Pro Tips: Don’t Swing that Wet Fly

Wet flies, such as this Sparkle Soft Hackle, are more versatile than you may think.
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These days, classic wet flies are probably the most underused patterns in the average American fly fisher’s box. Trailing far behind nymphs, dry flies, and streamers in popularity, wet flies have the reputation of being for older guys or those not willing to sling two tungsten-beadheads and a Thingamabobber. But for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, wet flies were the way to catch fish with a fly rod. Patterns such as the Cow Dung, Partridge and Orange, and Royal Coachman caught a lot of fish back then, and similar patterns will still catch a lot of fish today…if you know how to use them.

When most anglers think of wet-fly presentations, they default to the classic “wet-fly swing”—a down-and-across method that starts with a quartering-downstream cast and then lets the fly swing across the current, usually just under the surface. However, advanced wet-fly aficionados know that there are many ways to fish these patterns more effectively to match the conditions. Presentations such as the Crosfield Draw and the Leisenring Lift (which you may remember from the Trivia Challenge a couple weeks ago) add some action to give the fly a more lifelike motion. For more on these, check out John Likakis’s excellent “Beyond the Swing” on

This video—the trailer for a DVD from Sweden—focuses on fishing wet flies more like you’d fish a dry. Instead of swinging the fly across the current, the anglers here, including Orvis’s Paul Proctor, target specific fish and cast the pattern upstream. As you’ll see, these presentations are effective in different kinds of water. But either way, the key is drifting the fly directly in the fish’s feeding lane, rather than swinging through it. Classic wet-fly patterns are usually quite “buggy,” and the fish respond to them accordingly.

One tactic not on display here, but which can also be deadly, is slathering a wet fly with floatant and fishing it dry. Whether the fish see the fly as a crippled or drowned natural or what, they will sometimes pounce on a floating wet more eagerly than they’ll strike an actual dry fly. So stop ignoring those wet flies in your box; start experimenting with different presentations, and you’re sure to catch more trout.

15 thoughts on “Pro Tips: Don’t Swing that Wet Fly”

  1. Excellent tips on using the wingless soft hackled fly as a dry fly.
    I do that a lot and contrary to common belief the flies float lika a “dry fly”… 🙂
    3-5 fibers from a pheasant tail as… …tail.
    Body from hare or opossum.
    Hackle from partridge.
    Ribbed with copper wire.

    I use a gel as floatant and I apply it very sparsely. I think the fish see them as emergers, spent spinners and cripples.

  2. I’ve been using various techniques for years, fish it like a dry just under/on top of the surface, fish it deep with a few micro-shot, let it dance in the current after the swing, they all work. My favorite is cast them in fast water and just let them go at the end, do nothing, just enjoy the scenery for a few moments and BAM fish on they hook themselves…..

    1. I was just fishing the South Holston with a soft hackle BWO. I put the rod between my legs and let the line dangle downstream while I took a picture of my buddy upstream. You can guess where this is going……BAM. A nice brown hooked itself while I was taking the photo.

  3. Learned to use a soft hackle greased with floatant as a spinner in flat water back in the 1990’s. It’s harder to see, but for big picky fish in flat water it can be very effective. If you have that old strike indicator putty put a tiny bit of it on your tippet knot to help see where your fly is.

  4. I am a tremendous fan of Partridge Hackle, because it mimics a small stonefly, even though the opinions on it are fairly divided. Since the Slovenian waters are fast and moving, this is always my first soft-hackle choice for moving water. I go with this soft hackle especially in May and June.

  5. Try fishing one on a dropper above a weighted nymph. Every 3rd cast, let your flies swim past you down stream and at the end of the drift, lift the rod to induce the take. If you are walking up stream, leave your rig trailing in the water behind you. I have landed plenty of fish that have taken the wet flies ares I walked up to the next spot.

  6. Was fishing the Big Thompson near Estes Park this past Sunday and was kicking myself that I did not have any wet flies on me. Did pretty okay still nymphing but needing to fish sub-surface on that small a stream called for a wet fly.

  7. All true but no one ever says, even though it’s true, that down and across and let her swing is a surprisingly effective way to catch fish. Some days, it’s the only thing that works. And it’s really rewarding to catch fish that way.

  8. Sylvester Nemes was the soft hackled fly master. Dead drift it like a nymph. Try Syl’s Midge and pick up a copy of “The Soft Hackled Fly” and “Tiny Soft Hackles: A Trout Fisherman’s Guide.”

  9. Soft hackle collars on any fly weather deep nymph, in the film wet, or even dry flies often produce magical results. I’m a true believer in the soft hackle collar! 😀

  10. As a bonus, they are the perfect fly to use when teaching a novice. At any place in the drift, in the film, slightly submerged or on the bottom, a little drag will actually entice a strike. They can’t be fished incorrectly!

  11. Just ‘re started wet fly fishing thanks to local guide Loise Noble’s encouragement.
    What a great system
    Waterhen Bloa on top orange and partridge as a middle dropper and a tungsten hares ear or PTN (pending water speed and depth)
    Killer setup!!

  12. When one casts them upstream the point is not to fish them on the surface like a dry but rather to dead drift them like a dry sub surface. A great book on this is Sylvester Nemes 1978 book Fishing the Soft-Hackle fly. Well worth finding used and reading. Peter Knight, PEI, Canada

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