Fishing with the floating fly is a device of southern origin, and the idea no doubt arose from the facts that on the placid south country streams the natural fly floats on the surface and that the trout are accustomed to feed on it there. The controversy "dry versus wet" was long and spirited, but the new idea won the day and now not only on the chalk-streams, but on such stretches of even Highland rivers as are suitable, the dry-fly man may be seen testing his theories. These theories are simple and consist in placing before the fish an exact imitation of the insect on which it is feeding, in such a way that it shall float down exactly as if it were an insect of the same kind. To this end special tackle and special methods have been found necessary. Not only the fly but also the line has to float on the wafer; the line is very heavy and therefore the rod (split-cane or greenheart) must be stiff and powerful; special precautions have to be taken that the fly shall float unhindered and shall not "drag"; special casts have to be made to counteract awkward winds; and, lastly, the matching of the fly with the insect on the water is a matter of much nicety, for the water-flies are of many shades and colours.
Many brains have busied themselves with the solution of these problems with such success that dry-fly fishing is now a finished art. The entomology of the dry-fly stream has been studied very deeply by Mr. F. M. Halford, the late G. S. Marryat and others, and improvements both in flies and tackle have been very great. Quite lately, however, there has been a movement in favour of light rods for dry-fly fishing as well as wet-fly fishing. The English split-cane rod for dry-fly work weighs about an ounce to the foot, rather more or rather less. The American rod of similar action and material weighs much less - approximately 6 oz. to 10 ft. The light rod, it is urged, is much less tiring and is quite powerful enough for ordinary purposes. Against it is claimed that dry-fly fishing is not "ordinary purposes," that chalk-stream weeds are too strong and chalk-stream winds too wild for the light rod to be efficient against them. However, the light rod is growing in popular favour; British manufacturers are building rods after the American style; and anglers are taking to them more and more.
The natural fly is a very killing bait for trout, but its use is not wide-spread except in Ireland. In Ireland "dapping" with the green drake or the daddy-longlegs is practised from boats on most of the big loughs. A light whole-cane rod of stiff build, about 16 ft. in length, is required with a floss-silk line light enough to be carried out on the breeze; the "dap" (generally two mayflies or daddy-longlegs on a small stout-wired hook) is carried out by the breeze and just allowed to touch the water. When a trout rises it is well to count "ten" before striking. Very heavy trout are caught in this manner during the mayfly season. In the North "creeper-fishing" is akin to this method, but the creeper is the larva of the stone-fly, not a fly itself, and it is cast more like an ordinary fly and allowed to sink. Sometimes, however, the mature insect is used with equally good results. A few anglers still practise the old style of dapping or "dibbling" after the manner advised by Izaak Walton. It is a deadly way of fishing small overgrown brooks.
A stiff rod and strong gut are necessary, and a grasshopper or almost any large fly will serve for bait.