Wet fly fishing on rivers may seem a little old school to you. You know, the wet fly swing?
Just hear me out for a moment and I’ll make it worth your while.
(Scroll below if you want direct access to the the 7 super rich tips – 8 isn’t really a tip but a call to action)
I’m standing in a large river almost touching the bank in a rifflely pocket run watching my fly swing across the waters surface.
As it slows down on the swing by catching a current change, I feel the tug of something heavy. This is the first time today fishing this run so my confidence has just been elevated.
Game on **@@%!! That was pretty frickin simple yo (Yo?)
That was a world record yo.
ok, I just made a cast out across and down at about a 45 degree, made a little mend and then followed the line across the water with my rod tip.
Kaboom biaatch! There was another nice fish. This time the fat shoulders turn into the current and it’s time to battle.
Maybe wet flies are not sexy enough anymore. Kind of what your dad used to do right?
I’m going to try and change your mind just a little bit today. Just think of me as yoda and you are Luke Skywalker. I need to show you the wet fly force so you can defeat the eval trout empire.
Ok, maybe that was a little far but I do love Yoda. and he does have a point that there are times when unlearning may be the best route (or does that even make sense)?
Click here to see more Yoda Memes.
I’ll walk you through the basics of the wet fly swing so you have a techinique you can use to catch a fish regardless of your skill level.
I’m not shitting you. Dry fly fishing takes a nice cast. Nymphing requires you deal with getting snagged and breaking off flies.
But the wet fly is in the surface film so it’s worth a read to think about getting started.
By the end of this article you’ll have a new technique you can use to catch your first fish this week.
Note: I am not talking about steelhead here. If you want to learn about swinging flies for steelhead you can click here to check that out.
I am focusing on trout fishing here so let’s get into it.
(Before we jump into it I wanted to share a great podcast episode that focuses on Wet Fly Fishing and not just the wet fly swing. Click here to listen to the master, Davy Wotton talk about wet fly fishing)
Typical fly fishing gear
One of the great things about fishing the wet fly is that the gear setup is very simple. No big indicators or weight and no dry fly floatant to worry about.
You can use a 9 foot 5 or 6 weight rod with a 9 foot leader and you are good to go. You can adjust your rod weight with the size of the species you are going for.
Take a look here at other basic gear you need for fly fishing. Because the wet fly swing is so simple there will be a lot of gear you won’t need at the start. This is why is such a great beginner tactic.
How to cast a Fly Rod with the Wet Fly Swing
This screenshot is from Orvis and a video that covers the basics.
Typicallly you are casting downstream and across at about a 45 degree angle to the current. Look for riffle type habitat that has a uniform current and isn’t too deep.
Take a look at this short video that describes the swing: swinging wet flies
You can see from the video how effortless casting a wet fly is with this technique. If you use heavier streamer type flies things will get a little more challenging. But, when starting out just use soft hackeled type flies (see below).
This is a great way to cover water when you aren’t sure exactly where the fish are holding. See the Technique below for further clarification.
The Technique – Wet Fly Swing
The wet fly swing is exactly what it sounds like. Swinging your fly across the water in a very methodical fashion to cover all of the water.
If you don’t know where the fish are in a run then this is a very effective method.
The Steps to covering a run:
Figure 2 is from a great Midcurrent article.
- Start in close to cover the water right out in front of you first. (note: On large rivers, many newbies step right on and over fish heading out towards deeper water).
- For each cast, make it out and downstream and across at about a 45 degree angle. See the photo above at Step A and click here for the article from MidCurrent.
- After you make your cast downstream and across, much of the time you will want to make a mend in the line to decrease the line speed and drag. See the video below. Controlling the speed of the fly is the key to the game so make sure to utilize mending to make sure your fly is presenting naturally to the fish.
4. After making your mend, keep a tight line on the fly as it swings so you feel any touch from a fish.
5. After the current swings the fly line and fly down below you make sure to let the fly dangle for a few seconds. Fish can take the fly on this dangle or hand down so be ready.
6. After a few seconds of the dangle, take a step or two downstream, pickup the line and make a similar cast out at a 45 degree angle.
7. Repeat these steps until you finish the run.
8. See the Tips sections on some other good reminders.
Take a look at Davy Wotton’s summary in this PDF for the teqhnique and a little bit of the history.
The Bugs (aka – entomology)
What is really going on with the wet fly and how is it different than a dry fly or a nymph?
This video describes a little about the mayfly life history. There are a wide range of species and life histories but the important thing to note here is you are imitating that stage just before they get to the surface of the water.
I had to list one other resource from a mentor who is known very well in the west. Here’s Rick Hafele’s bug blog.
Take a look at the flies section below to see some of the common patterns to use while fishing the swing for trout.
Photo: Rick Hafele photo on his website showing his classic style.
The Wet Fly Patterns
The soft hackle flies are pretty much the standard for the wet fly swing. That video shows you one of the all time classic soft hackled flies.
A fly I have really come to love over the years for the wet fly swing is the dark tied down. Take a look at the video:
You can use any of these wet flies when fishing the swing. You don’t have to worry about setting the hook as the fish will do it for you. Just keep your rod tip down and hold on.
Streamers can also be fished on the wet fly swing. Kent at Gink and Gasoline provides a good summary on fishing streamers on the wet fly swing here. if you are able to fish out of a boat an anchor above the deep slot this can prove to be very effective as noted in the post.
From Gink and Gasoline on Fishing Streamers on the Swing.
Reading the water
Look for areas that appear to have broken water or cover within larger runs but still allow your fly to swing naturally.
7 Rich Tips for the Wet Fly Swing
- Keep your rod tip low and follow your fly across the swing.
- For larger fish use a shock loop.
- Use a double fly setup to improve your odds – Clint does a good job covering it here.
- Add a little flash to flies or a little UV to make them attract – Not a must but purple, pink and hotspots seem to be the thing today so why not try it on your next old school pattern.
- Mend when needed to keep a natural drift – This helps to create a more natural swing
- Let your fly dangle (aka hangle down) – See The Technique section above
- Find the Buckets and stay with them – Once you fish a run and find the pockets where you hooked up, make sure to note those and spend more time on them next time.
- I challenge you to not catch a fish – My final tip is to always challenge yourself. What are you going to try that’s new today?
The 2 fly setup from FlyFishingbasics.com
Conclusion for Wet Fly Fishing
As noted in this post and many of the links throughout, the wet fly swing is one of the most effective methods for catching trout especially when you are brand new to fly fishing.
That’s because much of the extra gear, fluff and trash talk is not included. The wet fly swing is an old traditional method which makes it all the better for me.
Have you done your research on the past fishers who put fly fishing on the map. Do you know who paved the way for you to discover it?
Take the time to understand this and you will catch more fish and have a better connection with the sport.
Try to implement just one of my tips on your next trip and let me know how it goes.
Click the link below if you would like to get the Free PDF Guide to Fly Fishing.