Two Ways to Splat a Terrestrial Dry Fly and Follow It With a Dead Drift

by | Sep 24, 2020 | 4 comments

Should you splat a terrestrial dry fly? Sure. Why not take advantage of the sometimes-irresistible attraction of a fly smacking the water? On the best days, trout seem poised to jump on anything that plops on the water’s surface. Ants, beetles, hoppers and even standard dries that land with a good thwack often turn the trick, while a pillow-soft landing goes untouched.

Summertime trout become especially conditioned to the phenomena of terrestrial insects reaching the water by happenstance. We’ve all seen trout hugging the shady corner of a bank, on edge and waiting for the inevitable land borne insect to make a mistake. None of these bugs hit the water with much grace, and more often their clumsy landing is best duplicated with a solid plop.

But what happens after the plop? Real ants, beetles and hoppers aren’t Olympic swimmers. Watch these insects in the water. Gather a few ants and toss them in the bankside water. Murderer. Notice that ants float for a while and their legs keep moving. But they don’t really swim or skate across the currents. It’s the same with the beetle. Of the three, grasshoppers have the most motion once they hit the water. So try it again. Toss a few real grasshoppers in the stream and watch what happens. They may flutter their wings or remain motionless, but they don’t skate off downstream.

However, for so many dry fly anglers, plopping a terrestrial is immediately followed by a fly that drags, and the realism is over.

There is a better way. In fact, I have two favorite tactics to plop a terrestrial on the surface and follow it with a dead drift. Both are highly effective. And they’re great ways to use the attention-getting impact of the splatting terrestrial while still picking up the more cautious trout that sees the splat but waits for a moment before taking the fly.

River is learning

First, Here’s the Standard

I’ve heard this advice many times and seen it in print: Use a thicker piece of tippet than normal, they say. And cast so the leader lands straight. This plops the fly on the water.

Sure it does. That’s wonderful. It certainly achieves the splat. But what follows is a dry fly that drags immediately. And too often, trout reject it. In water with any current, a straight leader has no chance at a dead drift. That’s why we build s-curves and slack into our best dry fly casts.

Using this standard splatting approach limits the angler to catching only the trout that strike immediately. I call these reaction strikes, and nothing is more exhilarating in the dry fly game. Given the right situation, there may be many reaction strikes to a splatting dry fly. (Appreciate those moments.) But given the average situation, I’d rather follow the splat with a dead drift — at least a short one — to give trout more of a chance to make a decision. Even a short dead drift that shows the trout a few seconds of good drift can make a difference.

So, try these two tactics instead . . .

Crash It

A good dry fly leader is built to land in s-curves up to the fly. So hopefully your leader already does this little magic trick. If not, tie up a Harvey Dry Leader, and get to work on the stream.

READ: Troutbitten | Dry Fly Fishing — The George Harvey Leader Design

For this first method, be sure the tippet is long and limp enough to land with slack. Now use a Crash Cast, so the fly line hits the water and the leader unfolds in front of it. Do this with enough momentum in the cast, and the dry will land with a semi-subtle smack — enough for a what’s-that reaction from your favorite trout, but not so much that it’s scared away.

This method does not create a big plop. But hey, neither do most ants the size of a #14 hook. And this more subtle hit is often just right.

For a full breakdown of the Crash Cast, read the Troutbitten article.

READ: Troutbitten | Dry Fly Fishing — The Crash Cast

Photo by Bill Dell

Tuck It

My favorite method of splatting terrestrials involves the combination of a shorter leader and a tuck cast.

Although the tuck cast is commonly used for nymphing, the very same principles in motion create just the right look for us here. We want the leader to turn over crisply above the water, with enough momentum in reserve to shoot the dry fly down to the water first. Done with skill, a bit of slack lands behind or around the dry.

The right leader is critical for the tuck cast to work with a dry fly. Trim that 5X or 6X tippet back from your dry leader, and tie on a piece of 3X or 4X (sometimes even 2X for a large hopper.) Keep this terminal tippet short. A standard 7.5 foot 3X leader from the fly shop is a fine place to start. Then modify the tippet section a bit to suit your terrestrial of choice. Trim the 3X back for larger dries or keep it as is for smaller flies. Watch the leader during the cast, and if it turns over hard and tucks down to the water, you’ve got it.

For me, I use my favorite Harvey leader design, finished with a 12-inch piece of 3X and a #12 Perfect Parachute Ant. This leader is fairly stout, and it’s easily overpowered by a swift cast and the weight of the ant body (two dubbing balls, wet with water).

I use precisely the same motion for this as I do when tuck casting a nymph. Crisp acceleration and a hard stop at 10:00 forces the leader to straighten out. Then, with more energy/momentum still flowing through the leader, the ant shoots down and hits the water. It lands with anything from a shallow arc to a near-vertical arc. The angle is up to you. Just like the tuck cast with a nymph, this tuck cast with a terrestrial builds slack on top of the fly and around it. The ant lands with about a foot of grace in the leader (on average). Our fly plops down and then has a chance to drift, if only for a few feet. And this provides our wary and uncertain trout a better chance to commit to the take.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing Strategies — The Tuck Cast

This tuck cast terrestrial technique will never provide the s-curves of a Harvey Dry leader, but it’s often just enough slack to seal the deal. It’s the best of both worlds.

Splat, Drift. Swirl. Hookset.

Fish hard, friends.


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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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.

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  1. Dom, it looks like you got your pup! Hope he is all the companion your other one was.

    • Hi Nancy! Yes, we sure did. He is really wonderful. I was just thinking about you yesterday, while on the water. Good to hear from you. Hope you are well. Keep in touch.

      • Are you any closer to trying out that Hardy 4wt 10 footer?

        • Yes. It’s wonderful. The Hardy Ultralite LL is my favorite rod since the Sage Z-Axis.


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