While fly fishing was established with dry fly fishing in mind, wet flies have proven to be just as successful and productive. Most fish will spend 90 percent of their feeding time eating below the surface.
Only a small window is spent looking at the top of the water. While dry fly fishing is a blast, experienced anglers understand the importance of becoming proficient with wet flies.
Table of Contents
- What is a Wet Fly?
- When To Use Wet Flies?
- How To Cast a Wet Fly?
- What Do Wet Flies Imitate?
- Types of Wet Fly Fishing
- Best Species For Wet Fly Fishing
- The Best Wet Flies
- Gear To Use When Wet Fly Fishing
- Best Time For Wet Fly Fishing
- Wet Fly Fishing Techniques, Tips & Tricks
- Now You’re Ready For Wet Fly Fishing
I started fly fishing with wet flies and spent the most of my first year fishing below the surface. I quickly fell in love with trying to learn the tendencies of the fish without being able to see my fly. It was a challenge, but learning to master these flies helped me in all areas of fly fishing.
The amount of wet fly options available is massive and not all of them are guaranteed to work. You need to take the time to learn the waters you are fishing and you’ll eventually learn the flies that should go into your box. The more studying you can do, the more fish you will catch.
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What is a Wet Fly?
Wet flies are any sort of fly that sits below the surface of the water. This could be a nymph, emerging fly or a streamer. These imitate everything from hatching insects to baitfish.
Again, the variety can be overwhelming, but there is a time and place for most fly options.
When To Use Wet Flies?
Wet flies can be used at all times. Even in the midst of a hatch, wet flies can be useful. No matter the time of year or fishing conditions, you can have success with wet flies. Since it’s such a wide category and fish often feed, there’s no offseason for wet flies.
Anglers often swear off certain times of day for fishing, but wet flies can defy the stereotypes and still cause fish to strike. While the bite may slow down, if you can meet fish where they are spending time, odds are you can entice them to take a chance at eating your fly.
How To Cast a Wet Fly?
Depending on what type of wet fly you are casting, your casting tendencies will change. With any sort of wet fly, the entire point is to meet the fish where they are in the water column. If they’re low, you’ll need to make longer casts to allow your fly to reach the lower parts of the column.
If the fish are higher in the water column, you’ll need to minimize drag and make shorter casts. You need to study the water and the feeding tendencies of the fish. A sure sign that fish are feeding is if you see them in the water darting around. When they’re darting around, they are looking to eat and snatch up any insects they see.
The tricky time to throw wet flies is when you see the fish being still. They may be sunning themselves or trying to hide and stay out of danger. When this happens, you’re going to have to work harder to persuade this fish, but it’s definitely possible.
What Do Wet Flies Imitate?
Wet flies are going to imitate a variety of prey for fish. They could be a hatching insect, leech, baitfish or other variety of food. Essentially, a wet fly is anything that lives under the water. You have to spend time studying what the fish are eating and where they like to eat it.
Types of Wet Fly Fishing
Wet fly fishing isn’t always done one specific way. Dry fly fishing is a bit more predictable and anglers don’t have to worry as much about the setup. The presentation is more important, but setup isn’t as complicated.
Streamers are some of the most fun flies you can possibly fish. These are some of the largest flies in your box. They imitate smaller baitfish, leeches, crayfish and even some larger insects. These are meant to be fished deep in the water column.
These streamer flies usually result in some of the largest fish you can possibly catch. Plus, fish will hit these flies with the most aggression. They want to kill or stun the prey with the initial strike so when a fish takes one of these, be prepared. Anglers often find themselves with too loose of a grip on their off hand.
If you’re fishing a streamer, you need to be on your toes. If a fish hits this fly with aggression, it could rip the line out of your hand and cause you to lose your fish. Always keep a finger or two on the fly line with your casting hand. This will help prevent any mishaps.
Even if you aren’t able to strip set, you can keep tension on the fish and lift with your rod. This will set the hook and still allow you to keep the fish pinned.
Nymphs are another fly that sits lower in the water column. These nymph flies must be near the bottom. They’re meant to imitate a hatching insect that is beginning the process of rising to the surface.
These often are found between sizes 10-18. Anglers often fish these with indicators to alert them of when a fish strikes. These are some of the most difficult flies to fish. They’re small, but need to spend time near the bottom without getting snagged.
Some of the most talented fly anglers in the world are those that nymph. They have a great ability to read the water and feel for what is going to work. They have to set the proper depth for the indicator, minimize the slack and be extremely attentive to where their fly is sitting.
As a result, those that spend the majority of their time nymphing catch the most fish. If you can find a solid nymph bite, you’re going to have an exceptional day on the water. I love spending time with a nymph on the end of my fly line. I know that I’m going to be challenged, but if I can figure it out, I’ll have a great time fishing.
