Peter Hayes Discusses Fishing And Choosing Dry Flies

I’ve waxed lyrical in the past about my belief that presentation is the major factor in getting a fish to eat your fly. To put it another way, a sensational fly choice can never make up for a bad presentation.

This is no more so than when fishing dry flies – the focus of this column. Casting technique, line choice, lead- er design, tippet thickness & stiffness, how the fly lands, drag-free presentation (or not), sinking the leader and not letting the fish know you delivered the fly, are all critical elements for catching trout on the dry. Take it from me: get the presentation and equipment issues right before you worry too much about changing flies.


Find the surface food and you are more likely to find trout. The other benefit is that these fish are likely to be feeding fish, and more catchable than non-feeders. Trout feeding hard are often less wary and this can be a great help to us. The downside is that some- times, these same fish may be locked into a particular food source, becoming very selective.


Having found feeding fish, should you use a suggestive pattern or a direct imitation? I think you should start by making an effort to give them what they want. Size, shape, buoyancy and attitude in the water are all important. Be sure to use a single fly and, once you’ve decided on the pattern, focus on presentation.

In my case, my first dry fly choice is often a suggestive all-rounder rather than a direct imitation. I can take this approach because I often have the confidence and experience to know it will work. Some examples that come to mind from the 2014/15 season:

» Clients caught lots of fish on a Guides Tag in the middle of a huge gum beetle fall.

» A black size 16 Bobs Bits donged a heap of ant feeders on Great Lake one afternoon.

» My Wooden Hopper was instantly wacked on the rivers at the end of the season.

However, sometimes I’m surprised at the trout’s rejection of my offering and I have to look for a more direct imitation. I’m thinking of the time a client presented 20 different patterns to a caenid sipper on a local river (all without spooking the trout; an achievement in itself!) We won the battle but not the war when the fish finally sipped a tiny size 18 parachute mayfly. He was so surprised when the trout took, he missed the strike!


Sometimes the dry fly seems like a good option even though obvious rising fish can’t be located. This is when good searching techniques are re- quired. Here are a few methods to try. Frequent deliveries Consider casting more often. Put more deliveries on the water for shorter periods before moving 3-5 metres to another spot. Be sure not to waste time or spook fish with false casts.

Pulling dries

When searching, using a static presentation with a small fly often won’t work as well as moving your fly. Movement can attract lazy, lethargic fish from greater distances and elicit more confident takes. So, twitch your fly – just a little or maybe a lot. It depends on the day and the water. If it’s dull I move the fly a lot, while on bright days just the slightest twitch is sometimes too much.

In rough weather/ big waves, you can move dry flies quite aggressively and fish will jump over themselves to get hold of them. A roly poly retrieve on a windy, overcast mayfly day can be deadly. Experiment and hopefully you will bring otherwise inactive fish to the fly. Bigger is sometimes better

Throwing a big exciter pattern can often work wonders. The size of the fly is something that’s hard to disregard. Apart from having a big presence once on the water, a big fly often lands with a big splash. I often explain it thus: imagine if a house fly dropped dead as it flew past a few metres away. We wouldn’t even be aware of it. On the other hand if a flying goose had a heart attack and fell from the sky nearby.

Multiple flies

Using multiple dry flies on lakes can offer variety with each delivery – big or small flies, wake flies, flies that sit in the surface film, shiny or dull flies – these are just some possible combinations. A lot of loch-style fishing is based on using three flies on the one leader. The flies chosen nearly always have three different jobs. Even if several fish are caught on, say, a claret size 14 Bobs Bits on the point (tippet end) you should not replace the size10 bright orange Carrot in the middle or the size 12 Bibio on the top dropper. Sometimes these other two flies have attracted the fish in the first place, and only then has it eaten the Bobs Bits.


If you observe refusals, consider your presentation first – go back to my opening paragraph. If that doesn’t work, look for a fly that more closely represents what the fish are feeding on. And if that fails, then give them a totally different choice – think outside the square before you give in.

One situation that comes to mind is willow grub feeders. They can be infuriating and sometimes I have worked on a single fish for hours. I remember one 5 pound brown on the Grays River in New Zealand’s central South Island. I offered that fish perhaps 30 different patterns. I even had to tie on two new sections of tippet because the fly changes had used it all up.

