Here we describe the basic techniques of wet fly fishing Wet fly fishing is, quite simply, the art of fishing an artificial fly beneath the surface of the water, either in imitation of a natural food item, or as an ‘attractor’—a pattern which seems to bear no resemblance to any living creature but which induces a fish to strike at it in curiosity, anger or defence. Patterns referred to as ‘nymphs’ and ‘bugs’ usually attempt to imitate specific life forms, although there are more than a few patterns which bear a general resemblance to a number of different creatures and therefore are imitative of a range of natural forms, rather than one specific form.
Traditional wet flies
Traditional wet flies very often tend to fall into the ‘attractor’ category, bearing no close resemblance to anything in nature. Nevertheless, there are others that imitate, either in colour or shape, living creatures such as small fry or the pupal or larval forms of insects. Of the vast range of lures now available, some are designed to resemble small fry of all manner of species, while others merely suggest small fish by their outline and the way that they move in the water when retrieved correctly. It is probable, however, that the majority are neither shaped nor col- oured like small fish or fry, and succeed in catching trout by the attractor principle. ‘Point’ and ‘dropper’ flies The traditional version of wet fly fishing involves the use of a team of three flies, although in times past there are records of anglers using a dozen or more patterns at the same time. A modern wet fly leader has one fly attached to the end of the leader: this is the ‘point’ fly, and more often than not is a dressing tied to simulate a nymph or bug. Perhaps a yard above the point fly there is a ‘dropper’, a loose length of nylon projecting from the leader to which the second fly, also called a dropper, is attached. This often tends to be an attractor pattern, like a Bloody Butcher, which some anglers believe to be recognized by the trout as a tiny minnow or stickleback. A yard or so above the dropper is another dropper, to which the ‘bob’ fly is tied. This usually tends to be a biggish, bushy dressing, such as a Zulu or a Palmer, which bounces across the surface of the water when retrieved.
Standard tactics when river fishing are to commence at the upstream end of the beat, casting upstream at an angle of 45°, allowing the line to sweep around with the current, and lifting off again when the line forms an angle of 45° downstream. After each retrieve, the angler moves a yard or so downstream and repeats the process. This is virtually the opposite of the dry fly fisherman’s tactics, since he will normally prefer to work upstream, so it is easy to understand why there is conflict between the two schools of thought.
Of course, there is no reason why the wet fly exponent cannot adopt the tactic of working upstream, and modern practice is very often to use just one fly on the leader—the point fly, in fact—and follow exactly the same tactics as the dry fly purist —working upstream and casting only to an observed fish. In such cases, the selected fly will almost always be a sound copy of a natural life form, preferably one which exists in good numbers in the particular fishery. Specific nymph copies can be excellent, as can shrimp patterns. In Stillwater fishing, with no current to work the flies, the angler has to learn to manipulate the flies manually. When fishing from the bank, the choice of a floating line, or one or other of the sinking lines is the same as it is on the river. Whereas line selection on the river, however, may be dictated more by current speed than any other factor, on stillwaters the final selection may well be dictated by the depth of water in front of the angler, the depth at which the trout are feeding, and the speed of the retrieve required to induce a take.
What line to use?
If the trout are taking food close to the surface on slow moving food items, then a floating line and slow retrieve—or no retrieve at all—is indicated, and the take of an in-terested trout is signalled by a movement of the end of the line. Where the trout are deeper, and only willing to accept a fast moving ob- ject, it will be necessary to use a sinking line. The rate of sink depends on the circumstances.
On the larger waters, lure fishing has come into prominence in recent years. Normal practice, almost in-variably, is to attach one lure at the point of the leader and cast this out as far as possible by means of the double haul cast. Distances of 50 yards can be achieved with practice using this technique. A sinking line is usually employed, and retrieval tends to be very fast indeed, so fast that it is known as ‘stripping’. Occasionally trout are willing to accept a lure stripped across the surface using a floating line, which creates a pronounced wake behind the lure.
