Fishing the Wet Fly

Some fifty-five years ago when I started fly fishing, wet flies were pretty common on the waters in the Pacific Northwest. You could buy them two for a quarter or fifteen cents apiece and the wingless, soft-hackles were easy to tie when you were just learning. Back in those days I hadn’t heard of Ray Bergman, Pete Hidy, or James Leisenring, and all I knew about fly fishing I had gleaned from the pages of Field and Stream, Outdoor Life or from watching my dad. Now years later I find myself back where I started, swinging wet flies to willing fish.

Grizzly King – a wet fly

When I started wet fly fishing I would use a two or three fly rig called a brace, but today I fish a single fly. I rig up as though I was fishing a dry fly. So I use, a 7-1/2 or 9' leader that tapers to 4X, and then two or four feet of 5X tippet material. To that I tie on a traditional wet fly or soft hackle, using a mono loop knot to allow the fly to swing naturally.

I usually tie on a wet fly or soft hackle after moving upstream fishing a dry fly. When I arrive at the head of a pool, riffle or run where the water flow is relatively constant, I tie on the wet and begin fishing back downstream. What you want to do is cover water by swinging the fly through a stretch. Stand in a spot along the bank and cast the line across or slightly downstream. Lower the rod tip so it is pointing at the water and do not hold onto the line with either hand; simply hold the rod on the cork with your rod hand. Follow the drift of the fly by pointing the rod tip at the fly at all times. When done properly a bow will occur on a floating fly line with the fly slightly behind the deepest portion of the bow.

The fly is moving into the fish's feeding lane from above. When the fish takes the fly it will move up to intercept, and then turn down to eat. When this happens you will feel a slight tug, and then the line will begin to pull off the reel as the fish hooks itself and realizes that it has done so. Then, lift the rod slowly and play the fish. If you try to set the hook on the first tug you will pull the fly right out of the fish's mouth.

Start fishing your wet fly close to where you’re standing; fish a length of line, and then add two feet or so, then two more feet until you’ve covered the water making two or three casts with each length of line. Then, pull some line back in, take one or two steps downstream, and start the process again. The idea is to get the fly to sweep through an area again and again, until a hungry, greedy trout sees it.

The interesting thing about this is this: after I've fished through an area with dry flies, and felt I've done a fine job of it, too, I can turn around, tie on a wet and fish back through the area and catch more fish. That is amazing to me. For many of you, I would imagine this is a new thing. No weight, no bobber, just pure, clean, traditional fly fishing fun. Try it; you'll like it.

Article authored by Dan Sedergren (†2017), President Emeritus of the High Sierra Fly Casters. Originally published in fishstories... (the club's newsletter); lightly edited for web publication.