Dry Flies

You’ve only dreamed of presentations this delicate.  The length and soft tip of a  tenkara rod are the perfect weapons against spooking fish with drag and line slapping the water.

How do you achieve the dry fly presentations of your dreams?  Start with the right tools:

  • A Tenkara rod
  • Furled leader(s) made with mono.  Lengths 80-150% of the rod length
  • Mono tippet from 2x to 6x
  • Your favorite dry fly
  • Your favorite floatant

The Setup

Furled mono leaders have the best casting characteristics for tossing your delicate dry flies.  Level lines can cast just as well, but often sink quickly, pulling your fly under water at that critical moment and puting spooky fish down.  Furled mono leaders inherently float much better due to lower density, and if they start to sink they readily accept floating treatment like Mucilin.

Mono tippet pairs perfectly with dry flies for the same reason – it floats better than fluorocarbon.  Tapering your tippet is important too.  Your individual taper will be different depending on the waters you’re fishing.  In rivers with tight cover and brushy surroundings I’ll often start with 2x from the leader and then go to 4x, because you’ll be snagging in the trees fairly often.  When you snag you’ll pull on the line to free your fly, and not yank on the rod.  It’s a good way to save flies.  On waters with clear water and spooky fish you’ll want to start off with lighter tippet and go really long.  I often use 8′ of tippet.  Make sure you taper all of your tippet to facilitate line turn over.

Your favorite dry fly can be anything from an elk hair caddis, a CDC caddis, parachute adams, or a a hackle stacker.  The resounding theme should be lightness.  There are many light materials that are used on dry flies, some of  which float well, and some of which will wet out and sink quickly.

With the variety of materials you may find on a dry fly, a good light weight floatant can greatly improve the performance and length of time you can use your fly.  The best floatants out there are both from Japan:  Dry Magic and Dry Shake.  The price is a bit high, but completely worth it in performance.  Dry Magic is the only floatant gel you can use on CDC, and Dry Shake is a good way to dry your fly out, giving you a few spare casts.
Drying your fly involves more than just applying floatant.  When your fly wets out, try a piece of chamois to pat out the water and finish it off with a rubber band.  The rubber band is one of the most effective ways to dry a fly.  Just girth hitch the rubber band to your chest pack or vest, hook your fly around the rubber band and pull tight.  While slightly stretching the rubber band out with the fly, flick the rubber band, making the fly vibrate back and forth, flinging water off.

However, even with all the best floatant and drying techniques, sometimes you just have to retire a wet fly and tie on something fresh.

The Cast and Fly Manipulation

Casting your dry fly setup with a tenkara rod should be crisp and quick.  The fly should land first. If you can’t . . . because your going for distance or it’s too windy . . .  then only fly and tippet.  Only in rare occasions should you lay out your whole leader, tippet and fly on the water.

The cast is not a typical Western ten and two approach with a stiff wrist and thumbs up.  Place your pointer finger on the rod, allow your wrist to break and cast with a ten and noon approach.  Also, think three-demensionally if you need to.  Tenkara rods are great for a variety of casts, not just back and forth.

As the fly floats closer towards you, raise the tip of the rod up, keeping as much line off the water as possible without affecting the drift.  When the fly gets close enough for a recast, don’t just rip the fly off the water – that may put the fish down.  Instead, try rolling/flicking the line forward with your wrist which will pull the fly up and away instead of just away.  This method of getting the fly off the water is very helpful when dealing with spooky fish, or just as a great way to keep your fly from getting dragged through the water, keeping it drier.

Manipulating the dry fly is very easy with a tenkara rod and the right leader/tippet setup.  Try leading the dry through complex currents to minimize drag.  Also, if you’ve got wind at your back, you can use that to your advantage to create a hopping effect with your fly.  This drives the fish nuts and makes ‘em hungry!  Manipulating the dry fly makes a dead drift lively and fish like to eat things that are alive.  These are things you may not have been able to do with your Western rod and heavy fly line.


Tossing big terrestrials is everyone’s favorite past time.  An easy to see fly and voracious takes are what make fly fishing enjoyable.

Terrestrial fishing is different than other dry fly fishing in that the presentation is not always soft and delicate, but splashy and with force.  Big terrestrials are usually not very good fliers and tend to get blown around in the wind.  When they hit the water the hit hard and opportunistic fish jump at the bounty.

Casting is a bit different when tossing a terrestrial.  A big wind-resistant fly requires a much more energetic cast, especially with the soft tip of a Tenkara rod and a furled line.  Hit the stops much harder and use a steeple cast.  A steeple cast puts more of the energy of your cast downwards, giving you that splash you want.  Also, instead of casting your rod in a line back and forth, try casting in a tear drop shape.

The tear drop cast is another good way to slam a sub surface fly, like when Czech nymphing or trying to get your kebari down deep.


Get the fish from above and below.
Dry-dropper techniques are some of the most effective searching techniques around.  When your not 100% sure what the fish want to eat, it allows you to try out a variety of flies at a variety of depths.  Hybridizing Western dry-dropoper techniques with Tenkara also allows you to manipulate your dry fly in ways you never thought possible.

The setup:

Tie your dry on with the standard Davy knot and attach another piece of tippet to the bend of the hook with a Davy knot as well.  This is known as New Zealand style.  At the end of your tag, tie on your dropper. The dropper doesn’t always have to be a sub surface fly.  It can be another dry, an emerger, a bead-head nymph, or even a kebari.  Either way, you’ve got two flies on, and that’s going to open up your options.

During a hatch, I’ll tie on the dry fly I think matches the hatch, then tie on an emerger or kebari that sits just in the film.  Fish aren’t always exclusive of a specific life stage, and you’ll usually double your chances.

When I have no idea what the fish are taking, I’ll tie on a high floating dry and a lightly weighted nymph.  My favorite searching dry fly is a Grumpy Frumpy because it looks like everything and nothing at the same time . . . kinda like a kebari.  It’s easy to see, and takes a beating all day long and still catches fish.  Tied to the bend New Zealand style I’ll put a Bead Head Atomic Hare’s Ear which has an amazing profile that can mimic a host of underwater bugs, is flashy but not too flashy, and has a low price tag that doesn’t hurt the wallet too hard when you loose a dozen in a day.  My other favorite dropper is of course, the Utah Killer Bug.  The UKB is, hands down, the most enigmatic fly out there.  It has caught me more fish in more waters than anything else I’ve used tied on a hook.  Heavy pressure, light pressure, big river, small creek, it works everywhere.

To make your dry-dropper technique even better, try putting a bit of action into your top fly.  After doing a couple of drag free drifts, hold your rod up high and wiggle your Tenkara rod back and forth.  The length of your Tenkara rod keeps all the line off the water, the wiggle back and forth makes your dry hop up and down, and the dropper helps the dry from getting completely pulled away from the water like it would without an anchor.  This hopping action makes your fly behave like a real bug instead of just looking like one.  I’ve caught some of my biggest fish on dries with this technique.  Only with a Tenkara rod could you manipulate the fly like this so effectively.

Hybrid Western and Tenkara techniques allow you to cast delicately like you’ve never done before, manipulate the fly like you’ve never done before, and catch fish like you’ve never done before.

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