It seems to be less well known that a lure on a sinking line, fished so slowly that it bounces along the bottom, can be very productive, and often leads to the capture of larger trout. Where it is permitted, the static sunken fly can also prove very killing. This involves casting out a fairly heavily dressed lure on a medium sinking line, letting it sink on the bottom, and just waiting for a trout to snap it up. Sometimes the lure will be taken as it sinks, or is picked up off the bottom shortly after it has settled, but on other occasions one has to resort to an occasional short retrieve before allowing it to settle again. The bed of the lake has to be clear of weed and obstructions for this to be successful, and the water should preferably be at least 6ft deep.
Fishing the traditional ‘team of three’ from a boat can be very exciting. The method is to let the boat drift, casting before you, and retrieving line just fast enough that you keep in touch with your flies as the boat drifts towards them. Often it pays to retrieve faster, so that the bob fly dibbles along the tops of the waves. Sometimes a trout will take the bob fly so close to the boat that the hapless angler is taken completely by surprise.
Lures can be fished very efficiently from a boat, and so can a single fly or nymph, usually on a sinking line. If the boat drifts too quickly this can create difficulties, so the normal practice is to slow down the rate of drift by using a drogue or ‘sea an-chor’—a cone of heavy canvas attached securely to a spreader ring, and allowed to trail over the side—acting as a brake. Alternatively, anchor the boat in a chosen position and fish exactly as one would from the bank.
Catching the biggest trout from reservoirs and very large lakes can be difficult because of the vast expanse of water that has to be covered. Fortunately, a great many small stillwater fisheries have opened up across the country, and many of these have the twin attributes of possessing clear water and quite large trout. Usually it is more expensive to buy a day ticket on these small fisheries than it is on the reservoirs, but value for money is obtained because the average size of the fish is larger and the density of stock very much higher. The average angler catches one reservoir trout of about a pound in weight on each visit. On small fisheries the average is usually three trout which weigh more.
Many of the small fisheries have rules banning lure fishing, or the use of more than one fly on the leader. This makes sense because long casting on a small water is hardly ever necessary, and would interfere with the enjoyment of other anglers. Also, it is easier to persuade a good-sized trout to take an imitation of a natural insect than it is to get it to take a gaudy lure. The most successful anglers study the water very carefully, first of all to locate a trout, and secondly to try to see what it is likely to be eating. The more visits an angler makes to a particular water, the easier he finds it to locate his trout, and guess what the trout is feeding on—or likely to feed on. Once the trout has been seen, and the decision made which fly to tie on, the angler casts his nymph or bug to that trout, just as the dry fly anglers does with surface feeding trout.
This type of wet fly fishing is, however, a little more difficult than dry fly fishing because the trout might be feeding 6ft down from the surface and the angler has to be very accurate with his cast, not only to get the distance right, but also to know that his fly will sink fast enough to reach a trout before it moves on to feed elsewhere. If the water is very deep, it may be necessary to use a sink tip line, but usually it is sufficient to use a floating line with a long leader, and perhaps some lead wire added to the artificial fly when it is being dressed.
Salmon and the wet fly
Wet fly fishing for salmon can be grand sport, although usually very expensive. The usual practice is to make long casts across the river, let your fly drift downstream over likely holding areas, and then retrieve slowly. The flies are often very large—larger even than reservoir lures—and mostly look like nothing on earth. Full dressed traditional salmon flies include Dusty Miller, Jock Scott, Durham Ranger and Thunderand-Lightning. When the water is low much smaller flies are used, with fairly sparse dressing, and indeed, it is probable that some of the more effective reservoir lures have been developed from low water salmon flies.
Low water patterns that have found favour with salmon enthusiasts are Blue Charm and Logie. Such a selection to hand will cover most salmon fishing situations. Although there are always local preferences most of the flies mentioned are also traditional patterns in remote foreign lands. In British Columbia, for example, every tackle shop carries a range similar to that found in England and Scotland. Or fish Nova Scotia’s salmon rivers and you will find virtually no difference in the local pattern, size of fly, or techniques employed, from those used in home waters.
Spinners are almost impossible to spot on the water.
Spinners float along on transparent, outstretched wings, and only the body is visible. If you suspect that trout are taking spinners, have a look in a nearby spider’s web, and if spinners are about you will see some wriggling in the gossamer strands.