Fish with the Bish
July 28, 2007
Twilight approached and the caddis were popping off the water like Orville Redenbacher’s searing kernels.
The trout were gorging on the surface of the water and darting swallows were feasting above. But, for some reason, a tug eluded the end of my line.
After trying the few caddis fly patterns in my box with no success, I hiked out of the river. I walked over a bridge and watched a man fishing in a unique style.
He was casting diagonally downstream, putting a downstream loop in his line and letting the current pull the fly in an arc across the river. Each time, it seemed, somewhere in what I though was an "unnatural" drift, he yelped as he hooked another, and another.
I waited until he was done before asking for a lesson on how to fish wet flies, and he obliged.
A natural drift, with no movement, makes the fly look more like real bugs tumbling down a river – usually. But there are times when an aquatic insect goes on the move, usually when a hatch begins.
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Most insects on a fish’s menu go through various stages.
No.1 is the nymph stage, when they are crawling around on the riverbed. About 80 percent of a trout’s diet comes from nymphs and other aquatic life off the bottom.
However, because of weather, temperature and other factors, many of those nymphs start to grow wings in preparation to breed. This is the emerging phase, when they emerge, or swim, to the top of the water and dry out their wings.
The bugs are vulnerable at this point and trout often key in on these emergers just before and during a hatch.
Whether it’s caddis, mayflies or midges, for each bug there are numerous fly patterns that imitate the "emerging stage." Most of them are wet fly patterns that have some sort of hackle, wing or feather that gives lots of movement at the top of the fly, which looks like budding wings.
But no matter how revolutionary the pattern, it won’t make a difference if it’s not fished correctly.
How to fish wet flies
As with all small flies, it’s important to put it right in front of the fish. An 18-inch brown isn’t going to swim five feet to slam a small midge pattern as it might when attacking a big streamer or rapala. The return on its investment isn’t nearly as rewarding.
So, your first object would be to read the stream and understand where the fish might be and where the emerging insects might be rising.
One way to fish the wet fly is to cast upstream and to the side, and let it drift down without a drag until it starts to coast below you. At the end of the drift, use the current, like the guy below the bridge did, and let it swing out until the fly reaches the surface. Make sure to hold it there for about two seconds.
Often, people catch fish this way by accident. They are done with the drift and their fly pauses in the water just before they cast again. As they move their rod for another cast, the line seems stuck in the water and the tug-tug-tug of a hooked fish shocks them. Although the angler may not have meant to hook this fish, he or she unknowingly made the fly look like an emerging insect.
There are many ways to fish a wet fly. As with all things fishing, experimentation is always a good idea. If the typical dead drift or swing doesn’t work, do something different before changing flies.
Another technique is letting the fly drift downstream in front of you into what looks to be a good area. Try to make it rise as soon as it reaches the spot.
Keep letting it go downriver. Strip out a couple feet to let the fly sink, then either hold the line to let it come back to the surface or mend the line so the current will make it swing. Or, let it dead drift only a couple inches before pulling it up, making it skip on the surface a couple times. Sometimes the fish will explode on the skidding fly.
This is a good way to get a fly into difficult areas such as underbrush, logs and eddies where monsters can be waiting to pounce. Also, there’s not a lot of casting and, especially for the novice, it can be easier than trying to constantly manipulate the line, trying to make a natural dead drift.
Remember, there’s no wrong or right way to fish the wet fly. Just try to think of how and where an emerging insect might be, then make it look like one.
E-mail Dan Bischoff at firstname.lastname@example.org