I’m embarrassed to say I eventually I gave up in the frustration and left the fish for a mate to harass. He cast to that trout until dark, but in vain. Meanwhile, I fished on upstream, catching fish all afternoon. Sometimes you need to know when to give in; when it’s okay to be defeated by a wild, smart and wary animal. (As an aside, the next day my mate went back and caught that wily trout first cast with a tiny Red Tag, a fly we’d both tried the previous day.)


Just like I did for the willow grub feeder, sometimes the best thing you can do is change spots. Having said that, don’t do this lightly – not before you’ve really worked through the tackle and technique options. There’s a fine line here and if changing spots too quickly (or blaming the spot for your lack of catching) becomes a habit, then you’re unlikely to become a great flyfisher.

My experience in the competition flyfishing scene comes to mind. In com- petitions you are always told where you have to fish, when you have to fish, and how long you are allowed to fish. The comp. guys still manage to catch plenty of fish despite these limits.


A fly’s durability and functionality are two important considerations for both guides and recreational anglers. The ability of a successful dry to be quickly and easily reused – in other words low maintenance – is important. Some patterns are great in this respect while others are not.

Poor quality flies are of no use to a guide either. We need dries that aren’t going to unravel after a single fish. One reason some guides tie their own flies is so they know exactly what they are getting.

The ability of a dry fly to float can be paramount at times. In big waves on a big lake there is nothing that compares with foam. In quiet water or on gentle pools, there is nothing like seals fur and CDC.

The visibility of the chosen dry fly is sometimes critical. We all fish more confidently if we can see the fly and fewer takes are missed. However on some days, it’s more important for the fish to be able see the fly than for the angler to see the fly. A fly floating very low in the surface film – and very easy for the trout to see – is necessary, which means it’s often less visible to the angler.

In this situation, I’ll sometimes position a second, more visible fly a few feet up the tippet from the hard-to-see fly, essentially to act as an indicator. Occasionally we can have the best of both worlds – for example, the Shaving Brush is a sensational emerger that both fish and angler can see well.

Periods of low ambient light are often periods of high UV light. Under these conditions, you would be crazy not to fish a fly with a fluoro hot spot. A simple solution is to use UV fluoro orange tying silk to wrap the head of say, a Possum Emerger. The Possum Emerger is a very versatile emerging mayfly pattern often used on overcast days in the highlands of Tasmania. The addition of a fluoro head can be a game changer.

Finally, the noise a dry fly makes can also be an eating trigger. Many fish species like bass and barramundi respond well to the popping noise of a floating fly, and poppers of various designs are commonly used when fishing for them. The same concept can be employed to fool trout. Some floating mudeyes have this attribute.


Ultimately, which fly you tie on and how you go about making that decision, is a personal choice. I know many people who only want to fish with dry flies. A few years ago a good friend of mine fished the entire season with one pat- tern. He chose a popular fly – the Red Tag, and fished it in various sizes. He ended the season on Christmas Island and yes, he caught bonefish on Red Tags!

Here’s a thought: if you want to catch more fish, study what the professional guides do. Guides are on the water most days of the season. They’re under pressure to get their clients onto fish and they are looking at every angle to achieve better results. Guides would not be using sub-standard dry flies unless they were idiots.

Among the guides I know, it would be fair to say that, 90% of the time, they would use just a few favorite or time-proven dry flies. These would be kept in their main ‘go to’, day in day out fly box. Yes, these guides will also have many other fly boxes containing many other patterns. But these would come out only as needed, perhaps just 10% of the time.

A final point. As a guide, I have some of the best fishing but the toughest catching when I need to go to my 10% boxes. Keep this in mind – poor catching can become the best fishing you’ve ever had if you look at it the right way.

Peter Hayes Says Finesse Is What The Greats Have In Common

I was really struggling with a subject for this issue of FlyStream, but then, on absolute deadline, a topic dear to me came to mind. It was brought to my attention by Tim Rajeff at a talk he presented to a group of 60 flyfishers in Launceston. I will do my best to share the concept so bear with me. During the talk, Tim described me as someone with a drive for more knowledge; who had just spent an entire winter overseas continuing an education in all aspects of flyfishing so he could pass that knowledge on to other anglers. As Tim spoke my spar-row chest puffed out and I grinned. He knows I’m forever the student in all aspects of my life; and particularly anything to do with flyfishing. It’s the learning and teaching aspect of my job I enjoy most.

Spending time with the top players.

Petitjean, Klinken, Arden, Rajeff & Rajeff, Gawesworth, Johnson, Morgan, Siem, Kreh, Wulff, Richards, Vokey and Droz are just a few of the flyfish-ers I have great respect for. I’m lucky enough to have spent time with them all recently.

