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Beginners' Guide to Stillwater Dry Fly Fishing (Tim Joyce Guest Blog)

Beginners' Guide to Stillwater Dry Fly Fishing (Tim Joyce Guest Blog)

Tim Joyce is a full-time professional Level 2 Fly Fishing Coach specializing in bespoke beginners and improver days at Chigboro fisheries in Essex. A multi capped England Loch style international he guides on Grafham Water and other Midlands reservoirs. Why not follow him via the links below or book a day on the water for more top tips:

www.flyfishing-essex.com | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

We are now in full swing of the spring buzzer bonanza. Hatches have become a daily occurrence as the water temperature slowly rises and daylight hours increase. Large and small waters alike are responding to the usual straight line or washing line buzzer or nymph tactics with everyone enjoying those rod wrenching super confident takes we all love from spring fishing as the trout are super confident and feeding hard for the first time this season.

For the small waters and shallower larger lakes this also heralds the start of the dry fly season. Fish become keyed into the margins and drop offs when the buzzers are active, emerging Chironomids trapped in the surface film make very easy pickings for hungry trout. In my experience on small waters once the fish start to look up they will remain catchable with a dry fly approach for the rest of the season until the water chills down again in late autumn.

Fly patterns will change as different food items come onto the menu but the basics approach will remain the same. When fishing dries there are a few fundamentals to remember to give yourself the best chance of success.

Dry Fly Set Up.

Set up for dry flies is pretty simple, a softer action rod is essential especially if you are going to be using lighter tippets and smaller hooks. A floating line with stretch will give you another valuable cushion in your set up. The big difference with this kind of fishing is that the angler is immediate contact with the fish when the hook is set, there is no water resistance to help slow those initial headshakes and lightning fast runs. By balancing your tackle with this in mind you will reduce snap offs and hook pulls dramatically. My go to set up for dry fly work is the 9ft 6in Wychwood T2 in a 6wt or 7wt. Paired with the rocket floater. Very easy to cast and cover fish accurately and quickly and heaps of give and flex to protect you leader and flies.


For me I prefer fluorocarbon. I like the thin diameter; it sinks readily and turns over easily. I will general fish 8lb ( 0.2mm) early season in most situations dropping down to 6 (0.18mm)or even 4 (0.16mm) in calmer trickier conditions . For best presentation and under normal conditions I will fish a single fly on an 8-10ft leader of Ghostmode fluorocarbon, this is extended in very calm conditions where I want the fly to be further away from the spook zone that is the fly line . Degreasing the leader is essential for fishing dries, the first couple of feet of the leader from the fly must sink so as not to spook the fish. The most common cause of refusals is the fish seeing the leader as it approaches the fly. The calmer the day the harder this is to achieve so constant degreasing with fullers earth is essential. There are plenty of brands of degreasant out there but its also super simple to mix yourself and I have a very easy how to video on YouTube explaining this.

Fly selection.

Fly selection depends on your lake and the time of year. But dry’s generally fall into a couple of categories. Emerging patterns, aquatic insects that are hatching from the lake and are momentarily trapped in the surface film as they push out of their casing, typically buzzers and pond olives. Usual flies to match the hatch are CDC emergers , sugar cube and top hat patterns all of which sit vertically in the surface imitating that trapped nymph.

Terrestrial or spent patterns. These cover insects that have been blown into the water from the surrounding fauna or insects that have hatched, mated and then subsequently expired. The common factor being that these insects will be lying horizontally flat on the surface or the lake and this is when we tend to opt for patterns such as the crippled midge, hoppers, daddy’s or beetles.

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Dressing or adding floatant to the fly. Again there are many products out there to help your fly shed water quickly. I opt for Gink. Less is more with floatant and its easy to overdo it remember this is a liquid it’s a water repellent designed to help materials shed water quickly if you add too much you will swamp the fly , add weight and the results will be the exact opposite and the fly will sink like a stone. Never apply floatant directly to the fly instead a tiny amount to the back of your hand and then lightly rub the part of the fly (the breathers or the back usually) that you want to float onto the hand giving it the slightest of coverings. Only repeat after catching a fish, if you want to dry the fly between casts them rub it on your shirt or use a drying patch.

When do I fish dries? 

Well simple answer is when you can see fish movement. By this I mean sub surface swirls, head and tail rises or little dimples in the lake as a fish sips a fly from the film. Jumping fish are not a sign of feeding fish more often associated with warmer conditions when the fish are heat and oxygen stressed.

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Ideal conditions would be heavy cloud cover with a nice light to moderate wind from a warm direction W or SW. Flat calm and bright sun can also be great. I would opt to fish dries under most conditions apart from a strong wind and sun, this will kill surface sport and put the fish down a few feet. When approaching the lake try to position yourself in an area where you will be casting into a ripple, a little surface wave helps to break up the profile of the leader, encourages it to sink easily and also hides any little imperfections in your set up. Generally trout are far more confident about feeding in a ripple.


Something that drives the dry fly angler into madness and often puts less experienced anglers off using dries. For me there are a few basic reasons for refusals and I will address each one until I turn those offers into hooked fish.

  1. The fish can see your leader , no matter how much you have degreased do it some more , in very calm conditions think about going lighter with your leader selection to encourage it to sink .
  2. The profile of the fly, do the fish want an emerging fly or do they want a fly sitting flat on the surface.
  3. Fly size, unlike nymph fishing where 10s will cover most things you need to get it right with dries so try going smaller or bigger. Sometimes bigger is better!
  4. Colour, do the fish want a light fly or a dark fly? It’s as simple as that.

If you can go through the above each in turn you will unlock the formula for the day and start to increase your hook up to offer ratio.

It’s no secret that I absolutely love dry fly fishing; it really is the cream of the sport watching a big mouth come up under your fly and slowly turn back down in the water to be met by a sharp strike and the line tightening. It is something that needs practicing , a method that requires a bit of time to understand but once you become confident  in just how productive it can be you really won’t want to do anything else!

Enjoy this article? You may also like Give Your Dry Flies The Full Treatment (Lindsay Simpson Guest Blog) or subscribe below for more content. Why not also take a look at the range of dry fly fishing equipment, materials and accessories available from Upavon Fly Fishing at this link.


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Phil - July 6, 2023

Hi Tim. I am a dry fly & buzzer fisherman on a 16 acre syndicate water. I wonder if you could recommend me a rod purely for bank fishing lures. I would really like to learn this method. Many thanks for any advice you can offer me.😀Phil.

Phil - March 29, 2023

I’ve been really struggling to catch on both dries & buzzers. Reading this has given me a bit more confidence. I shall try again soon armed with this very useful information 👍

Alan Horrobin - May 4, 2022

Thanks for this as a newbie it’s a great article to read

Tim Joyce - May 1, 2022

Thanks Matt. Glad it all makes sense . It really is a case of getting on the water and practicing . The more time spent using a method the more confidence you will build . Hope your getting a few at Grafham at the moment !

Mathew Durkin - May 1, 2022

Great blog Tim. Laid out in a way that is easy to understand. Particularly like the fact that you explain that there Is a formula to unlock before you achieve success – trial and error with regard to color, size, type of fly and leader variations is explained really well.

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