Few things are more annoying than a dry fly that refuses to float. So let’s discuss the best ways to keep your dry flies floating high and dry, and hopefully catch more trout.
The most common way to keep a dry fly floating is by applying a water-repelling coating which are typically referred to as a fly floatant. They help keep flies afloat. There are many different brands and products on the market, and they all seem to work well. It is best to apply the coating to an already dry fly, if you apply them to a saturated fly, they still do help but they are not magic and will not instantly dry out the fly.
My floatant recommendations to keep flies floating high.
I mostly use gink which is a silicon based floatant. It has been around forever, works well, and in some places the name has even become a verb. Gink comes in a useful little bottle which makes applying the gel simple. The container might be small, but it lasts a long time. I usually only have to replace it once per season. Another worthwhile silicon based gink alternative is Loons Aquel.
When the weather is cold, I prefer to use Orvis Hy-Flote Gel. It is quite a bit more free flowing than the traditional gels. Meaning it can not become hard and difficult to apply in cold weather.
While gink is a gel, there are also powdery floatants. Some, such as Frogs Fanny you brush onto the flies, while others such as Shimazaki Fly Fishing Dry Shake Fly you put the entire fly into the container, and give it a good shake. It then comes out lightly coated. These powder based floatants work well when the flies are 100% dry, if you coat an already wet fly with them they come out like they are covered with frosting.
Try using more bouyant flies
Some dry flies are simply too lightweight to survive the tumbling of turbulent fast flowing water. When fishing white water, or using a heavy dropper it pays to use a bigger, more buoyant flies. Most highly buoyant flies represent larger terrestrial insects and are typically tied with either foam or deer hair.
Poor quality dry flies sink faster
Flies that are tied with low quality materials can sink faster. Dry flies float best when they are tied with stiff hackles which trap more air allowing the fly to remain buoyant. Soft, flexible hackles can quickly become waterlogged which will cause the fly to sink.
While traditional dry flies float well, sometimes the water is simply too turbulent and no amount of floatant will keep them aloft. This is where foam flies really shine. Their bodies are made from foam, so they float extremely well.
If you are fishing turbulent water, with a lot of down currents they are an excellent choice. Likewise, if you are fishing a beadhead dropper beneath the dry, a foam fly will stay on the surface much longer than most other designs.
Bulky Deerhair flies
If you wish to stick with natural materials or do not like the presentation of foam. Then bulky deer hair flies also float very well. A classic example will be the Stimulator which is tied with quite a bit of deer hair.
How to dry a dry fly?
If a fly starts to sink, dry it before treating it.
It is easy to be lazy while fishing, but spending a few minutes to replace a saturated dry fly with a fresh dry one is well worth the effort. Fly floatant works much better applies to a perfectly dry fly, than to a damp one.
It is a good idea to store saturated flies on a fly patch to allow them to dry. Returning them straight to the box increases the risk of the hooks starting to rust. On a warm day, it does not take long for a fly to dry enough to be buoyant again.
If you are less patient or only have a single fly. Then there are several ways to dry a fly more quickly. The quickest is to squeeze out any excess moisture between two layers of clothing, then to place the fly in a bottle containing desiccant which can quickly absorbs the water out of the fly. Within minutes a fly will nearly be dry to the touch. You can purchase desiccant products retail, or make your own by combining packages of water absorbing beads from pill bottles.
Another option to remove some moisture. Is to make a couple of crisp, and sudden backcasts. The sudden decelerating of the backcast is enough to expel some of the trapped moisture. It is not perfect, but can make a fly dry enough for a few more drifts without needing to stop fishing.
Your dry fly is not a submarine, keep it floating to keep it dry
It is important not to drag your dry fly through the water when picking up the line prior to casting. If you directly pull the line towards you it is likely that the dry will be pulled beneath the surface.
Before casting,it is a good idea to send a ripple or two down the fly line to break the surface tension of the water. Then try and lift the entire line off the water in one go. This simple technique can greatly assist in keeping a fly dry for longer.
In calm, still water it only requires a slight vibration to break the surface tension, but in heavier ripples, it can require a more sudden shake for the same effect.
What makes a dry fly float
A dry fly floats when the amount of air bubbles trapped by the materials is greater than the weight of the fly. When the dry fly becomes waterlogged, the air bubbles are forced out reducing the bouncy but at the same time increasing the weight. This turns a dry fly into a de-facto wet fly.
Like I mentioned earlier, some materials trap more air, and float for longer than others. Deer hair (or elk hair) and foam generally offers the best buoyancy.
Some feathers also repel water. Ever heard the saying “like the water of a ducks back”, that is because duck, and many other feathers contain oils that naturally repel water. CDC feathers, repel water better than most because they are located around the preen gland of a duck. That is where the duck produces the oils which naturally repel water. It should go without saying that any flies tied with CDC feathers are excellent at repelling water. This is also why they are often found on tiny, petite dry flies.
Can I fish a dry fly sub surface?
Sometimes, it seems too much hassle to keep a dry fly afloat. So how do they perform once below the surface? While I do not recommend fishing a dry fly subsurface, trout will still take them. It does require more concentration to be able to tell when to strike.