Or maybe it wasn’t luck – I actually sought them out and visited them or asked them to visit me. I can’t em-phasise enough the importance of surrounding yourself with people who know more than you about a topic. After 40 years of high level competi-tion casting, competition fishing, guided fishing and teaching casting you might think there wasn’t much more I personally could learn. Well, I find my- self learning the same thing time and time again from each of the great play-ers I hang out with. It’s a lesson I never get tired of learning. Let me share it. What makes greatness?

Martin Droz

Just two days ago I sat and watched Martin Droz, many times World and European flyfishing champion, tie flies. We chatted about all aspects of flyfish-ing before we went out on the river. I could tell from our conversation he knew what he was doing. As I watched Martin fish I realised I was watching greatness. His wading on the slipperiest stream in Tasmania was smooth and effortless. His casting was easy but precise. Contact with his nymphs, influ- enced by various currents and winds, was never in doubt. I could see the simplicity and the beauty in his every movement.

A couple of months earlier I sat on the banks of the Deschutes River in Oregon and watched World Distance Spey Casting Champion Travis Johnson as he taught me to cast a two-handed rod. I knew I was watching and listening to greatness. Travis had 20,000 hours with his two-handed rod and he knew intimately what was required to make perfect casting strokes. I sensed his skill and his passion for the ultimate casting stroke minutes before he even picked up the rod. I wasn’t disappoint- ed as I watched beautiful loops soar across the river.

Hans Van Klinken sits behind his vice and talks about life, love and flyfishing and before you know it, he hands you one of the most remarkably beautiful, functional and deadly emergers you can ever use. He conjures it up almost magically in front of your eyes. He has probably tied tens of thousands of them. Perfectly, every time. Not one turn too many or too few of silk, hackle or fur. Hans is so smooth to watch as he ties a fly, you don’t realise he has! I was a guest of Simon Gawesworth’s family recently at their home in Washington State. We drank too much gin and cast a lot. One of the take-home messages I have from Simon in respect of two-handed casting, is to be smoother than smooth. I just can’t emphasise enough how important this concept is in all types of casting – not just two-handed rod casting. One of Australia’s great two-handed casters, Tony Loader, spends hour after hour after hour on a tiny aspect of the ‘circle up’ movement. Tony knows how impor- tant it is and he works on it. I’ll bet less than 1% of readers have any idea of what he is on about!

A few weeks ago, I ran the Australian Speyclave here in Tasmania. It was sponsored by RIO and we had international tutors like April Vokey on hand. Part way through the teaching program on the first day, I made the point that, whilst it was clear to me people were trying their best to learn the casting stroke, I felt not enough ‘care’ was being applied. You can’t learn very well if you are just ripping and whipping the line about. The movements need- ed to start more slowly (there’s a big difference in casting between ‘slowing down’ and ‘start more slowly’) and with much greater care.

I cast in Montana recently with Bruce Richards. Bruce has designed fly lines for Scientific Anglers for 33 years and I don’t think there is much about fly casting Bruce does not understand. When I watched Bruce cast, it was as if he imagined the whole world was watching. The level of care with each stroke was obviously high. The economy of movement and ease was clear and once again I knew I was watching a perfectionist.

Finesse, finesse and more finesse – it’s what the greats have in spades.

Originally published in Flystream Summer 2016-2017

Peter Hayes Considers Fly Fashions

Peter Haze
Peter Haze

Published in FlyStream Autum 2017

Australia’s Best Trout Flies – Re- visited

If your flyfishing experience is limit- ed, you might be easily fooled into believing you MUST have this or that particular pattern. You’ll end up with boxes full of all sorts of flies, often several of the same pat- tern and in several sizes too. Then you’ll listen to the experts – on the water, on the internet or at the fishing club meeting. They will reel off names of killer patterns and it won’t be long before you feel under-gunned if you don’t have boxes full of them too. Then there are the guides, fly tiers and fishing writers. You will need sever- al more boxes to for their ‘must-haves’! Continue reading Peter Hayes Considers Fly Fashions

Fishing Tips – Alternative Figure 8 Retrieve

I’ve seen this alternative method of doing a figure 8 retrieve from several people now. Peter Austin kindly demonstrates it here. The benefits are great speed and control, entire flyline in hand, without ever the chance of a tangle.

Downside is that the line will end up with little kinks rather than laying dead straight like you would have with a roly poly retrieve.