Emerging flies are another interesting fly to use. Emerging flies are meant to imitate a fly that is in the process of hatching. They haven’t fully developed their wings and are still trying to move out of the larva stage.
When you choose to use these flies, timing is imperative. These are most productive right before the hatch. The fish are starting to look up, but the flies haven’t fully found their way to the surface. I’ll usually spend about 30 minutes before the hatch throwing an emerger and about 15 minutes into the hatch.
After this, I know that dry flies are going to be my best friend for awhile. If you can learn how to properly use emerging patterns, you’ll set yourself far above many other anglers. Most anglers don’t even bother throwing these patterns. They’ll fish sinking flies until the hatch begins.
Take a chance, do some practicing and you’ll find yourself catching quite a few fish before you even begin the most fun type of fly fishing! Establish the timing of the fish strikes and get some warmup hook sets. You’ll be prepped and ready for the official hatch.
Best Species For Wet Fly Fishing
Wet flies will catch any type of fish you could ever want to catch. It doesn’t matter if you’re fishing saltwater or freshwater. You can land all types of fish with wet flies. Again, it’s all about learning the feeding tendencies of these fish. Once you do, you’re in for a treat.
Fly Fishing Wets For Trout
Wet flies are extremely productive with trout. They spend the majority of their time feeding underwater. You can have success with all three types of wet flies. Fish the streamers through the pools and deeper portions of the water.
Fish the nymphs through riffles, pocket water, and shallower seams within rivers and streams. They’re extremely versatile, but again, they require practice and a nice feel of the water that you are fishing. Emergers can be fished in any depth, just be sure that you have timed them properly.
Trout are picky with the time that they’re willing to feed. If it’s dry fly time, don’t even bother throwing a wet fly. They are not very likely to eat it.
Fly Fishing Wets For Bass
Bass are going to eat wet flies that are loud and boisterous. If you’re looking to throw a streamer for a bass, be sure that it’s a solid imitation of a baitfish or a worm. The brighter the colors and more action, the better.
Depending on the time of year, you may need to switch up the pace at which you retrieve, but it’s possible to catch these fish on wet flies. I enjoy fishing crayfish streamers for bass! They seem to work the best in the midst of the spawn. Bass hate seeing crayfish enter their beds.
Fly Fishing Wets For Salmon
Wet flies work very well for salmon. These fish strike out of anger and instinct. By the time they’ve made their way up the river, they’re more interested in spawning than eating. Be sure that you’re using a large fly with quite a bit of flash and color.
You can either dead drift or swing these flies. These fish take quite a bit of concentration to fish. You have to pay close attention to your fly line. Salmon don’t always smash your fly. They may pick it up as it drifts along and it’s up to you to get a solid strip set to pin one of these fish.
Fly Fishing Wets For Pike
Pike will feast on wet flies. These 8 to 10 inch flies are a bit challenging to cast, but the initial strike from a pike is unrivaled. These fish hit with an extreme amount of aggression. While the fight isn’t always elite, the first hit is well worth it.
The Best Wet Flies
There are thousands of wet flies that you can choose to use on your next adventure. There are a few flies that will work for almost every type of fish and you must carry them in your fly box.
The Wooly Bugger is perhaps the most famous fly in all of fly fishing. It’s great because you can catch trout, bass, salmon, steelhead and pike with it. These have the ability to imitate baitfish, worms and even leeches.
If you want a solid chance to catch fish, tie on a Wooly Bugger and see what happens. Fish these through the deeper and slower portions of the water. As they drift, pick the spot you would like it to hit and then start stripping aggressively.
You can swing and dead drift these flies. While you have the option of not having a beadhead, I think they’re much better and more productive when you can get them lower in the water column. Fish will sit in deeper water because it’s a bit cooler. If you use a larger fly, the possibility of a catching a larger fish increases.
Clouser Minnows are another staple in the world of fly fishing. They do a wonderful job imitating a variety of minnows. The biggest appeal are the dumbbell eyes that are used to drop this deeper in the water.
I am fairly aggressive when I fish these flies. I fish them up against rock walls or cut banks. As they drift, I begin stripping hard towards myself. More often than not, a fish will leave its hiding place in pursuit of this fly.
This is also a great fly to use in still water. Find a laydown or some other form of structure and see what you can find. The biggest mistake anglers use with these flies in still water is not letting them drop in the water column. You need to get these deep. Once they’re deep, use a bit more of a jerky retrieve.
Pheasant Tail nymphs are a wonderful nymph. While they aren’t a complicated pattern, they have proven to be successful ever since they were created. They can be fished anywhere between size 10-18.
These flies can be fished without an indicator, but you need to be extremely confident in your ability to see the water. You have to follow the tip of your fly line and see if it darts out in any direction. If it does, be quick to set the hook. It’s likely because you have a fish.
