Tuesday Tip: The Un-Swung Wet Fly

Written by: Phil Monahan

Wet flies, such as this Sparkle Soft Hackle, are more versatile than you may think.
Photo via orvis.com

These days, classic wet flies are probably the most underused patterns in the average American fly fisher’s box. Trailing far behind nymphs, dry flies, and streamers in popularity, wet flies have the reputation of being for older guys or those not willing to sling two tungsten-beadheads and a Thingamabobber. But for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, wet flies were the way to catch fish with a fly rod. Patterns such as the Cow Dung, Partridge and Orange, and Royal Coachman caught a lot of fish back then, and similar patterns will still catch a lot of fish today…if you know how to use them.

When most anglers think of wet-fly presentations, they default to the classic “wet-fly swing”—a down-and-across method that starts with a quartering-downstream cast and then lets the fly swing across the current, usually just under the surface. However, advanced wet-fly aficionados know that there are many ways to fish these patterns more effectively to match the conditions. Presentations such as the Crosfield Draw and the Leisenring Lift (which you may remember from the Trivia Challenge a couple weeks ago) add some action to give the fly a more lifelike motion. For more on these, check out John Likakis’s excellent “Beyond the Swing” on Midcurrent.com.

This video—the trailer for a DVD from Sweden—focuses on fishing wet flies more like you’d fish a dry. Instead of swinging the fly across the current, the anglers here, including Orvis’s Paul Proctor, target specific fish and cast the pattern upstream. As you’ll see, these presentations are effective in different kinds of water. But either way, the key is drifting the fly directly in the fish’s feeding lane, rather than swinging through it. Classic wet-fly patterns are usually quite “buggy,” and the fish respond to them accordingly.

One tactic not on display here, but which can also be deadly, is slathering a wet fly with floatant and fishing it dry. Whether the fish see the fly as a crippled or drowned natural or what, they will sometimes pounce on a floating wet more eagerly than they’ll strike an actual dry fly. So stop ignoring those wet flies in your box; start experimenting with different presentations, and you’re sure to catch more trout.

4 thoughts on “Tuesday Tip: The Un-Swung Wet Fly

  1. opie

    i put a #20 soft hackle pheasnt tail behind just about everything. even streamers with an active strip.

  2. Adam

    Wet flies and soft hackles are definitely still effective. I made a trip down to the White in Arkansas in mid March and soft hackles were out fishing nymphs and dries 10 to 1 on a couple of days.

  3. BobWhite

    Good stuff!

    Classic wet flies done right… not much has been written about this in modern fly fishing literature. Thanks for taking us back to our (still relevant) roots!



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