Little Wet Fly for Fussy Trout

Quiet water where at dusk and after dark a smaller size 14 "spider" we! fly will rake sub-surface feeding trout on sedges. Little Wet Fly.
Quiet water where at dusk and after dark a smaller size 14 "spider" we! fly will rake sub-surface feeding trout on sedges.

Little Wet Fly for Fussy Trout

By Tony Orman

Old habits can die hard with anglers and one ancient method of flyfishing, the little wet fly, is a tactic that can be productive with selectively feeding trout, particularly at dusk.

Little wet flies were probably used by Englishman Charles Cotton who in 1676, wrote of fishing “at the top of the water.” Since then there’s been new developments such as nymph fishing. Perhaps I can admit to some blame in New Zealand when in 1974 I wrote a book, “Trout with Nymph,” which focused attention on a potent method of catching trout.

In the book, I did include a chapter “By Other Means” in which I stressed the need to have at one’s disposal other methods such as dry fly and of course, the little wet fly.

Anglers can be narrow in their thinking and like selective trout concentrate on just one thing to the detriment of their success rate. They adopt a “mono-method” outlook. When the nymph doesn’t work, it may be the little wet fly like the March Brown, Hardies Favorite and Red Tipped Governor, are more effective than the dry fly or streamer lure.

The Motueka is a lovely little river in the Nelson region. It rises in a stark alpine area known as the Red Hills and plunges into a deep, almost impassable gorge, before beginning a winding course down its pastoral valley. There it runs into a succession of pools, riffles and rapids and holds a high population of brown trout. It’s rated as having one of the heaviest populations of trout.

I lived near the Motueka in the eighties, enjoying the river and its trout. However, they can be difficult to catch.

Often the rise did not happen, the fish were there feeding below the surface and taking the nymphs as they ascended to the surface. I used to tie on a small March Brown and began to fish “blind” searching the water with a succession of casts across, and on each, let the little wet fly go with the current until the line pulled the nylon cast and fly around.

It worked.

I could tell of many twilights when the little wet fly took trout and on other rivers – the brown trout of the Karamea River on the South Island’s West Coast, the rainbow trout on the Tukituki on the east coast of the North Island – and others.

Charles Cotton’s 17th-century method is certainly a time-proven, universally successful method of fly fishing! Three centuries old in fact!

Evening is a good time for fishing the little wet fly. Then the caddis, or sedges as they are sometimes termed, can hatch.

There are stages in the hatching of a fly from its nymphal stage as larvae amongst the stones, its ascent to the surface film, and then the final adult stage.

Trout are logical and select a stage where the insect is vulnerable. Trout are likely to take the nymph as it struggles to the surface and penetrates the surface film in its endeavours to reach adulthood.

An American, Vernon S “Pete” Hidy coined the phrase “flymph” to describe the intermediate stage of the insect in the surface film. He coined the phrase “flymph” to describe it. In his words, he did so “to accurately identify that dramatic and little understood interval of an aquatic insect’s life; the struggle up to the surface film.” Pete Hidy and James Leisenring jointly wrote a modest-looking but extremely perceptive book, called “The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph.”

James Leisenring developed the “Leisenring Lift“ to make a fly lift. It was a delicate subtle lift he imparted. He wrote that he “does not try to impart any fancy movements to my fly with my rod.” He would allow the flymph to drift naturally until checking its progress by ceasing to follow it with his fly rod. Then the slight tension from the water pressure flowing against the nylon cast and line would cause the fly to rise slowly with movement of the soft hackles.

The flymph that Pete Hidy and James Leisenring used was a small soft hackled wet fly. Their patterns were simple. To illustrate the point, the Black Spider pattern in their book was as follows:

Hook: size 14.
Silk: Tawny brown.
Hackle: Purplish black starling feather.
Body: Waxed tying thread.

It seems reasonable that in blind fishing “across and down” with a little wet fly in the evening, the fly on entering the water, sinks a dozen or more centimetres, begins its drift and in the next few metres of being carried downstream, fishes naturally. Then as the line begins to pull the fly, the pressure of the line probably causes the little wet fly to lift. Most takes come in the first several metres of the drift when fishing across and down.

It is a delicate method. Trout will take so softly sometimes barely perceptible as they “mouth” the fly.

The tightening (or wrongly named “strike”) must be instant. That is achieved by casting with the right hand (left-handers reverse it) and holding the rod with that hand, while the left holds the line against the rod with the forefinger. The rod is pointed along the line and the line follows as it eventually swings and eventually straightens below.

While the take may be soft, sometimes it’s a sharp pull. However often the bigger fish are the delicate takes, so gentle it’s just a nip or even a subtle pressure almost imperceptible.

One hundred and twenty-odd years ago, Captain Hamilton wrote a book called “Trout and Other Sport in Maoriland.” He fished the Manawatu River and in his fine book, the good captain gave some good advice.

“The multiplication of the varieties of flies used is one of the ways of making a complicated business of what is a simple matter – I have no hesitation in saying that, used by a skilful flyfisher, five flies will do more execution than the largest variety with their endless list of names.”

Tossing a little wet fly upstream into pocket water like this small Nelson area stream works well too. Little Wet Fly.
Tossing a little wet fly upstream into pocket water as this small Nelson area stream works well too.

Captain Hamiltons five flies were:

No.1, red hackle, light brown mallard wing, yellow silk body, is the most easily seen when the water is discoloured and therefore best for use at that time.

No.2, turn of brown partridge hackle, hare ear body, light woodcock wing put together with yellow silk. A killing fly when the water is clear and low.

No.3, black hackle, grouse wing, brown silk body put together with brown silk. Easily seen when the water is clear and low and kills well then.

No.4, Spider, black hackle, tied with brown silk, brown-silk body. Easily seen when the water is low and clear. A good fly to use as a tail fly when the trout are getting into high condition and shy and when there is bright sunshine.

No.5, Spider, brown partridge hackle, hares ear body put together with yellow silk. Very killing when the water is clear and low among high-conditioned and shy trout. Used as a tail fly this is perhaps the most reliable of the whole, particularly among large trout of two pounds and upwards.

“These flies are improved by a tail, formed of a couple of strands of the hackle used in each, varying in length from a quarter of an inch to half an inch, in proportion to the size of the fly.”

Charles Cotton in England in the 17th century or Captain Hamilton, almost a century ago here, they all knew the value of the little wet fly.

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