The other day a friend of mine and I were fishing a beautiful central Pennsylvania trout stream. Fishing was slow and the nymphs we were offering weren’t of much interest to the trout. As my friend lifted his rod up to pull his line out for another cast he said: “Hey a trout just followed my fly”. That gave me an idea. Time to switch to wet flies, because the simple truth to fishing wet flies is they catch trout.
The Simple Truth To Fishing Wet Flies. Wet flies produce under many varying situations but especially when insects are emerging or laying eggs. Wet flies can be fished anywhere in the water column mimicking a huge amount of trout foods. Trout fishing with wet flies is an ancient form of fly fishing and when used effectively, can help you can catch more trout.
Wet flies catch trout because trout derive most of their diet from aquatic insects that live underwater. It’s fair to say that 90% or so of a trout’s feeding activities happen below the surface. Wet flies and nymphs are designed to replicate the insects that inhabit the creek bottom and the water column. Wet flies and soft hackle flies represent the insects that have dislodged from the bottom and are caught in the current or insects that are emerging and heading to the surface. The 5 Bugs of Fly Fishing Entomology to Know?
What Is A Wet Fly?
Wet flies have been fished for centuries throughout England and European countries and many of the patterns are still used today. A wet fly, in its simplest form, is a fly designed to be fish in the water column mimicking a variety of insects and emerging insects. Most wet flies are sparsely tied using a minimal amount of hackle and consist of thin bodies. Traditional wet flies have quill wings, their bodies are dubbed with herl or floss and hackle that is usually long, sweeping back over the body. Some patterns have prominent tails or tags as well.
Most wet flies fit into one of four styles: winged wets, soft hackles, wingless wets, and fuzzy nymphs. Winged wets, as I mentioned above, have wings usually tied using mallard, pheasant, or turkey feathers. Soft hackle wet flies have slender bodies of herl or floss and their hackle is water-absorbing feathers like Hungarian partridge. The appeal for using feathers like these is their movement underwater, undulating, and appear lifelike. Flymphs are nymphs that are modified with fur spun loosely and spiky over a colored body. Some may have soft hackle fibers to imitate legs. Fuzzy nymphs are tied with loosely dubbed fur, a collar, added to the front of the fly, consisting of long fibers and sometimes brightly colored.
The common denominator of all of these flies is the use of materials that move once in the water. The undulating action of the materials gives an appearance of lifelike movement and draws the attention of trout.
A Great Pattern For New Fly Fishers
The simple truth to fishing wet flies is they are relatively easy to fish compared to other aspects of fly fishing. It’s a great way for a novice to fool fish because you don’t have to be a proficient angler. Casting doesn’t need to be as precise, and for the most part, the current does most if not all the work.
When fishing wet flies, the angler casts across and slightly downstream to let the fly “swing” as the fly line naturally straightens out. Many times the take occurs as the fly nears the end of the swing. The trout virtually hooks itself on the take.
If trout are rising then fishing just below the surface is a good tactic while other times being closer to the bottom is better. Adding weight to your leader will help the fly sink and help you control the overall depth that you wish to fish. Adding and removing weight is a common task in wet fly fishing.
For newbie’s a wet fly is a good choice. Its success is more dependent on the action of the fly rather than the fly resembling a specific insect or matching the hatch. Additionally, because the action of the fly comes from the hackle or loosely dubbed materials, it doesn’t require any added work on the part of the angler. Although, you will eventually learn how to add a bit of “action” to the fly, starting out you won’t need it.
As I said in the opening paragraph, the simple truth to fishing wet flies is they catch trout. They are fishable year-round but are extremely effective during spring and early summer when insect activity is abundant. Also check out this article: Why Should A Newcomer To Fly Fishing Use Streamers?
Soft Hackle Wet flies, My Favorite
There is no right or wrong as to the wet flies you choose to fish but for me, I like soft hackle wet flies. I think the feather’s action speaks volumes to a trout. The dark and light colorization of a partridge feather, for example, adds to the subtle movement making the fly appear lifelike. Sometimes the feather resembles legs and other times resembles a wing. Whichever it is the trout have a hard time passing it up.
The most common way to fish a soft hackle wet is as I mentioned above. Casting across and slightly down letting the fly sink and swing across the current. As the line tightens at the end of the swing, the fly is “pulled” toward the surface. This is when many strikes will occur. The rising fly looks to a trout like an emerging insect which triggers his “grab it before it gets away” instinct.
Sometimes a short cast upstream to let the fly “dead drift” can be effective. A combination of both works well too. Casting upstream, for example, to let the fly drift and sink in the current, then bringing the rod tip to a downstream position will let the fly rise when the line pulls tight.
