The Wet Fly by Philip Blair
I have fished wet fly in rivers, lochs/loughs and in both Scotland and Ireland. I have also used it for both brown and rainbow trout. I can assure everyone that it works in all those areas and that doing it must be pretty easy as I have caught fish on it :-) It is traditional to fish 3 flies on a cast. In general they are a bushy bob fly on the top dropper, a winged or hackled fly on the middle and a winged or hackled fly on the point. Sizes in Ireland are usually 6 - 12 while in Scotland 8 - 14 would be more usual (This is very general). (There are areas in Scotland where 6 - 7 flies on a cast are traditional.) For successful loch fishing a rod of about 11 feet is used, usually with a fairly soft action. Line weights are usually from 6 to 8 but to some extent that depends on conditions, specially wind. The line is always floating. The main reason for such a big rod, even though the trout may be only 8 - 10 inches, is to cope with the wind and also the high banks which sometimes surround the loughs. A long rod also allows the angler to dabble the bob fly in the wave from a boat. The common method on stillwater is to sit in a boat drifting downwind and casting a short line in front of the boat. If a fish rises 20 yards away you just wait until the boat drifts closer to it, no need to get too worked up about the whole thing. The bigger the wave the bigger the fly, in a flat calm stay in the pub. A good 3 foot wave is not uncommon on the Irish loughs and with a west wind, broken cloud and a good partner fun will be had by all. The team of flies is cast out and retrieved, you can try various speeds of retrieve, some anglers prefer to strip about 3 feet of line at a time quite quickly, others a figure of eight retrieve. As the team comes back towards the boat lift the rod point to dapple the bob fly along the surface of the water in the wave, quite often this technique gets you a take on the bob fly or attracts a fish to one of the other flies. Traditional boat fishing is as simple as that, until you try to do it. I much prefer to fish from the bank, despite the Irish tradition of taking to a boat at all times. A lot of that is to do with me as I like to travel very light, walk and also I often fish lochs on Lewis where there are few boats available and the only way to get a boat to them would be by helicopter. Bank fishing is pretty similar in technique and approach, basically you throw it out and haul it back. All I can say is that the more time you spend throwing it out and hauling it back the more fish you will catch so maybe there is more to it. If you want to take stillwater fish on the wet fly here's what to do/take:- Find a remote water that you'll have all to yourself. Take the following gear:- 11 foot (ish) fairly soft rod. Reel and floating line. Stiff leader material (Avoids those wind knots, specially in a 40mph wind) of at least 6lb breaking strain (i.e. something about 2X or 0X) 3 flies in a selection of sizes. Lunch. Flask of hot water and cup, for making tea. Tea. Swiss Army Knife. Outdoor clothing and stout walking boots. That's all you take, no need for anti-gravity fly floatant, electric line dressing machine, thermo-nuclear laser tippet straightner. All that stuff is right out, if you want to carry stuff about you can stay home and run up and down the stairs :-) On your first trip take the following 3 flies, you will later want to expand your selection but to start with 3 flies are enough for anyone:- Blue Zulu. This is the bob fly. It goes on the top dropper. Tail: Red wool. Body: Black floss/seals fur. Something black anyhow. Rib: Silver, oval is common but a flat rib adds a bit more flash. Body Hackle: Black palmered hen or cock. Cock will give a bit more kick and make the fly fish higher in the water, hen gives a bit more movement. Collar Hackle: Blue hen. Solicitor. This is a new Scottish fly which is doing very well on the middle dropper, it is also a good bright fly and sometimes that is what is required. Tail: Orange cock. Body: Gold lurex Rib: Oval gold. Body hackle: Ginger cock which has been stripped on one side. Collar hackle: Furnace. Black Pennel. A wonderful fly, best not to tie a leader without this one. Tail: Pheasant tippet. Body: Black floss/seals fur. Rib: Oval/flat silver. Collar hackle: black hen. Once you get to the water all that remains to be done is make tea and watch the world go by for a bit. Once you've done a bit of that it's probably time to catch a few fish. Tie on your 3 flies and throw them out. You don't need to cast miles but stand on the points and not in the bays. The water will be a bit deeper there and you can cast into the bays from the points, on any loch there are always small bays and points or rocks which jut out. Make