Fifty Tips Tips/Tactics

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #47 — See the Dead Drift

June 24, 2018

The dead drift. That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s the baseline for a good presentation and the starting point for real success in fly fishing. Oh sure, we strip streamers. We swing wet flies. And on occasion we may dance an Elk Hair Caddis on its hackle across the river. But by and large, the dead drift is our objective when fishing for trout — especially wild ones.

While fishing dries, I want a dead drift. Nymphs, same thing. Even my best streamer presentations have portions of a dead drift built in. Trout around here love what I call a crossover technique. I treat part of the streamer’s path as a dead drift (like a nymph) and the rest of it with some motion (strips, pops and jigs — like a streamer).

With some dismay, I realize that I’ve now been fly fishing for twenty-seven years. (Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not. — Stephen King.) And with each season on the water, with every trip to the river, my ability to read a dead drift improves. What I thought were good drifts at sixteen years of age were, quite simply, not quality presentations. And I say this without reservation — I’m certain that my own ability to truly recognize a dead drifting fly will be markedly improved once I’ve fished for thirty-seven years. It’s all about time on the water.

And that’s the point — experience is the only real teacher for things like this.

Photo by Bill Dell

I’m reminded of the young Little League players that I teach to catch fly balls. When they cross over to the Minors division, the strength of larger bodies suddenly makes fly balls hit to the outfield a real thing to be dealt with. And none of them can judge the distance of a baseball behind them until they’ve seen it hundreds — no, thousands — of times. Sure, they get lucky on occasion and get it right — the ball hits the mitt and they chuck it to the cutoff man. But it takes seasons for even the most gifted kid to judge the position of a fly ball.

It’s the same thing with seeing a dead drift.

We may think that our fly is traveling with the current, unaltered on its course by a tethered line, but if the trout aren’t responding, then a true dead drift is the first thing to look for.

Look closer.

What is a dead drift anyway? It’s when a fly is allowed to travel in one current seam without influence from the tippet. The fly then drifts like a real bug might. And as difficult as it may be to see or achieve, the dead drift is the baseline for success out there.

How do you see it? Look closer. It’s hard enough with a dry fly but even harder with any pattern under the water. The invisible fly requires more guesswork and calculation. There’s a disconnect with what we can see an analyze above the surface and what might actually be going on underneath.

So what can we do?

Think more. Fish harder.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


Click here for details.


Read All of the Fifty Tips Series

What do you think?

1 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
  Follow the comments on this article.  
Notify of
Dan Repella

Great article as always. It would be cool if the Modern Nymphing guys get true underwater footage, not just surveyors tape on a stick.

Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

big fish backcountry tightline mayfly stinky bass conservation PSA Grobe patience Presentations dry fly fishing last cast Resources regulations Streamers friendship small streams One Great Tip leaders fishing with kids fall etiquette tenkara backcast Float Fishing brookies ice Fly rods droppers nymphs TU reading water BES Fly Casting Troutbitten Fly Box tight line nymphing Boat indicator fishing big brown trout tiny flies Streamer fishing Camping Night Fishing Peace tippet Oakiewear simplicity George Daniel rules mousing Ask an Expert nymphing tips silence wading boots comp fishing It's just fishing skunked waders Weather dry flies Whiskey Drinker Tippet Rings tracks thunderstorm DJS spawning Aiden Orvis summertime fishing public land fly line home-stream PA Gold Dry-Dropper Christmas Lights fighting fish time come on man Little Juniata River favorite knots angler types beadhead summer Jeff cookout Sighter Plans Joey wild trout Night brush fishing carp montana boys photography flies wet flies winter fishing Pennsylvania family Baseball giveaway winter fly fishing Wild Brown Trout mistakes History camera PFBC Spring Creek Namer dead drift Galloup hiking efficiency streamside club fishing the Mono Rig Wild Mushrooms musician BadMoFo float How it Started wet fly fishing Fish Hard tips Floating Wild vs Stocked bar boots wildlife Press rigs fishing tips Euro-Nymphing wet wading DIY wading rookies net marginal water Fifty Tips Dylan Fly Fishing nymphing philosophy Industry Stuff indicator nymphing fly patterns Sawyer Big Trout Trust fly box Trout Unlimited explore tight lining casting mono rig spot burning Headbanger Sculpin mud Stockies friends bite windows Mystery Backing Barrel Burke solitude travel Grandfather Memories winter Discovery brown trout front ended Central PA Quote fly tying trout bum George Harvey night-sighter walking Gierach dog Buggers suspender fishing dorsey yarn indicator science matters Whiskey poetry Bad Mother stocked trout split shot gear Dad catch and release Rich Davy Wotten DHALO