Give a Dry a Try…for fun and profit


Kids can teach you a lot or remind you about things that maybe you have forgotten. As I was fishing with my daughter recently I was hoping for her to have fun…of course. So as we made our way to the small stream behind the cottage I tied on a dry fly. As I helped her and watched her fish I realized how fun and helpful fishing a dry fly is and can be.

Why? Because they are more fun than wets and because they can help you learn… a lot.

This discussion may seem a bit strange to the experienced western fly fisher, but in certain tenkara circles there is a real emphasis on fishing subsurface. And there’s nothing wrong with that except perhaps that it can hinder the newbie in some ways. But to be clear I don’t want to set up a straw man just to knock him down. So I won’t say that they don’t use dry flies with tenkara in Japan, because of course some folks do.

When I met a Japanese tenkara angler and asked him about tenkara he told me that he started by fishing dry flies with tenkara because it was easier to learn that way. He eventually switched to the more traditional Japanese kebari because he wanted more of a challenge in his fishing that the subsurface fly offered him. He found that dry fly fishing was too easy.

So that’s the key here – learning and ease… especially for the beginner and very especially for the young beginner.

Why the dry?

The dry fly is fun to fish. And I don’t mean because you’ll catch more fish. But it’s just more fun to actually use – especially for a new angler. You can watch it flutter down to the water and land like a tiny paratrooper. Then it begins its drift…rocking and rolling and dipping and swirling and sometimes sinking. It’s like, when as a child heavy summer rains drenched your neighborhood and you’d launch a little paper boat in the stream of water that formed in your street next to the curb.That drifting boat back then, and that drifting fly now are all about sending a wish and a hope out into the world. As a kid you could watch that paper boat drift and imagine getting out and going somewhere else, you could imagine an immense exciting world that was found somewhere downstream where that gutter stream ran into the bigger creeks and then rivers and then oceans.

It’s great childish fun to watch a tiny boat float downstream. And when that boat is a dry fly it is loaded down with the hope of fish.

Casting a nymph or a wetfly or a sakasa kebari also contains magic but a different kind of mysterious magic. The dry fly is a more simple type I think that appeals to the kid in us with childish impatience and the need for something amazing to watch.

For the beginning angler or for the child that your’re hoping to get into fishing – remember that. Even if you’re not catching anything it can be fun and full of hope to watch that fly drift and to know that at any second it may disappear in a flash and a splash.

When you’re casting a wetfly and catching fish – that’s a blast of course. But when you’re not catching fish – as a beginner may not be – then casting that dry can hold much more interest than that boring hidden subsurface fly.

Throw in a couple of rising fish and a child or a beginner can enjoy casting that dry to them for a long while – at least I did as a newbie.

When I started fly fishing I spent a lot of time at the Fisherman’s Paradise section of Spring Creek. This is a heavily fished catch and release area. The fish have seen it all and they are cagey. But there is no wading allowed and there are cool springs and rich insect life and you can often find some fish sipping something. They are not easy to catch but they are engaging. I spent many hours fishing for them. Take away the visible fish and the rising fish… and well it would not have been nearly as intriguing and engaging to me.

You can learn a lot about the way water flows

If you’re experienced you may take it all for granted but the dry fly’s drift makes visible the hidden. The drifting fly shows the way the water flows. It reveals the seams and the pockets and eddies and swirls, the soft spots behind rocks, the quickening pace at the tail of a pool. It can also show us the way the line and rod affect the action of the fly, whether on purpose or by accident.

Learning how water moves and how rocks affect the flow, and recognizing slow water and faster water, and how the line drags the fly are all good skills to have under your belt.

Watching a dry fly drift can teach a new angler these things because he or she can see it happening easily. With a dry fly – you know just where it is and what it’s doing. With a subsurface fly there is a lot of guessing.

Of course you don’t get the whole picture. You don’t learn about the way the water changes with depth but you get a good picture of currents.

You can see the strikes and the misses and the follows and learn where fish live

This is another point that is very important for a new angler – be they a kid or a newbie adult. Fish that strike a dry fly are apparent! You will see them and it is exciting. And for a kid that excitement is important. You may be missing each strike – but each missed strike is almost as fun as a solid connection. It makes you want to keep fishing. And it can help keep a kid interested and help keep them fishing.

In addition to the sheer fun of seeing the strikes, there is the ease of it. With a subsurface fly you will often never see or feel the strikes – especially as a beginner. And that’s not much fun for a kid.

The other key to seeing the strikes and the follows is that you’ll start to really learn where fish live and hang out. Every time you cast and get a miss you learn about fish holding water. It doesn’t matter if you hooked it or not.

With a subsurface strike, you may never even know you had a strike or a follow – and if you do know it, you may not know where a fish came from to hit the fly. But with a dry fly you can often see a fish dart out from a rock or undercut and hit the fly.

It is easier

If fish are rising to dries, then dry fly fishing is just plain easier to get the hang of. There is less to think about and the action is taking place where you can see it. You can see your successes and failures and learn from them. There is just more feedback than when fishing subsurface – for the most part.

You don’t have to worry about the whole water column and the changes in currents – just the surface. And you don’t have to worry about snags on rocks and such underwater. As I mentioned earlier strike detection is not an issue either.

Now granted – fish are not always looking up. And you may do much, much better on many outings by fishing subsurface. But for a kid or a beginner is it better to go out and miss a bunch of fish subsurface and perhaps not even know it? Or better to miss a few but at least see them and know it? Even if the fish don’t get hooked perhaps you or your children will.

So if you’re new to the tenkara game, and especially if you don’t have a fishing background, or if you’re teaching kids maybe you should give the dry a try.


6 Comments on Give a Dry a Try…for fun and profit

  1. Every good article Anthony. I too took my daughter Tenkara fishing for the first time last weekend and using a dry fly she caught 2 fish on the first 2 casts! You make many valid points. Dries are the best way to start someone off with Tenkara.

  2. Hooray for the dry fly. It keeps me interested and my daughter, too.

  3. I’ve had good success and fun with flies that look a lot like the ones in the right side picture. They were tied in my attempt to duplicate the flies I saw in a YouTube video, TENKARA -italia- uploaded by Canale di RYUtenkaraITA. I think his name is Ryu, a Japanese guy living in Italy.

    In Japan it is called Dorai (Dry) Tenkara, ドライテンカラ. Abbreviated as Dorakara, ドラカラ. Apparently a term created by the late Horie Keigu, 『堀江渓愚師』, according to an Oct 14, 2010 blog post on , the てんからとヤマメ, Tenkara and Yamame blog. The blog states there is an easy fishing method, てんからに適し, suitable to tenkara. Thus, the author agrees with the points you make.

    On Amazon Japan you can find a kit made by Van Hook, called the (ヴァンフック) ドラカラ 3.6m. Van Hook Dorakara 3.6m. That includes a 3.6 meter line, 2 spare tippets, and 3 flies.

    • Thanks for the comments David. I have no name for that fly – I started tying my elk hair caddis that way a while back because I just like the look of that style more than the original. I’m sure someone has a name for it.
      I’ve, of course, come across the term ドライフライ (Dry Fly) before but I hadn’t heard the tenkara specific ドライテンカラ previously.

what say you?