fishing the dry fly as a living insect
Fly Fishing Literature

Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect

a book review

I think that Leonard Wright Jr. is one of the twentieth century’s most overlooked fly fishing authors. Well known to his contemporaries, his works have been “lost” over time. I found his first book, “Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect” (1972), in a used bookstore in Ennis, Montana. It had a musty, old-library odor that I love, and cost $1.

Wright was a free-thinker who challenged many of the tenets of fly fishing, often rankling “authorities”. In his day, it was dry-fly fishing dogma to present the fly with a “perfect downstream drift”, that is, free of abnormal movement or drag. Yet haven’t we all had the experience of movement, by accident or intention, resulting in a vigorous take by a lurking trout? Mr. Wright took this observation, and tested the hypothesis that movement imparted to a dry fly is in many circumstances superior to the classic dead drift.


“Let’s suppose, for illustration, that a trout has left his hiding place and is lying in a mild current, anticipating food. An object enters the upstream edge on his window and is judged to be the right size for food. The first tumbler drops and the trout’s fins begin to quiver in readiness. More information comes in telling that this is the right shape and color to be food. The second tumbler drops and the trout starts his glide toward the surface. The object moves, indicating that it is alive. The last tumbler drops and the trout’s mouth opens. I feel that short rises, or last minute refusals, are due usually to the fact that our flies fail to fulfill the third requirement and that the last tumbler in the trout’s simple brain does not fall.”

“After the first of June on Eastern streams and rivers, the most common situation the fly-fisher faces is the “nonhatch”. A few flies may struggle to the surface at choice times of day, but there will seldom be enough of them to make fish rise regularly or create a marked preference for any specific size or pattern. If you want to catch good trout in any numbers at this time of year, you must become a prospector rather than a hatch matcher. Under these conditions–and they usually dominate the greater part of the open season–trout must be goaded into rising to the surface. The fluttering dry fly becomes the most successful tactic.”

fishing the dry fly as a living insect
Leonard Wright’s fluttering caddis pattern


His writing style is easy to read, and reveals a bright, inquisitive mind, driven by keen observation and experimentation. One of his observations was that both hatching and egg-laying caddis orient their movements to the water surface in an upstream direction. He then experimented with his fluttering fly pattern, presenting it to rising trout. A downstream twitch, similar to drag, usually led to refusals. But an upstream twitch usually led to strikes.

He covers a great deal more in this modest-sized book. Topics include flies of his own design, subsurface fishing, trout lies, feeding patterns, and much more. But I found the most compelling aspect was his discussion of dry-fly fishing and his repartee’ with “Halford’s Dry Fly Doctrine”. I found this to be a great read!

If you find that you like his writing, you might enjoy reading others of the dozen books that he has written. Another that I especially enjoyed was “The Ways of Trout: When Trout Feed and Why”.  In the third section, he explores possible feeding triggers. He again takes a scientific approach, and conducts a series of streamside studies to test a number of common and uncommon theories. I won’t spoil the read by disclosing his conclusion(s), but you will likely be surprised!

Written by Al Simpson, January, 2020.

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