Learning how to fish a wet fly is usually one of the first fly fishing techniques anglers learn, especially if you started fly fishing young. This is because fishing wet flies is a lot easier than fishing dry flies or nymphs, as it’s a simple cast with an easy drift.
Once you’re a proficient fly angler, you don’t really think of using a wet fly fishing technique very often when trout fishing. For some reason, it doesn’t sit quite as well as using nymphs, streamers, or dry flies but it can be far more effective at certain times of the year.
Here are 9 easy wet fly fishing tips that you can use next time you’re on a trout river or stream.
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Understand what wet flies imitate
Whatever fly fishing techniques you’re using it’s key to understand what you’re imitating so that you know how to fish the technique properly. So, what are you imitating in the river when you fish wet flies?
Wet fly patterns imitate emerging insects on their way to becoming a dry fly, such as a march brown or caddis. A wet fly can also imitate drowned winged insects that have already become a dry fly that has been washed under the surface on its way down the river.
When nymphs are emerging to become winged insects they slowly float to the surface and have some movement to them, due to current and their emergence.
This is the exact idea you need to keep in mind when fishing wet flies. You want your wet fly to be sub-surface with a bit of movement to it so that a trout is enticed to eat it.
When and where should wet flies be fished?
Fly fishing with mouse patterns or using wet flies is an excellent method that works in most water/fish areas on rivers but some areas of rivers are more productive with wets than others.
Look for areas of rivers with some current, particularly places with a slow seem flowing out of a rapid or slow deep pools.
It’s these spots on rivers that are most effective as the current brings the wet flies to life but doesn’t have them moving so fast the trout don’t see them.
Timing is also important when choosing what kind of fly fishing method to fish on a river. Since wet flies are imitating an emerging fly, you still need to match the hatch.
Generally, early spring is the best time for a fly angler to use wet flies as this is when the first nymphs will start emerging such as march browns, but this doesn’t mean you can’t use wets during summer and fall too.
In summer, trout tend to move to faster water, and using a heavy nymph is usually an angler’s preference. But with a bit of weight and a good fly pattern like a wet caddis, you’re still likely to find fishing wet flies very effective, and they work well in the slower water where a nymph might not.
How to fish a wet fly – the swing is everything
When wet fly fishing, it’s important to use the current and let the fly swing across the river, just like you might when swinging streamers or fishing for steelhead/salmon.
The swinging motion gives the wet flies a natural movement in the water that trout love and it gives rise to a pretty intense strike.
The best way to fish wet flies and get the proper swing is to double haul cast upstream and across, across, or downstream and across. Then it is about letting the current and fly line do the work by letting the fly swing across the river and drag just under the surface.
Make sure to keep your rod tip down and follow the drift as it goes downstream, always keeping a 45-degree angle. Don’t end the swing early, cover as much water as your can, and let the line straighten out downstream before you bring the wet flies in.
It’s often the case that a trout eats at the last moment when wet flies are fished like this. You can also find fish right in front of you, so don’t rush to the deeper water, cover everything. The joy of wet flies is they can sit shallow so you can cover shallow water too.
Mend to control the swing speed
An excellent tip you should remember when fly fishing with wet flies is to control the speed at which they swing by mending. If your fly or flies are moving too fast with a lot of drag, no fish is going to eat them and this applies most when fishing faster water below a rapid for example.
After you have made your cast, lift the fly line with your rod and mend upstream to slow the drift down and give the fish enough time to see your flies and eat them. Then continue to follow the line down with your rod.
You can also employ this tactic in the opposite direction if the water is too slow by mending downstream. Sometimes, a bit of extra speed on the swing is what provokes a fish into eating so if your slower drifts aren’t working, try speeding it up a little and you might just hook a fish.
Don’t be afraid to fish upstream with wet flies
A lot of anglers get stuck in the notion that wet flies can only be fished downstream using the current when actually it looks more natural to trout if they are cast upstream and worked on a dead drift like a dry fly with minimal drag.
This method is particularly useful when fishing for smart, spooky fish as they will only see your leader and not your fly line on top of the water. I like to use this method in a stream as there isn’t always enough space for casting across and swinging down.
Be sure to keep tight on the drift though as trout do strike a wet fly hard but you might not feel it when the flies are coming towards you.