Fishing Tips – The Quick Penny Knot

by Peter Hayes and Ron Penny 

Trust me, this is the only knot you ever need to know to tie a hook on. I’ve taught it at Fly Casting Schools all over the world and once you learn it you will never use another knot. 

In most trout tippet strength co polymers it provides 100% strength. This means the tippet will break before the knot lets you down ! 

  • You can learn to tie it quickly and without looking.
  • You can learn to tie it with a very short tag end removing the need to trim the end.
  • It is possible to use this knot as a loop knot to provide a free swinging fly presentation. Simply pull the knot down tight and lock it off with a nail or similar solid object at the hook eye. Remove the nail and you will have a loop the size of the nail. Do note that it will pull down under the load of a fighting fish.
Check out the following video for how to do it.
(A big thank you to Andrew and the team at Offshore Productions & the Fishing DVD for their generous production of it)

Casting Tips – Smoother Tighter Loops

Exercise 1

One Foot at a Time – Smooth controlled tight loop false casts

This is a rod loading and loop control exercise with focus on smooth progressive acceleration of the rod tip in a straight line path with a positive stop.

Cast side on to the wind with the rod tilted down at 45 degrees or so. Keep the rod tip just above eye level. Keep your hand in close to your body and grip the corks very lightly. Lock the line under your index finger and cast with the line hand in your pocket.

Start false casting with just a rod length of line out the tip. Move the rod tip smoothly between a focus point in the distance on the front cast then back to a focus point in the distance on the back cast.

Concentrate on doing this in a straight line tip path and at the correct speed or tempo. Learn to squeeze the shot off or ‘pop to a stop’

Lengthen the line a foot and repeat. Continue on until you have three or four rod lengths of line out.

Using the longer line you must focus on moving the line back and forward without bending the rod. You must use smooth speed of the rod tip to pull the line back and forward. Naturally the rod will bend but the feeling MUST be that the weight of the line in the air sets the depth of bend into the rod rather than your brain telling your hand how hard to bash the bend into the rod.

Exercise 1a– Changing Gears. Mess with the tempo.

Start the foot at a time drill again. This time cast each length of line with various tempos. First, start off as slow motion as you can get away with. Next move up a gear to a medium speed. Then another gear to a fast tempo. Finally move the rod as fast as you can maintaining good loops. Don’t tail them or make them jerky. Notice how you need to increase the arc as speed increases!

Exercise 1b – False casting tight loops with differing trajectories.

Vary the trajectories at differing line lengths while maintaining a tight smooth loop.

Continue as above but do some casts with a horizontal rod tip travel. Then repeat with a lower forward stop and a higher back stop. This sort of angle that results in high back casts is most commonly used when trout fishing short to medium distances. Obviously necessary when trees or bushes are behind. Finally do some with high front casts and low back casts. This high front trajectory is only ever used when casting to fish that live up a waterfall! I want you to be able to do it anyway.

Exercise 1c – Joan Wulff’s ‘Picking Leaves’

Focus on just one leaf. Try to hit it with your orange yarn at the very end or limit of your forward cast. False cast maintaining a tight loop. The stop is as critical as the alignment of the straight line path of the rod tip and the requirement of a narrow loop. Try different heights and casting planes. When you think you are clever turn around and pick leaves on the back cast too.

Exercise 1d – Tom White’s ‘Turn it upside down’

Spend a little time false casting with the rod upside down. Yes, turn it all over and lock the reel in under your forearm. This exercise forces you to move your upper arm. It forces you to lift your elbow into the back cast. It forces a more laid back or cocked rod angle for the forward cast. It forces the pulling action and gives more positive stops than most people are used to. You will really learn the feeling of the rod unloading after the stop. You will learn not to grip the corks tightly. This exercise effectively removes wrist movement. (very differently to the horrendous method when someone sticks the butt down your sleeve or ties the rod butt to your forearm)!

Do these exercises as often as you can. In the end you will realise just how easy it is to throw smooth narrow loops. The rod loading will be silky smooth and there will be no inclination to tail the loops – even at higher line speed.

Perhaps for the first time in your life you will feel the rod make the cast rather than you.

Try casting these exercises occasionally with a blindfold that you can be cheaply from a chemist.

Slack lines

Peter Hayes

Casting Tips – Three Chances to Shoot

Exercise 2

The Pick Up Lay Down Cast – Haysie’s three chances to shoot.

Lay out 30 feet of line on the water and retrieve it all in to just a rod length of line out the tip.

