Fishing dry flies like wet flies might seem like a contradiction, but it’s a perfectly valid technique that can bring you to more and larger trout anywhere in the country.
On one of my local Wisconsin trout streams, for example, I once noticed a few adult caddisflies fluttering along the water’s edge. There were no fish rising, so I tied on a size 14 Elk-Hair Caddis dry, clamped a size 7 (leadless) split shot about 8 inches above the fly, and lobbed the combo into the heavy flow at the top of a pool. On my third cast, I hooked a solid, 17-inch brown that splashed wildly as I landed and released it.
A dry fly with split shot? Absolutely. It’s a trick I’ve used successfully many times around the world. The trick with this trick is knowing when and how to use it.
On the day I just described, for example, I figured the adult caddisflies were laying eggs. Most egg-laying caddis females either crawl underwater on a protruding log or rock, or dive-bomb in and swim to the bottom. To breathe, the insect carries an air bubble around her body. Once on the bottom, she deposits her eggs and then releases her hold and pops to the surface, buoyed by the air bubble. At the surface the bubble bursts, and the female immediately flies off. Some trout, especially smaller ones, chase the rapidly ascending females and grab at them. Such swift pursuit often carries the fish in an arcing jump well above the water.
What’s Really Going On
Many anglers, seeing the caddisflies and the jumping fish, mistake this activity for a hatch and fish a dry fly on top. But the fish aren’t taking the dry fly dry; they’re taking the dry fly wet. This is when fishing the adult imitation on the bottom pays off.
And though I fish an adult caddis pattern wet more often than other adult (dry) imitations (there’s at least some caddis egg-laying going on all season), many other opportunities arise to fish a dry wet. Aquatic moths pupate on riverbottom stones, where the adults hatch and then swim to the surface. The golden stonefly of the Pacific Northwest and the Quill Gordon mayfly of the East both shed their nymphal husks on the bottom and swim to the surface as emergent adults. And many kinds of adult blue-winged olive (Baetis) mayflies go underwater to lay eggs directly on the stream bottom. Then, too, terrestrials like beetles and ants often fall onto the water and are washed under.
All of these subsurface insects can produce good feeding activity by the fish. And though it’s possible to tie specific imitations of the dry flies to be fished wet, there’s really no need to do so. Just use the standard dry fly; it works fine.
**Getting Down **
The trick to fishing the dry fly wet is to get it down and keep it down. Use a 9-foot leader tapering down to 2X, 3X, 4X, or 5X (depending on fly size). Clamp the appropriate split shot 6 to 10 inches above the fly. Add a floating strike indicator about 5 feet above the fly.
The amount and size of split shot needed is easily determined: Too much or too large a shot, and the fly rockets to the bottom and just sits. Not enough or too small, and the fly never gets down.
But how do you know if the fly is down? That’s the job of the indicator. The split shot is there to anchor the fly against the drag of the line in deeper currents and to prevent the fly from being towed back to the surface by drag. The indicator’s job is to tell you the drift speed of the fly. Since the fly is near the bottom where the currents are slowest, it will be drifting more slowly than the foam at the surface where the currents are fastest. If the floating indicator is drifting at one-half to two-thirds the speed of the adjacent surface foam, the submerged and unseen fly is drifting correctly. Add or subtract split shot until you get the correct drift speed.
Don’t jerk on the line every time the indicator jiggles orr hesitates momentarily. That’s just the shot hitting the bottom. When you get a fish on, you’ll know. When a fish grabs the fly, the drifting shot pulls the hook around, making it grab in the fish’s jaw. The fish, feeling the tension of the leader, shakes its head or takes off, and the indicator jerks under sharply or snaps sideways abruptly. The movement of the strike indicator is very positive in that case. If you’re unsure but think you might have had a strike, just lift the rod tip a few inches. That way you don’t pull the fly out of its drift line if a trout hasn’t actually struck.