sure that the wind is behind you, there's no point killing yourself casting into the wind. If there is a big wave with white tops then put a size 8 or even 6 fly on, in more moderate conditions it's probably best to put 10s or 12s on. Vary your retrieve, if the water's warm then speed up a bit but there are no rules. Don't stand in the one spot all day, keep on the move. Also be sure to do a fair amount to looking around you as there will probably be lots of interesting things going on. I always find it quite civilized to have a wee sleep in the afternoon, be careful not to sleep right through to dark though, specially if the walk back is very difficult. After all that it's just a matter of pulling the fish out. Now I'll bet that there are a few out there who don't believe that it's that simple, or that fishing could be so uncomplicated and fun :-) Go on, give it a try and see. Previously I explained how we go about our wet fly fishing in still waters. In this one I am going to attempt to explain why we do it that way, then those of you fishing under different conditions can see if anything I say is any use to them. Be sure to note that I'm far from an expert in anything, I've never read a book on fishing and I only rarely read a magazine. So this is just what I do, there are many people on the list who are much better read and who have probably had the chance to try the wet fly in many different types of waters. Basically this is what I do, and I enjoy it, more than that I can't say. LEADERS. Why fish strong, stiff and untapered leaders? Well the material has to be stiff to avoid wind knots. A limp material will just tangle in no time at all and I suspect that this is why many people give up fishing 3 flies. One of the best anglers I knew used leader material that you could tie up an ocean liner with, it was only slightly thinner than his flyline and clearly he had bought it in bulk from a sea fishing outlet as it was bright green. He could produce fish on demand though and he was safe in the knowledge that nothing in the loch could ever hope to break him. The leader doesn't need to be tapered, doing all that takes time and is a bit of a pain. Most Irish/Scots anglers tie up their leader at the loch side, on a windy day it might be a bit stiffer and shorter for example. Life is much to short to spend half a day tying knots when the flies don't really need to be turned over. Presentation is important but not to the extent it is with the dry fly. With modern leader material there is really no need to fish light. I would never fish wet with less than 6lb breaking strain. I use the Hardy Co-Polymer Tippet material for all my fishing but in breaking strains below 6lb it's too limp. On a windy day I would often go to 10lb material. Also some of the big Irish loughs get BIG fish, one angler on Corrib this year landed 3 trout for over 42 pounds, the best one was 20lb!!! These are wild brown trout so they are not short of a good fight. The average fish off some of these loughs this year has been 5lb. RODS. There seems to be some concern about getting a soft rod. Soft rods are traditional for the wet fly and fishing the softer rod might give you a slight advantage but in general humans are very smart and very good at adapting to their circumstances. So get out any rod you feel is up to the job and give it a go. In September I spent 2 weeks fishing on the Isle of Lewis off the north west of Scotland. This is real, traditional, wet fly country. I took my 8 1/2 foot Orvis Western Traveller rod with a 5 weight line on it. This rod is 3 feet too short and a lot faster than a traditional loch rod but I still caught fish and I had great fun. If you want a real serious loch rod then it needs to be 11 foot+ as this allows you to dibble the bob fly in the wave. Also some lochs sit in hollows surrounded by steep banks and the longer rod allows you to cast without catching the heather. Leeda currently make an ideal loch rod, it's 11 foot, 5 - 7 weight, 2 piece and costs about 160 pounds (About $240ish). However unless you are a convert just keep going with the softest of your usual rods, you'll do just fine. WEIGHT. Some folks suggested putting weight on the leader, we don't do that here as brown trout tend to feed quite high up in the water. If you can put the fly above them then it presents a nice strong image against the brighter sky, so perhaps fish will come from quite deep to take the fly. Also many of the lochs I would normally fish are quite shallow, anyone arriving with a float tube may be disappointed to discover that their feet touch the bottom almost everywhere on some. Needless to say weight is not required in such areas. There is also the aspect that for many of the more traditional anglers adding weight or