I recently received an information request asking about how to fish wet flies. The definition of a wet fly is any fly that is designed to sink and be fished below the water’s surface. There are actually many kinds of wet flies and many ways to fish a wet fly. They come in 3 major categories though, traditional wet flies, streamers, and nymphs. Most of the time the term “wet fly” probably refers to traditional wet flies like soft hackles but I’ll cover them all.
Traditional wet flies are generally fished by casting across and downstream and then letting the flies swing across the current and occasionally pulling them back upstream, keeping a tight line as the flies swing. Strikes are usually felt, rather than seen, because the line is kept tight. You can also dead drift traditional wet flies, especially soft hackles, like you would a nymph. The soft hackles pulse in the water as the fly drifts creating a very life-like look.
Streamers are also generally fished across or across and downstream but the retrieve is a little more brisk and often has a jerky action depending on the stripping method used. Streamers imitate minnows so you should make them swim a little faster and more erratically than traditional wet flies, which most often imitate slow moving hatching insects.
Nymphs are generally fished by dead drifting them and using either a strike indicator to see the strike or by using a tight-line method or semi-tight line method to feel or detect strikes. Nymphs imitate immature aquatic insects and other invertebrates that drift in the current and are intercepted by waiting fish.
Remember that at least 90% of what trout and most other fish eat is below the water’s surface. Mastering wet fly techniques will greatly increase your odds of catching more fish.
Fly Fishing Professional, Guide, and Author
[Editor’s Note] If you would like to learn more about fishing wet flies consider Wet Flies: Tying and Fishing Soft-Hackles, Winged and Wingless Wets, and Fuzzy Nymphs by Dave Hughes.
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and is on a quest to map the best places for fly fishing in America. He created the DIY Fly Fishing App to share this information and help you find new places to fish.
[Video] Davie McPhail Grouse & Gold River Wet Fly
[Video] Mulraney Pig (Wet Fly) by Davie McPhail
[Video] Irish Wet Fly Rebel (Variant) by Davie McPhail
[Video] Baetis Wet Flies
[Video] Tying the Goats Toe with Davie McPhail
DIY Fly Fishing Sweepstakes Winner and User Feedback – October 2017
[Video] How to Get Your Fly Out of a Tree
[How To] Fly Fishing in High Water