fishing is still widely influenced by English chalk stream fishing traditions. However, do not be afraid of moving out of the box with the free drifting dry fly this summer to try enticing the fish with a "draggin´fly".

Foto: Johan Klingberg ©
Some of my favorite "draggin´fly" flies:
Green Peter, Wickham´s Fancy, Stensjösländan, and black gnat.

  Choice of fly

  Despite the fact that a fish usually has only a few seconds to find and rise to the fly, the appearance of the fly plays a key role in the success of this technique. Rather than the "esthetic" appearance of the fly, it is the materials and how they are tied that is most important. The fly must be able to withstand the current without being drowned. This means that these flies must be tied with buoyant materials.

  My personal preference is natural materials. These usually contain natural oils which more easily resist water. Also, natural material adheres more easily to water proofing material than artificial material.

  Dry fly hackles have been the object of much discussion the last few years. Many have experienced problems with the so called "super hackle" and find them too stiff which causes the leader to twist during casting. "Draggin´flies" should have both a body hackle and front hackle. Problems with twisting seldom occur since the cast is usually short.

  The fly patterns I prefer for this technique are very richly dressed with a lot of "hackle and sprawl". My tip is to use CdC fibers where you can – for example wings or body.

  You choose the pattern yourself according to what works best in your own stream but I always have in my fly box a couple of "aces" which I would never leave home without. Some are well known patterns which I have modified with body hackle like Peter Green, Whickam´s Fancy, Black Gnat, and Stensjösländan.

  Favorite "Draggin´fly" patterns

Green Peter

Hook: 10 – 14
Palmer hackle: Brown hackle
Front hackle: Brown hackle
Body: Olive green dubbing
Rib: Thin gold wire
Wing: Brown teal


Hook: 12 – 18
Rear body: Orange tying thread
Front body: Ginger dubbing
Rib: Thin oval gold tinsel (front body only)
Palmer hackle: Brown hackle (front body only)
Wing: Grey CdC tied in as a bunch between front and rear body

Wickham´s Fancy

Hook: 10 – 16
Palmer hackle: Brown hackle
Body: Flat gold tinsel
Wing: Mallard or starling wing quills

Black Gnat Variant

Hook: 8 - 16.
Tail: Black hackel
Body: Black dubbing
Palmer hackle: Black hackle
Mallard wing quills or grey CdC.


Text and photo: Johan Klingberg, © 2005

Translation to English: Robert A. Lucas

Translaters note: The term " Draggin´Fly" is of the translaters own invention and is a play on the words "Dragon Fly" (= Swedish Trollsländan) and "Dragging" the fly on the surface.



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