I love dry fly fishing. And yes, I totally get that you can catch more fish subsurface. If push comes to shove, I have no qualms of fishing a nymph. But, I'm always hoping to lure a fish to a surface take.
Just watch this cuttie taking a size 16 Parachute Adams drifting under overhanging willows:
I've found that Tenkara can deliver a dry fly superbly, allowing a dry to flutter down from the heavens to entice fish.
It takes the right set up to get the perfect presentation. Matching the rod, line, tippet and fly makes a big difference in your presentation and pleasure casting on the water.
Here are some mash ups of rod, line and fly that address some of the issues I've noticed on the water.
Dry Dropper - this is my favorite starting setup on a mountain stream.
1) Parachute Adams size 16
2) CDC & ELK size 14-16
3)Ant (parachute style or down wing) size 16-18
1) Rainbow Warrior with a 2.4mm tungsten bead size 16-18
2) Serendipity with 2mm tungsten bead
3) Caddis Kebari with a 2.4mm or bigger tungsten bead size 12-16
Line - 3.5 to 4.5 level line in bright pink or green with a tippet ring on the end. Line length usually about equal to the length of the rod. I go shorter on tight creeks like Big Cottonwood with lots of snags and a low casting ceiling. I lengthen the line to 1.5 x rod length if I'm on a big stream like the Provo using a rod greater than 13 feet.
Tippet - 4X tippet 2 feet to the dry then dropper 2 feet of 4x-5x off the hook bend
Nissin Pro-Spec 360 6:3 zoom rod
Shimano Mainstream ZE or Ito for bigger water like the Provo
Oni type 1 rod for streams with no overhead snags
This rig is great for pocket water and mountain streams about 1-3 feet deep, the dropper can actually help lay out a lighter line than the dry fly alone, especially with wind.
The dry fly can act as an indicator for some subsurface takes.
You get the reward of splashy rises.
If the fish love the dry, I just clip off the nymph.
Here is a great video of Shad learning to fish dries on Tenkara. Lance taught him well on stream with just a few casting tips.
Lance teaches Shad how to get a perfect drag free drift over a hungry cutthroat. Notice that the first cast lands just to the right of the where the cuttie rises, but the drift is perfect because most of the line is kept off the water using the long reach of the tenkara rod. The second cast is the money.
Doing that same thing with a Western setup for a newbie would be very hard without spooking that fish. And yet, Shad was able to put a couple casts right around the fish without scaring him off. Sure you could highstick to keep the heavy leader off the water, but in my experience the heavy leader will sag and pull the fly out of the zone, which is a big problem on slower placid pools like this one. It's fine for pocket water, but still not ideal, because you have to pull out enough fly line through the guides and out the tip so that the whole thing doesn't fall back through the guides when you cast. For me it is a hassle and feels like a compromise with the western gear which really wasn't designed to be fished in that way.
Tenkara handles it perfectly. Dry fly fishing with a light line, held off the water, for long elegant drag free drifts.