a strike indicator would not quite be the done thing. That is entering into the area of coarse fishing for many. Fly fishing involves a fly, a leader and a fly line, to add anything else is not fly fishing. I can, however, see how both a strike indicator and indeed some weight might be useful on a river. I must make a confession here and say that I now own 2 sinking braided leaders which I might use next season. This is a radical departure from the true wet fly person who fishes a floating line at all times. FLIES. We fish a cast with three flies. The usual format is that the top, bob, fly is a bushy fly, the others are your usual hackled or winged flies. Now I did see someone post that in their part of the world the bushy fly went on the "point" i.e. the very end of the leader, the reasoning being that it acts as an anchor for the other flies. What a wind they must have in that area :-) Seriously though we have a very good reason for putting a bushy fly on the top dropper, a bushy fly generally fishes just below the water surface, specially when retrieved. This is exactly what we want as the other flies then "hang" below it fishing at different depths. I suspect that many times the big, bright bob fly which may be causing a bit of a disturbance on the water surface attracts the fish to the other flies. The recent article on wet fly fishing in American Angler commented that the "old" bright flies were out and that the flies now used were dull and more insect like. I suspect that this was a cunning ploy to get the dry fly and nymph people involved in wet fly fishing. The old patterns still kill a lot of fish, that's why they are old but still in use. Some of the traditional patterns are indeed very bright however I'm told that some insects pick up air bubbles and small fish and such like are also quite bright so maybe a bright fly appears quite tasty to a trout for these reasons. There are a few general rules worth considering:- Big wave = big fly. Always have something black and hairy on. Bright fly for a bright day. Armed with this information you can now get out there and catch some fish. I feel that it might be useful to describe the construction of a wet fly cast as for some people this is very new to them. This is how I do it, other anglers might do it slightly differently but with most it's close enough to make no difference. The main length of leader material is level and has a point fly at one end and a loop at the other for attaching to the fly line. I fish an 11 foot rod and my cast usually ends up about the same length as my rod, or just longer. I don't measure this and it is just a case of what feels right. I would say that 9 - 12 feet would be about right. To this main length I tie 2 dropper lengths. Usually I knot them on using a Water Knot, it is much easier to tie than a blood knot and so tends to be more consistantly reliable. The Water Knot is also faster to tie which is an advantage. After tying and knotting for about 10 minutes I end up with something looking like this (Sue might recognise it):- Bob Fly x / / 0------------------------------------------------------x Point fly \ \ x Middle dropper Now in actual fact, with the Water Knot, the droppers don't stand out too well and I have never found this a problem. Yes they do wrap around the main length of nylon but they usually unwind in the water or on the next cast. The length of dropper isn't very important, I like to leave then long enough to allow changing flies a few times before I have to construct a whole new leader. I think that the most important thing in all of this is that we use STIFF NYLON and using very limp nylon seems to be the reason many people never quite enjoy fishing with droppers. On a windy day I would go to 10 pounds BS nylon just for the extra stiffness it provides. What you must now remember is that you are setting out to fish in a most traditional way. So take it easy, have a cup of tea and sit back to consider what three flies you will tie on. The fish will still be there in 10 minutes. It's useful if the cast is well balanced so that bushy bob fly goes on the top dropper to keep the cast fishing neatly in the water, sometimes you might like to put a slightly bigger fly on in the bob position. The middle dropper is the poor relations to the bob and point fly and so doesn't require quite so much consideration. The point fly is usually a slim construction to encourage it to sink quite quickly (No, I didn't mention weight) and it's your nymph so something like a Black Pennell or Mallard and Claret goes on here. If you are new to wet fly fishing then be sure to give it a good trying out, it might not always be as easy as it appears and so quote someone, but I forget who, "The more I practise the luckier I get."