Wet Flies Are Versatile
Another simple truth to fishing wet flies is they work in many differing situations. But from my experience, they especially work well when insects are emerging and egg-laying. Caddis are the most common foods for trout. They are mobile little bugs and when the pupae migrate to the surface they do so quickly. Powered by a gas bubble that accelerates them upward, trout have been known to chase an emerging caddis exploding through the water surface to get it.
The behavior of the Caddis can often be imitated by fishing a soft hackle wet fly. The movement of the hackle along with the rise to the surface after a swing is often interrupted by the taking of a trout. Also, when Caddis are laying eggs, some of the adults will dive below the water’s surface. A soft hackle wet fished just below the surface can be the perfect approach.
Certain Mayflies, like the March Brown, transitions to a dun under the water surface. This transition has the movement that a soft hackle wet can imitate and appear to the trout as a living insect he can’t resist.
Wet flies can take on many forms that appear to trout as his natural food. Caddis, Mayflies, actively-swimming Baetis, like Blue-winged Olives, sunken spinners, terrestrials to name a few. Depending on the size of the wet fly it can mimic many forms of life found in the creek.
How to Fish A Wet Fly
Oh, I’d love to go into a long, detailed, highly technical description of how to fish a wet fly, but the truth is I can’t. Sure, over time as you get better at it, there are a few nuances that take a little to learn and get used to, but the simple truth to fishing wet flies, it’s easy. Simply cast across and slightly downstream and let the drift play completely out. In other words, let your line go straight downstream before casting and starting a new drift.
Adding or removing weight is a common tactic when wet fly fishing. The weight helps get the fly down. Depending on the strength of the current you’ll need to add weight at times or remove the weight to keep your fly near the surface.
Wet flies often are imitating an emerger, that may be anywhere in the water column as it rises from the creek bottom to the surface. But more importantly to you would be, where are the trout? Are they near the surface, bottom of the stream, or somewhere in between?
Using the right weight helps maintain a level of depth as the fly moves with the current. Adding or removing weight lets you control the depth of the fly as you drift through the water column and hopefully into a waiting trout. The simple truth to fishing wet flies experiment with weight.
Mending Line While using Wet Fly
To be as effective and versatile as possible learning to “mend” your line will help. Mending is adjusting your fly line, once it’s on the water, to eliminate drag. Mending is used no matter what type of fly fishing you are doing. But is most often talked about when dry fly fishing.
For a quick example of mending. Assume the current nearest you is moving faster than the current farthest away from you. The fly line section closest to you will speed up and then pull the line farther away. Dragging your dry fly across the surface in the process. To offset this we mend the fly line. Mending, in this case, means, the line section closest is “flipped” upstream to eliminate the drag on the fly.
When fishing a wet fly cast across the stream, a bow or curve is formed in the line as it rests on the water. A downstream bow in the line accelerates the fly moving it a bit faster than the current. If you mend upstream it will slow the fly and also allow it to sink. Mending lets you control the drift and slightly adds to the fly’s movement, often triggering a strike. The simple truth to fishing wet flies, learn to mend your fly line.
My general rule of thumb when it comes to leader length is pretty straight forward. I like longer leaders for nymphs and dries and a shorter leader for streamers and wets. Although I do admit there are times when a longer leader (so as to not spook trout) while fishing wets is nice, I usually use a shorter leader.
Tippet can be a bit heavier as well. What I mean is if you use a 6X tippet normally and go to a 5X it won’t matter to the trout. Trout seem to focus on the fly as it travels along and doesn’t seem to be as line shy. A heavier tippet is good because trout hit a wet fly pretty hard and the heavier tippet will hold up to the strikes. Why Use A Tapered Leader?
The simple truth to fishing wet flies is they catch trout. Why? Well, for two basic reasons. You can cover a lot of water and different types of water. Wet flies can imitate the tricky behavior of emerging insects that other flies can’t do as well. Wet flies are easy to fish so a novice to trout fishing will be able to increase their chances without having to get too technical. Lastly, wet flies are fun to fish and when a trout takes the fly they hit it pretty hard. That sudden jolt makes it exciting and waiting for that jolts adds the element of drama to fishing them.
Fly fishing has many ways to present a fly. Whether dry flies on the surface, nymphs to hunt the bottom of the creek, or wet flies and streamers to work the water column, all methods can be productive when the time is right. Learning to fish these various ways gives the angle options to his trout fishing. Being able to change your presentation to take advantage of a trout’s behavior on any given day or moment increases your ability to catch trout. …..and catching is what it’s all about most days. Fish on!
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How do you fish soft hackle wet flies?
Letting the fly swing across the stream and down after the cast is made is the trick. It is also a simple way to fish soft hackle wets. You can cover more water and when a trout takes your offering, hold on.
What do wet flies imitate?
Typical wet flies can imitate drowned insects, small baitfish, and other forms of sub-aquatic life. But most appealing to hungry, and aggressive trout they imitate emerging insects. When fished during emerging and egg-laying activates of insects they can be a deadly choice.