Wet flies Techniques

When trout are feeding below the surface of the water, wet flies and nymphs come into their own. Just as in dry fly fishing, the variety of patterns at your disposal is legion.

In contrast to the dry fly which is in-tended to simulate an insect floating or alighting on the water, the wet fly represents some small insect or creature living and moving actively below the surface.

The dry fly usually represents the winged fly only, but a wet fly may represent the insect at any stage of development except the egg. It may imitate a half-drowned winged fly or even the critical transition stage when the pupal nymph is struggling to hatch into the adult stage and break through to the surface. It can also represent the free swimming or crawling larva, or the partially developed nymph darting among the lower layers or ascending towards the surface. Other creatures simulated by many wet fly dressings include water spiders, shrimps, snails, beetles, and fish fry.

The fundamental difference of function between wet and dryflies is in the manner of tying and in the softer, more absorbent, materials used for wet flies. Wet flies must sink, and generally fairly quickly. Soft, easily wetted hen hackles or the larger, softer, cock hackles are used, both to provide a clean entry and to give a semblance of limb movement when the fly responds to the vagaries of the current, or when it is retrieved. If the fly is winged, the wings are tied sloping rearwards, almost horizontally over the hook shank. This also assists entry and streamlines the fly in the water.

Swift sinking is essential for those flies intended for deep fishing. In this event the body is weighted with lead or copper wire to get the fly down quickly to the right depth.

Palmer tied flies

Any fly tied today with a full body hackle is known as ‘Palmer tied’ after the original Red Palmer, one of the oldest known British flies and one of the simplest to tie.

In its early tyings, the body con-sisted simply of red wool with a large, soft, red cock hackle spiralled around the body from the eye to the bend and ribbed with a spiral of flat gold tinsel.

The killer Black Zulu is tied in the same manner as the Palmer, and has a black body, black full hackle, silver tinsel ribbing and a little red tag of wool at the tail. Both patterns are excellent, both are tied without wings, and in a way represent a sort of halfway stage between the wet and dry flies because both can be fished dry by the simple expedient of oiling them first. They are also valuable as ‘bob’ flies, which are tied to the top dropper on the leader and made to skate across the surface, bobbing from wave to wave, as the tail fly is fished sunk. Bobbed flies will often be taken by fish in the last stages of retrieve, almost alongside the wading angler.

Spider or shoulderhackled flies

Palmer flies also include a number of winged flies, such as the Invicta and Wickham’s Fancy. These have shoulder hackles and are found in almost every angler’s fly box.

When a winged fly is made with a somewhat sparser hackle tied with one or two turns only at the shoulder, it is called ‘shoulder hackled’. If this sparse tackle is used without wings, the fly becomes a ‘spider hackled’ fly. A fairly bushy example is the Black and Peacock spider, useful when fished deep for fish feeding low on snails. An even thinner hackle is used on the Black Pennel, the Snipe-and-Purple, and the more recently developed Phan-tom Larva. Many nymphs are also tied with small spider type hackles at the shoulder.

Throat or beard hackles

The barest possible hackle effect is obtained when seeking to represent the limbs, antennae or external gills of many larval forms. Either the spidertype hackle is stroked downwards and fastened under the throat, or instead of using a hackle, a false or beard hackle is used by separating some fibres and tying them as a little bunch under the throat.

Beard hackles are used by many anglers to tie wet flies because they provide a slim outline, reduce shoulder bulk, make winging easier and save on hackle materials, without in any way reducing the effectiveness of the fly. Good ex-amples are the Coachman, and the Cinnamon-and-Gold.

Winged wet flies

Winged wet flies are probably the most attractive and best known of all traditional lake flies. The Mallard-and-Claret and its series exemplifies the type and consist of mallard wing combined with golden pheasant tippets for a tail, a beard hackle, a body of red, claret, green or blue wool or seals’ fur, ribbed with gold or silver tinsel or wire. Substituting wings of woodcock, teal, or partridge instead of mallard, and playing similar permutations on body colouring, gives us the Woodcock-and-Green, and its series, the Teal-and-Blue and its stablemates, and the Partridge-and-Orange. The permutations on this theme alone offer a very wide range of subtly differing colours and outlines.

Other examples—the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Woodcock and Harelug are favourites—use fur for the body which is also normally ribbed.


Some brilliant and exotic coloured winged flies owe their success not so much to their imitating any par-ticular insect or creature, but by triggering off the predatory instincts of fish in much the same way as a small spinner. Generally known as attractors, the group includes such famous flies as the Butchers, Black and Bloody, the Alexandra, Dunkeld, Teal and Silver and Peter Ross. Other attractors, such as the Polystickle, rely for their success on seeking to imitate small fish fry.


For lake, reservoir and Stillwater fishing generally, lures are very popular. Lures are quite large and seek to imitate or simulate small fish. They are usually between l-3in long and are tied on long shanked hooks with flashy coloured bodies and large wings of hair or hackle on the body. The Black lure and Sweeney Todd are typical examples, and use many variations of body material and winging, such as streamer wings, chenille bodies or marabou winging. Many of the salmon angler’s more exotic flies such as the Red Terror, come within the same broad category.


Nymphs are probably the most important of all wet flies and properly used account for more fish than any other group. They are very different in make-up and appearance and are designed to simulate the in-numerable larval, nymphal, or even pupal forms of caddis, dragonfly, midges, buzzers and ordinary lake flies, which make up a large part of the trout’s general diet. Nymphs are most likely to be taken when fish cannot be seen rising or moving on or near the surface, and are also often responsible for furious activity on the surface towards evening when fish are obviously not taking float flies.

The best known is probably the Pheasant Tail nymph, immortalized by Frank Sawyer and which can be made to represent many nymph forms by simply varying the thorax colouring. The Pheasant has many imitators, and can be varied in size or weighting to represent different forms. The buzzer series of nymphs, available in different colours and hook sizes, is also very important, and is particularly effective during the buzzer rise. Smaller, midge-like patterns often save the day when all else has failed, and imitations now cover almost every possible stage of development and activity of the enormous range of creatures living below the surface.

Nymphs are made up with simulated wing cases bunching the thorax, similar to buzzers, and both are usually ribbed with tinsel, wire, or other materials to simulate natural body segmentation. Tiny throat or beard hackles imitate the limbs, antennae or external gills.

Wet fly action

Whatever the type of fly used, its success often depends more on its action and movement in the water than its resemblance to the original. When trout are feeding freely, the actual pattern of fly is sometimes not important. But when fish are highly preoccupied with a particular insect, the angler must use all his in-genuity to discover what it is and how best to present its imitator. Speed and depth of fishing are often vital. Unlike his dry fly counterpart, the wet fly man may fish two or three flies on the leader, the extra flies being attached on short nylon legs, or droppers, attached to the main leader at intervals. He must select his pattern so that the tail fly fishes deep, the middle fly in mid-water, and the bob fly on or close to the surface. Using these tactics, the angler has a chance of discovering the taking fly and the best depth. Much skill is needed to cast a team of flies effectively, and one mistake in casting, or a puff of cross wind at the wrong moment, can tangle the team almost inextricably. And by the time this has been cleared or replaced, the rise may well be over!

Perch and ruffe are visible in the zander. Though having something of the elongated body of the pike, there is little mistaking the characteristics that indicate the zander’s close relationship to the perch in particular. There are two dorsal fins, the first spiny, with about 14 hard rays, the second soft. These spines, and others on the gill cover and anal fin, mean that the fish must be handled very carefully.