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Wet Fly Fishing on Rivers – When, Where and How?

Published: 2nd July 2019 | Author: Simon Robinson

With the popularity of techniques such as French/euro nymphing taking over river fishing in recent years the traditional method of wet fly fishing on rivers seems to have been largely forgotten by the majority of anglers.

Whilst I must admit that wet fly fishing on rivers has taken a back seat for me in many situations, I know from past experience that it can still out-fish more modern methods and therefore it is always worth carrying a selection of spider patterns at all times.

Upon reflection, in the past, wet fly fishing on rivers has been surprisingly effective for me, it played a vital part in some of my competition fishing success and I remember using the method in winning sessions in several Nationals and International Championships.

This method has also traveled well I can remember wet fly fishing on rivers working extremely well on many international venues during World and European championships. These included situations as diverse as Scandinavian grayling, wild rainbows in New Zealand and even chub in Slovakia!

When Should you Fish Wet Flies?

Wet flies can work at any time of the year, however, they are most popular early in the season, where they can be used to imitate hatching nymphs and patterns such as Greenwell’s spiders, Waterhen Bloa and March Brown imitations can be deadly. Wet flies are so effective early in the season as they allow the angler to cover lots of water and also effectively fish the slower glides where the fish tend to hold at this time of year.

As the fish move into the faster water during summer, anglers move over to tungsten nymph patterns and forget that wet flies can still be used effectively in the slower glides or when fish are taking food items drifting just subsurface.

I have had some excellent success with small wet flies in the summer in some of the slower glides, they also allow the angler to cast a reasonably long line and as a result not spook fish in slow water where any disturbances are easily detected by nervous fish. In this slow water, anglers are usually limited to either dry or streamer fishing, using wet flies opens up areas where fish can be taken at range on subsurface patterns.

wet fly fishing on rivers

Set-ups for Wet Fly Fishing

You can fish wet flies on most of the modern rods in the 9 – 11ft range for 3 – 5 weight lines. I do prefer a slightly faster action rod to allow better casting, but they are not essential.

The main adjustment most anglers will need to make is to the leader, you simply can not fish wets or spiders effectively with long fine French leaders. The method, in my experience, is best suited to level leaders (or with very short butt tapers) connected directly to the fly line via a loop. This is due to the fly line playing a vital role in casting and controlling the flies – ironically the total opposite of modern nymph methods!

When fishing wet flies I will usually use a 2 or 3 fly set up with the total leader length around the same length as the rod. Flies are on short droppers (around 4 inches) and are spaced at around 3 – 4 ft intervals along the leader. Tippet material is usually fluorocarbon as it is slightly stiffer and sinks subsurface and I like to take advantage of the finer diameters of the Fulling Mill Masterclass Fluorocarbon in diameter of around 0.12- 0.14mm (5.5X and 6X).

Fishing Wet Flies/Spiders

Wet fly fishing on rivers is one of the few methods that can be effective fishing both up and downstream, on smaller rivers my preference is to fish them upstream, either directly up or ‘up and across’ the stream. Takes are detected by watching for either a swirl as the fly is taken or any unnatural movement of the fly line tip. For this reason, it is important to treat the tip of the fly line with a floating gel or grease to help identify takes, a high floating line can also be lifted smoothly from the water when recasting.

Wet flies in my opinion really come into their own in the slower glides on larger rivers, in these areas the angler can cast to difficult to reach places and avoid getting too close to the fish whilst still imitating food items drifting the in the water column. In these areas, I like to cast across or ‘across and down’ at various angles to the current depending on how fast and deep I want my flies to fish. Generally, the further the cast is angled downstream the faster the flies will fish due to the drag of the current on the fly line.

When fishing wet flies on rivers it is also important to ‘mend’ the fly line. This involves using the rod tip to move the belly of the line and adjust the drift of the flies. Mends are usually upstream to reduce drag and allow the flies to fish slower and more naturally with the current. You can however also use downstream mends to increase the speed and drag on the flies. Whilst this is not a common method it can be a useful version of the induced take, particularly with sedge pupa in the evenings and active nymph imitations during the day.

Wet flies and Spider Patterns

As with all fishing it is important to carry a selection of patterns, whilst being careful not to over-complicate things. Below is my preferred selection which should cover most situations throughout the river season. I tend to use the same patterns in Spring and Autumn when olives dominate the food supply. I will change over to patterns to imitative dark terrestrials, lighter coloured insects, sedge pupae and sunken spinners in summer, obviously, this depends on the hatch and time of day.

Early Season & Late Season Wet Flies

wet fly fishing on rivers

Mid Season & Summer Wet Flies

wet fly fishing on rivers

Hopefully, this blog has given an overview of an often-forgotten method, I know from past experience fishing spiders can be extremely effective in many situations and it may just give you another method to compliment modern nymphing tactics and allow you to catch a few extra fish from certain areas of the river!

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