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Fly Fishing 101, Part 26

The 10 Best Wet Flies

Wet flies fall into a catagory of flies that mostly represent real insects, but are not really nymphs - a stage somewhere between nymph and emerging to a winged form. Most are fished like nymphs. Methods for fishing each are included here. Wet flies are very old patterns, dating back to the era before winged flies were used. The first description of the Woolly Worm was described in a 16th century book, The Art of Angling by Thomas Barker. The following list is in order of importance:

  1. Brown Hackle Peacock.
  2. Gray Hackle Yellow.
  3. "True" Woolly Worm.
  4. Brown Woolly Worm.
  5. Black Woolly Worm.
  6. Gray-Brown Woolly Worm.
  7. Olive Woolly Worm.
  8. Hare's Ear.
  9. Black Ant.
  10. Coachman.

    From 40 Best Trout Flies by Robert H.Alley.
    Published by Frank Amato Publication.
    Thanks for use permission.

    Brown Hackle Peacock & Gray Hackle Yellow: Very important flies, differing only in when they are fished. Fish either as a nymph, not deeper than twenty feet. Use a Wet Cell line and a nine or ten-foot leader, and 4X tippet . Fly size should be a 14 or 16. Here is when to fish which! The size 16 Brown is best used for early in the year to about the first of May. Use the Yellow through the heat of summer in the same sizes. When fishing where trout are sipping tiny insects just below the surface, use the same fly on a floating line with 4X, 10-foot leader and cast the fly just short of a feeding fish, let the fly sink for just a second a twitch lightly once or twice. If the fish doesn't take, slowly and carefully strip the fly back to you and cast to another feeding fish.

    "True" Woolly Worm: Use this fly in lakes crawled on the bottom, (sinking line in size 10 or 12). In streams, fish on the bottom and work with slow cross-stream retrieves. This fly, tied without the traditional red tail and fully palmered, is an imitative fly. It should be tied on a size 12, 3XL hook. This is a must have pattern.

    Brown Woolly Worm: A size 12 Brown Wooly Worm is one of the all-time best sellers. It represents both the damselfly and Callibaetis mayfly. Fish this pattern from the bottom to the top of the surface of the lake, since the nymph shoots to the top quickly. Use a sinking or wet line, retrieve in 3 to 4-inch strips. For streams, use a floating line and a small split shot with a long leader. A slow and easy retrieve with an occasional fast strip is effective.

    Black Woolly Worm: Here is a fly imitating many insects. In spring a beetle or water bug, later in the season a big drowned ant, stonefly or cricket. Early in the year (April) fish dead-slow on the bottom of ponds and lakes. You cannot fish this fly too slow. In moving currents, fish cross-stream in riffles, and use upstream slow pulls in holes. It can also be fished upstream and drifted to the bottom on a floating line with a long leader. Let the fly pass well below you before you flip, or roll cast the fly back upstream. Size 12 or smaller as the season progresses is recommended.

    Gray-Brown Woolly Worm: Sizes should be from 8 to 12, depending on the size of insects in the water. Use this fly in both lakes and streams. Work extremely slowly with the slightest twitch in lakes to give a erratic movement. Weight the fly or use a small split shot about a foot up the leader from the fly and bounce or roll along the bottom of streams.

    Olive Woolly Worm: This pattern is for shallow and weedy areas, in depths from three to eight feet. Use a size 8 and twelve. This pattern works because it matches the color of the weed beds and the insects who live there. Use a floating line, and long leader (9 - 10 feet). Use the size 12 in the spring and summer, and the larger size 8 in the fall. Short and jerky line strips, imitating the natural swimming action of the insects, works best. In rivers and limestone creeks this is and important spring fly. Use a floating line and leader of up to twelve feet. Cast across and up-current letting the fly slowly sink. If a cruising fish comes by, hold your breath and let the fly drift just a bit more and barely dart the fly toward one side. Very effective.

    Hare's Ear: You should have this fly in three sizes, 10, 12, and 14. Mostly an eastern pattern, it can be fished almost like a dry fly as well as wet. If you do not have the proper caddis or mayfly pattern with you, this fly in a size 16 may catch fish. Fish this one from the top of the water to the bottom. Use a nine or 10-foot leader, tapered to 4X (or tie on 4X leader) and a floating line. The fly should be cast inches short of the rise and quickly darted - just under the surface. If the fish doesn't hit, do not pick the fly up. Keep the fly just under the surface and bring it back in short, erratic strips.

    Black Ant: Really a special occasion fly, here is something to fish when currents are muddy. During thunderstorms, ants and other terrestrials are swept into the stream from the banks. Use a size 12 and fish a couple of inches under the surface. If you have a clear water section, float the fly through the muddy water and into the clear. Muddy water generally clears in a hour or so after a storm, so the use of the fly is limited. A size 14 or 16 on a floating line without any weight is also one to try when you are fishing new water. Gentle presentation is a must! If you need more depth, use a longer leader and cast further upstream. This fly is not effect on lakes unless, as in the West, you have a strong hatch of flying ants.

    Coachman: This fly in a size 12 makes a good exploratory pattern in eastern waters. It should be fished with a long leader on a floating line. Swim and dart the fly which looks like almost any little fish swimming in an Eastern brook. It does not seem to work in western waters.

    Wet flies are the very oldest of fly patterns. They are still around because they still work. For our purposes though, remember they are the third most productive flies. If "catching" is the game, start with nymphs, streamers and then wet flies. Back to the fly shop! (Do they know your name by now?) Look at the 10 wet flies listed here. Compare them to each other. Note the differences and similarities. Which 'variation' best suits your needs? Are there local variations? If so, ask "why?" To catch fish you must know what a fish eats! There are no stupid questions - except the one you didn't ask. Have a question? Email me! ~ DB

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