Find the seams, pockets and riffles. Don’t cast this fly too far because you’ll find yourself snagged more often than not. 1o to 15 foot casts and high sticking it across your body is the best way to fish these.
Egg Sucking Leeches are very common in the world of salmon fishing. Again, salmon are going to strike out of aggression. They want to hit anything and everything in their path. These flies often do not have any sort of extra weight so be sure you know get it at the proper depth.
To get it lower in the column, you need to make a longer cast. This will make it drop in the column. Another useful option is to use sinking line. This is a bit heavier and will automatically drop it deeper.
The Hex Nymph is a nice imitation of a fly that has returned to the bottom of the lake or river to lay eggs. They have a beadhead attached that’s going to be exactly what you need in slow moving water.
You can find Hex Nymphs between the sizes of 8-12. They’re a bit larger, but if you’re fishing in buggy areas, these flies are going to work wonders. I have focused on the slower and less oxygenated portions of the water with these bugs. It’s usually where I find the larger and more intrusive looking insects.
Crawdad flies must have a place in your fly box. They are another versatile fly that is going to work for trout, bass and pike. Fish these near streams that are entering or leaving lakes. Crawdads make their homes in these areas and fish like to sit here because of the moving water.
I’ve caught an impressive amount of bass on this fly and I will continue to use it as long as I am fly fishing!
The Prince Nymph is another nymph pattern that will work almost anywhere in the world. You’ll find yourself with all sorts of action whenever you throw this fly in the water!
Gear To Use When Wet Fly Fishing
When you’re wet fly fishing, you need to be aware of the size of fish that you could catch. Since you’re searching for fish that are feeding underwater, you’ll never know quite how large they might be. Be prepared for something large!
When throwing wet flies, I’ll go anywhere from a size 5-8. If it’s trout that I’m after, I am pretty confident in a 5 or 6-weight. If I’m targeting bass, salmon or pike, I’ll use my 8-weight and have plenty of power to fight them.
Be sure that your reel matches your rod. The most important aspect besides the proper size is that your reel is a large arbor. You need a few hundred feet of line to fight some of these larger fish. They’ll run as long as they possibly can and you need to be prepared!
Depending on what type of wet fly you are using, your line will change. For example, if you’re throwing a streamer, most people will use weight forward or sinking line. If you’re throwing a nymph, people will use weight forward or floating line.
If you choose to use an emerger, floating line is your best bet! Be sure that you have a few reels equipped with these lines so you can switch in and out depending on the type of wet fly that you are using.
Tippet should only be used when nymphing and throwing emergers. Streamers are too heavy and entice too large of fish for tippet. Also, you may be fighting these fish through some pretty heavy structure so it’s important that you have enough power to outlast them.
Best Time For Wet Fly Fishing
Wet fly fishing is going to work at all times of day and all year long. Fish are always going to feed so as long as you’re aware of what they want, you can fish for them!
Wet Fly Fishing Techniques, Tips & Tricks
Learning how to fly fish with wet flies takes time. Plus, you never know how fish are going to feed! Take time to ask questions and do some experimentation. You’ll be impressed with how quickly you learn!
Read the Room
If you’re fishing water that has quite a few pools or sections of deep water, I like to start with a streamer. I’ll start big and work my way down. I’ll begin by dead drifting my streamer into a pool or through a seam. If I don’t get any hits after a few casts, I’ll start to be more aggressive with my presentation.
As I increase my aggression, I’ll see if fish attack. Even if I see a flash, I know that fish are interested in my streamer. It may require me to be even more aggressive or slow my approach. Again, you can’t always see how the fish are feeding so it’s up to the angler to figure out the most useful method.
What Time is It?
If you know a hatch is right around the corner, spend your time nymphing and throwing emerging patterns. The fish are looking for insects as they rise in the water column. I like to start nymphing an hour or two before the hatch and I’ll throw emergers about 20-25 minutes before the hatch.
When in Doubt, Nymph
If you’re questioning what to throw, start by throwing a bit of a larger nymph. These are wonderful search patterns that are going to give you a better idea of what is going to work. While it may be a challenge as you begin, it’ll be well worth the effort to learn.
Now You’re Ready For Wet Fly Fishing
While it’s a broad category, wet fly fishing is the primary way to fly fish. You need to gain experience with wet flies and the more that you do, the more fish you will catch. Spend time on the water learning how these flies drift and study the food sources available.
It’s an amazing challenge to try and learn the tendencies of the fish when you can’t see their movements. You guess and guess until you get one to strike. As soon as you have a fish hit your fly, be sure to retrace your steps and remember the things that you did.
It’s all trial and error, but that’s what makes it even more exciting.