Winter Wet Flies

Guest Blogger: Mary S. Kuss

Partridge & Yellow

Partridge & Yellow

I’ve never liked cold weather, and the older I get the stronger this aversion becomes. What my Mother used to call a “weather breather,” combined with a bad case of Cabin Fever, might lure me out to wet my line during the winter months. I need a day with a high of at least 50 degrees, and not much wind. I will then go out for an hour or two in the warmest part of the afternoon, and if no feeding fish are seen I may never step into the water. Just walking along the banks and watching the stream and the life in and around it, getting some fresh air and mild exercise, is a worthwhile endeavor.

winter wet 2

Stewart Spider

For me, for the most part, winter is not a time to fish but rather a time to spend tying flies. I prepare for teaching tying seminars, and for club events, and also restock my fly boxes for the season. There’s nothing I’d rather tie than wet flies. The very first flies I fished, as a teenager in the late 1960’s, were the cheap, import poppers that were sold in those little round plastic containers divided up into wedges like a pie. One day I was fishing a favorite pond, and as the result of my horrible casting technique I pulverized the cork body of the last popper in my stock. Nothing was left but the yellow feathers at the rear of the hook. Dejected, I roll-cast the sorry remains of my popper out in the water in front of me. I began twitching it along, admiring the action of the hackles. A good-sized crappie loomed up under the “fly” and inhaled it. Thus was born my interest in wet flies, which has persisted to this day. I started buying Yellow Sally wets for 40-cents each, and started trying to tie my own because I couldn’t afford to keep myself supplied by buying them ready-made.

March Brown Flymph

March Brown Flymph

Any fly shop owner will tell you that wet flies, whether winged or wingless, represent a very small fraction of their fly sales. When it comes to insect imitations, most fly fishers use dry flies and/or nymphs. Although we now have variations on this theme in the form of various emerger patterns, most of them look like and are fished as either a dry or a nymph. You can find books on wet flies, and magazine articles discussing their lengthy history and extolling their effectiveness. Yet still, few people use them.

LaFontaine Diving Caddis

LaFontaine Diving Caddis

A large part of this phenomenon is due, in my opinion, to the dominance of “match-the-hatch” fly fishing. We think this is always necessary (it is not, by the way), so we choose flies that look like the naturals to us. Many of us tend to choose flies that are designed to imitate a specific hatch rather than generalist patterns that can cover multiple hatches. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, of course. However, it is a rather limited and limiting way to fly fish.

Alder

Alder

Match-the-hatch can undeniably be a very useful tool. But it should not be the only tool in your arsenal. Most of us will fish Woolly Buggers or other streamers at times, although the hatch-matching model has been applied even to that. Wet flies, however, fall through the cracks. They tend to be drab and uninteresting. To the human eye, they don’t look much like insects. It’s a leap of faith to fish with a fly that consists of little more than some thread and a few turns of feather on a hook. These minimalist patterns, however, can be deadly if fished with skill and confidence. This is especially true when they are used in waters where the fish are constantly bombarded with more “conventional” flies and rarely see wets.

Cowdung

Cowdung

There were a lot of complicated factors that drove and enabled our obsession with dries and nymphs, and our neglect of wet flies. The current interest in Japanese Tenkara fishing, which is traditionally practiced mainly with wet flies, has brought new attention to them. Whether or not you are interested in Tenkara, and whether you use reversed-hackle Kebari-style flies or the wet flies that come out of the British and American traditions, this is a style of fly that you would do well to explore. Wet flies have worked well for centuries, and still do!

On December 14, I conducted a wet fly tying seminar for members of the Anglers’ Club of Philadelphia. Photos of the flies we tied are shown through out this post.

2 thoughts on “Winter Wet Flies

  1. Dick Fox

    Very interesting article and comforting to read others that fish wet flys. Started fly fishing at 10 and found comfort in using these type flys, not always succesfully but always relaxing and rewarding. New friends almost frown on my choice of wet fly fishing instead of dry. Drys are fun to tie and look at and fish but I always end up with a wet on, and enjoying my time on the stream. Thanks for the uplifting words.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *