by John Merwin
The first red-winged blackbirds of the season showed up around our bird feeders this morning. I always take them as a sign of spring, even though this morning they appeared in the middle of a violent ice-and-snow storm. That got me thinking about trout fishing, of course, which further got me thinking about old-fashioned wet flies.
The classic wet flies shown in the photo were tied by Charlie Krom, an old-timer who is as good as it gets when it comes to making these things. I once worked with Charlie to do an article on just how he makes such elegant-looking flies. One secret is that he ties in each wing along the upper side of a fly one at a time instead of crimping a pair of wings on top as is most commonly done. When it comes to actually fishing, I think that tying style produces a fly that swims better in the water–and catches more fish–than conventional styles. But that’s purely my opinion. Your mileage may differ.
I fish wet flies for trout often because I like the tradition and enjoy doing it. This could mean just swinging the flies in the current, cast after cast, while working my way downstream. It’s a lazy way of fishing, but feels good with the warm spring sun on my back and the current swirling around my legs.
Or sometimes I’ll fish them dead-drift and deeper, maybe adding a microshot to the tippet to gain depth. This will be high-sticking, often in a riffle, and is essentially the same way I’d fish a nymph. It’s more work and requires more concentration than simply swinging the fly, but it is also much more productive. And no, I usually don’t use a strike indicator.
In either case, my wet patterns are usually small–typically a size 16. Little ones work better than big ones, at least most of the time, or so I think. But there can be an imitative basis for larger sizes, too. A size 14 Lady Beaverkill wet looks just like a drowned Hendrickson mayfly spinner, for example. And soft-hackled wet flies in a variety of sizes can imitate an equal variety of hatching caddis and mayflies.
And yes, sometimes I fish a “cast” of wets, meaning two or three strung out along the leader as droppers. As long as I remember to throw a slightly wider-than-normal line loop when casting, this generally works pretty well without tangling too often. But however you fish them, those old-fashioned wets deserve to be part of your arsenal this spring. Not so much to turn you into a trout-catching machine (although they might), as just because they’re fun to use….