Do a pick up and lay down cast shooting line on the forward cast only. Look for as much line shoot as possible. You are allowed three forward deliveries to shoot all the line out. If you hit the reel in three or less deliveries then feel free to pull an additional meter of line out and repeat the exercise.

Stop pulling line off your reel if you cannot shoot it all on the third shot. (the idea is to practice getting better within your ability)

Keep focused on correctly aligned and tight loop back casts. Focus on smooth long steady power applications on the forward cast. Get the backcast timing right – don’t come forward after the line has straightened and sagged. This is too late !

Don’t overpower the short cast – make sure you do it technically correct – more line will flow through the guides with skill rather than force! Brains before brawn !

The secret to great success here is to make perfect back casts. Narrow loops are good and correct alignment or trajectory are critical as is perfect timing.

Focus on smooth long steady power applications on the forward cast. Remember \\\\\\\\ /

Slack Lines

Casting Tips – Tasmanian Triangular Roll Cast

Exercise 3

Haysie’s Tasmanian Triangle Roll Cast

Side on stance, draw the rod tip back smoothly and slowly until it is as far back as you can get it. Next move the tip vertically up the invisible post and stop. Move the tip down the hypotenuse and do not rotate early under any circumstances.

Keep your wrist cocked until the line weight is well behind the rod. Remember , \\\\\\\\/ not \/.

At the last second (remember the 1”punch) turn over your wrist, squeeze your fingers shut and punch or thrust your hand forward. Always trying to maintain a straight line path of the rod tip. Haul to the chest on longer distances.

Practice a little with both hands on the corks. Like a baseball bat.

Casting Tips – Lean, Tap, Squeeze and Flip

Exercise 4 – Lean, Tap, Squeeze and Flip

This is a simple but important roll casting exercise

Lean into it, tap your wrist, squeeze your fingers and flip off a tiny loop

Set up:

With 45 feet of line out stick the yarn under a rock – (I use the roll casting noodle and a tent peg to anchor the tippet, check out the photo). Set sport cone targets at 20 feet, 30 feet and 40 feet.

Make the cast:

Cock your wrist into the back cast position. Your elbow should be bent and close to your body.Your hand to the side of and just in front of your face – this is a hand eye coordination sport. When you stare at the targets you should be able to see your hand in your peripheral vision.

Using bodyweight transfer first lean forward moving your nose toward the target. It is not so important if your left or right foot is forward but as a RH caster I sometimes like my RH foot forward. This is called a closed stance.

Now ever so minimally tap your wrist and squeeze your fingers making the rod tip jump aggressively toward the target but also stop aggressively. This is all done with a very short rod tip movement. You should be trying to aim as small as possible loop down toward the closest target. Try to hit it. Use just the tip section of your rod and don’t throw the loop past the first target. It would be better to throw tighter little loops that fall short rather than overpowered big loops.

Next try to run the loop further toward the second target. To do this tilt your wrist back further at the start. The forward process is the same. All this further tilt does is to give a higher forward trajectory. When you hit the target have you noticed that you used just a tad more power?

Then try the longer target. Learn just how minimal the effort required is. Then of course send the loop flying over the anchoring rock. More trajectory or tilt and more power but still all done in a very short, squeezing movement.

It is more important to learn to flip roll casting loops from a late rotation and minimalist movement point of view rather than a huge full force, full arc, early rotation situation.


\\\\\ / rod movement makes for great casts. The body weight transfer gives the \\\ to the cast. This is the loading move without rotation.

Casters who simply rotate early \/ never achieve good loading moves or tight loops.

Make sure you get this!

Fishing Tips – The Quick Penny Knot

by Peter Hayes and Ron Penny 

Trust me, this is the only knot you ever need to know to tie a hook on. I’ve taught it at Fly Casting Schools all over the world and once you learn it you will never use another knot.

In most trout tippet strength co polymers it provides 100% strength. This means the tippet will break before the knot lets you down !

  • You can learn to tie it quickly and without looking.
  • You can learn to tie it with a very short tag end removing the need to trim the end.
  • It is possible to use this knot as a loop knot to provide a free swinging fly presentation. Simply pull the knot down tight and lock it off with a nail or similar solid object at the hook eye. Remove the nail and you will have a loop the size of the nail. Do note that it will pull down under the load of a fighting fish.
Check out the following video for how to do it.
(A big thank you to Andrew and the team at Offshore Productions & the Fishing DVD for their generous production of it)