You should also pay particular attention to any boils just below the surface as this could be a sure sign that a fish has taken your wet fly.
Strip your fly in slowly once at the end of the swing or drift
Once your flies have gone through the motion of being swung across the river and haven’t been eaten, slowly strip them in before making another cast. I always do this when fly fishing with wets and you’d be surprised how well it works.
I tend to use a slow figure of eight retrieve and the slow-moving action combined with the current can make trout very aggressive. Plus you’re tight to the fly so any strike is likely to end up in a caught fish and a ton of adrenaline rushing through your body.
Always fish a wet fly on a shorter leader
Generally, when you’re wet fly fishing it’s actually better to fish shorter leaders than a longer one. By short, I don’t mean 6ft 10 lb leaders for streamers, we are talking more of a 9ft leader with a 4x tippet.
The reason you want your leader to be a bit shorter for wets is because of the swing. If it’s too long it won’t pick up the swing of the line and then you won’t get the action you need on your wet fly to entice fish.
That being said, if you are fishing for particularly spooky fish in clear water and have tied on a short leader, you might need to lengthen it and put on some light tippet to fool them.
Use soft hackle wet fly patterns
If you speak to traditional fly fishermen who use wet flies they all swear that using a soft hackle wet fly will catch more fish than a wet fly without a soft hackle so having some of these flies in your box is a must.
The reason soft hackles are so effective is because of the action of the soft hackles in the water. Soft hackles seem to pulse in the water on the drift creating a very natural action that looks like a hatching insect. The fish can not seem to resist it so make sure you have some soft hackles in your fly box.
Fish multiple flies
It’s always better when fly fishing, in my eyes anyway, to fish more than one fly and this is certainly the case with wet flies.
Now, fishing multiple flies does make casting a little harder and when casting with a wind you are bound to have a few more tangles to deal with but it should mean you catch more fish, so the payoff is worth it.
I always try to fish 3 wet flies spread out by around 12 inches of line between them. If it’s windy, I’ll drop it down to 2 flies so avoid too many tangles when casting. The reasons behind using more than one fly are so that you can fish multiple depths with one drift, and few different fly patterns at the same time.
You can either rig up your string of wet flies using gear like tippet rings to create droppers, tieing your tippet line to the eye of each fly, or to the shank of the hook to create a daisy chain, or by tieing a dropper rig using a double surgeon’s knot.
I prefer to use a dropper rig as it allows the flies to swim naturally and there isn’t any line attached to the hook, making it easier to strike a fish more effectively.
But, droppers can create a mess of tangles in your line, and if you want to avoid this, connecting up your flies from eye to eye using an improved clinch knot is the next best way in my eyes.
Don’t be scared to add weight as needed
You should also think about adding some weight to the flies in the form of split-shot as wet flies don’t tend to sink very easily and this will allow you to fish different depths.
Having 3 flies swinging down a river at different depths is a sure way to maximize the number of fish that see them, and if you don’t do this with nymphs as well, you should probably start.
Don’t add too much weight or they might sink too quickly and end up hooking the bottom, but add enough to get deep enough in the water you’re fishing.
Also, I tend to pick a dark fly for my dropper fly as it’s easier for fish to see in the depths.
What rod should I fish wet flies on?
You should fish wet flies on a regular trout set-up, and this is one of my favorite things about using them. There is no need for a 10ft 3wt like with Czech nymphing or a special 8’6 4wt for dry fly fishing, all you need is a 9ft rod in 3-6wt and you’re set.
Can you fish wet flies on a floating line?
Yes, you can fish wet flies on a floating line, in fact, most wet fly fishing is done with a floating line. It’s a good idea to add some floatant to the end of your floating line though as you’ll need it to stay afloat to keep your flies swimming properly and to ensure you can see a take with ease.
You can also use an intermediate line with wet flies if you’re on a big deep river or when fishing on a lake with them.
How do you cast a wet fly?
You cast a wet fly just like you would any other fly except with a wet fly your presentation and accuracy are far less important than say with a dry fly.
It doesn’t need to land exactly 3 ft in front of a fish for example or particularly subtly as it’s not the presentation that catches the fish, it’s the swing most of the time. This is why is such a good method for learning fly fishers to use.
That being said, if you’re fishing wets directly upstream like dries, it’s a good idea to cast them like you would a dry fly.