Fishing the Wet Fly

Paul Prentiss

Wet flies were originally tied to represent terrestrial flies that were swept beneath the surface of the water. They were to be sparsely dressed with soft hackle and a wing that is tied to slant back to the hook bend.

Old time fly fishermen worked a set or cast of wet flies (three or more) on snelled hooks. Such flies were still in demand in the late 60's and early 70's. I remember walking into Hank Roberts Shop on Pearl in Boulder and looking at these flies displayed on cardboard displays.
Over the years these flies have fallen in and out of favor.

I've never paid any attention to these swings in popularity. I've just always fished them. Practically all wet flies do a workman-like job of catching fish every time you use them. Better yet wet fly fishing can provide rewards quickly - even to beginning anglers. Good technique is not needed to connect with some nice fish. Instead of looking precisely like a particular type of insect, a wet fly is more an imitation of a stage of life of aquatic insects. Many wet flies imitate a struggling nymph as it attempts to reach the surface of the river.
These same wet flies also suitably imitate dead or drowning insects. Either way, one thing about wet flies is that they generally imitate aquatic insects in motion.

There are two types of wet flies: attractors and imitative. The old attractors had fanciful names like The Bloody Butcher, Royal Coachman, and Parmachenee Belle. As you might expect such patterns are very colorful. On the other end of the spectrum are the imitative group which are tied very sparse with subdued natural colors - light and dark dub, tan, brown and olive. Both are tied with and without weight, because wet flies are designed to sink quickly. Depending on conditions many anglers will fish wets with sink-tip lines.

I'll generally use a heaver tippet (4X or 5X) when fishing wets since the take can be aggressive. 9 to 12-foot leaders are standard fare when you're not using a floating line. I almost always use a two fly rig with different sizes and patterns.

The classic approach is to cast the fly down and across swimming it through potential lies and allowing it to rise towards the surface at the end of the swing. Then take a step or two downstream and repeat the process. The most likely point of the take is when the fly begins to rises to the surface. I like to fish my flies in a more active manner. I'll mend the line upstream of potential holding water and then fish the fly through likely looking spots. Occasionally, I'll strip the fly in with slow or fast retrieves much like you might fish a streamer. This is not a mechanical blind casting approach. It's systematically covering the water with controlled casts and measured retrieves.

I'm not a big fan of adding weight directly to wet flies unless I'm tying beadheads. If the fly needs to get down deep I'll use split shot, a tungsten bead on the leader or a sinking leader or sink-tip line.

If you have never fished wet flies to rising trout you're missing out on a real opportunity. The fish taking flies off the surface are generally taking even more emerging insects just below the surface. To catch these fish you need to present your fly upstream of the target. As the fly reaches the fish, tighten the line so that it begins to rise to the surface and be prepared for solid hit.