"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.
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.
caught with "draggin´" fly method
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
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 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
Some of my favorite
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
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.
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
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
Wing: 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