Wet fly fishing: What’s old is new again.

Brookie Fin Wet Fly

What’s the most effective method of fly fishing for trout? Nymph fishing. So I have done a lot of it and will continue to do so. If you are strictly after numbers of fish caught then nymph fishing trumps all. Of course this is a generalization and one should always choose the best tactic for the conditions at hand. But most often nymph fishing is more productive, even during a hatch with rising trout.

What’s my least favorite method of fly fishing? Nymph fishing. It’s tedious, delicate, requires lots of rigging/adjusting, and clunky casting. As stated, using a nymph even during a hatch with rising trout is typically more productive than using a dry fly. But where’s the fun in that? If there’s a hatch going on I’m throwing dry flies. I don’t get to experience full-blown hatches every day! Why choose dry fly fishing when I can catch more fish on nymphs? Because it’s fun. The visual take. The weightless fly. Making sweet effortless casts.
Fun – now we’re talking! If you are interested in a different fishing experience, then swinging flies might be for you.
Enter wet fly fishing.


A little history about wet fly fishing. There is debate regarding fly fishing’s origin and this includes the wet fly. It wasn’t until the early-1800’s that fishing flies began to take off.

Legends of the wet fly game: Ray Bergman, Alfred Ronalds, A.S. Trude, Colonel Lewis S. Thompson. I encourage you to learn more about them.

Traditional wet flies are tied using natural colored materials. This is derived from the English patterns, which were used for a variety of species including brown trout. When wet flies made their way to America they transformed to more colorful patterns used to lure brook trout, and salmon. Both styles continue to work today for a variety of fish including warm water species.

Traditional wet flies ruled the waters for most of fly fishing history. For over 100 years the sale of wet flies dominated the commercial market for trout flies. In early America these patterns were used exclusively for Brook Trout, Atlantic Salmon, and Grayling. Wet flies were later used with great success to catch browns, rainbows, and steelhead trout. Classic wet fly patterns are still very effective, yet tying and fishing these flies had begun falling out of fashion in the 1960’s.

Consider this, often nymph fishing is productive not because you are matching the nymph but because you are in the trout’s zone at the right speed. If this is the case then using a nymph is productive because it’s something to eat and in the trout’s face. Speed (pace) of the presentation dictates the strike as much as the fly (color, size, action, and imitation). This is especially true when fishing over hatchery raised trout.

Sometimes wet flies are used as like a lure. Just as a green weenie is used beneath a bobber, a colorful wet fly is used to swing through the water like a blade spinner (e.g. Panther Martin). Other times wets are used like a natural. Just as a greased Sulphur nymph is used in the surface film, a Greenwell’s Glory wet can be used with a Leisenring lift to mimic emerging flies. Gary LoFontaine’s Caddisflies demonstrates this very accurately.

Rods, and reels. Longer rods are nice for easier mending, such as; 10′ 3′ Echo Shadow II or a Light switch or two-handed rod. Nothing special for reel selection. I prefer large arbor, disc drag reels.

You ain’t got a thing if you don’t have that swing. The tried and true, down and across tactic. Getting in the zone is accomplished through proper position, leader rigs, fly line (double-taper and sink-tips), casting and mending. This is a tight-line technique. With a down and across approach the drag caused by the water current on the fly line determines the speed of the fly. Fish the fly and not the weight. Weightless flies combined with poly leader sink-tips are a great combination. In small streams use a short leader and short sink tip section or on very small streams use a floating line a weighted bead head point fly. Anything larger than the small stream use the appropriate length leader and sink tip; if needed. Eliminate the slack (rod lift and hand retrieve). Don’t swing the fly out of the zone this is done by mending (sometimes repeated mending through the entire drift) and appropriately weighted sink-tip. When fish are moving and active typically their zone is larger. This is why many anglers do not catch fish regardless if wet fly fishing or otherwise; they never get in the feeding zone. The feeding zone is much smaller when fish are cold and hunkered down, for example; timid by the sun. Swinging low and slow is akin to bottom-bouncing nymphs. Beginners have more success when fish are active because the zone is larger. Only when you have confidence that your fly is in the zone only then can you question whether the fly pattern is effective or in-effective.

Getting your swing on is not only productive it’s an enjoyable method of fishing. Advantages: Quickly cover a lot of water, easy casting, less technical (mostly), less tedious, and great strikes. There is no one all-around go-to tactic when fly fishing for trout. As always, successful fishing is a moving target and often adjusting your tactic will take the skunk off your day. Bobber fishing is fine but if I have my choice I eliminate the weighted garble and get back to a more enjoyable method of fishing – wet fly fishing on the swing.

Brown trout on wet fly

Wet fly items:
Echo 10 1/2ft 3wt rod
Double Taper Line
Sinking leader
Matched Winged Quill Feathers
Tungsten Beads
Wet Fly Hooks

2 thoughts on “Wet fly fishing: What’s old is new again.”

  1. Leo,
    Great edition.
    I really enjoyed reading about wet fly fishing. I’ve tried it frequently in the past but never developed the skills that I’ve seen other display. One of these days we need to take time for coffee and a chat.
    I heard you guided a trip recently. I do hope it went well and I also hope to hear about it the not too distant future.

  2. Bob Thank you I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Absolutely, would be great to chat with you over a cup of coffee. Guiding is without question a win-win as I get a lot of satisfaction helping others in what is my life-long passion.

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