Wet-Fly Fishing for Catching Trout: Salmo trutta
Upstream Wet Fly
Wet-fly fishing in rivers can be a semi-mechanical operation with very little real skill involved, or it can be as precise and delicate as the angler pleases. Certainly it takes little ability to drop a ‘team’ ofinto water and `fish’ them round. But this is very far from being the most effective way of wet-fly fishing.
Some anglers fish a single fly, or a leaded nymph, upstream. This is an exacting method, demanding delicacy of touch, quick reflexes, and good eyesight. The fly is cast precisely to selected lies where trout are known to be hovering, sometimes to a particular fish which the angler has spotted, using polarizing glasses.
Some experts at this form of fishing recommend that the angler tighten on the trout as soon as it turns with the fly; others try to spot the white of the opening mouth; most anglers study their lines. After some practice it is possible to detect when a fish has stopped the fly. One should then instantly tighten. All this takes a good deal of practice because one’s timing must be gauged to a fraction of a second.
This form of fishing is good fun in low summer water, especially when a breeze ripples the surface, hiding the fall of the line from the fish and blurring the image of the leader. It is more effective to fish up and across than directly upstream, otherwise the point of the leader may reach the fish before the fly.
It is most important to de-grease the leader thoroughly for upstream. Detergent wiped over the cast helps. The fly must sink as soon as it touches the water. For this reason some experts use a weighted nymph fished on a fine point.
Those with the patience and reflex-control to master upstreamhave a deadly method of angling at their disposal. Trout of course lie facing the current. It is obvious therefore that the angler who wades quietly below the fish and casts his fly beyond them will hook his trout firmly in the side of the mouth. A fished down and across is all too easily plucked from the fish’s mouth.
Better-quality fish are caught by upstream wet fly, probably because the fly acts more naturally. Big trout are less easy to fool than small trout. The upstream method is the most natural way of all of showing a wet fly to trout.
Standard Wet Fly
Upstream wet-fly fishing is best executed by wading, but depth of water and the nature of the banks may prevent this, the stream may be overgrown and the best trout may be lying under bushes on the far bank. Again, many anglers, especially when fish are not moving too freely, like to cover a bigger area of water. This is especially true when they are fishing in competition with threadline spinners.
In these conditions one uses standard wet-fly technique. This usually takes the form of casting across-stream or obliquely across and slightly up, or across and down. Instead of fishing only a few yards, as in upstream wet fly, one’s flies now fish in a wide arc and cover a great deal more water.
The passive game of casting and allowing the flies to drift round on a more or less tight line has little place in good wet-fly fishing. The angler should submerge his flies in shallow water and study their appearance when immersed. Notice how a slight pull on the leader causes the hackle-fibres to work. Yet too much pulling will easily plaster the fibres flat against the hook.
Patterns which suggestshould drift and be drawn across the current, but slowly. A nymph that flashes across the water at speed will never be mouthed by a big trout for although trout are unable to think, instinct warns them that in nature do not move at high speeds.
Tinsel-bodied fancy flies, of which the Butcher is a good example, can be fished in little spurts and pauses. Fish probably imagine them to be big water-beetles or small fish, which can move quite smartly on occasion. Even Butchers, however, should not be dragged against a strong current, for small fish and beetles travel by swimming down and across. Only in the slowest of backwaters can you work your wet fly upstream with the likelihood of catching trout.
Wet-fly angling has borrowed a good deal of technique from the developing art ofsalmon fishing. Wet flies are now fished more effectively than was the case thirty years ago. Both tackle and technique have improved, and we are a good deal wiser about what fish want in given conditions.
Assume the angler is fishing a North Country trout-stream in early April — an intermediate date for weather, for at that time of year the day may be bitterly cold or hot enough to make the fisherman sweat.
The angler looks at the water. It is full, bright, and promising.
A warmish sun shines behind hazy clouds. Occasional specimens of various flies can be seen hatching and lifting off the water; Clearly the temperature is rising. Checking the water the angler finds it quite chilly, a mere 5°C (42°F). The air is much warmer, 11°C (54°F). Conditions here are favourable for surface fishing. Awould do well. In any case, surface-fished are much to be preferred to deeply-sunk nymphs.
The angler therefore will use his greased line, or a self-floater. If a particular sort of fly starts to come off in quantity he will of course use patterns to suggest that species.
But conditions may be quite different from the above. The day is dull with a hint of bitter rain hidden in the grey clouds. The water is cold; so is the air. Flies are few. The stream looks lifeless. The fish are down among the stones. Ungreased silk or one of the self-sinking lines is now indicated. It is a less pretty way of fishing thanor surface wet fly; but it is the only way.
Some anglers work theirvigorously; others do so hardly at all. It depends on the intensity of the light, the relative clarity or darkness of the water, and the speed of the flow.
Trout will not take a fly unless they can see it, and a small fly in darkish water may go unnoticed. One can of course use a larger fly but this is not always the best answer. Fish need to see the fly moving in relation to the current. This is the trout’s only real assurance that the small insect-like object coming down on the water is in fact alive. Streams carry down a variety of tiny debris and trout sometimes make mistakes. And they are naturally doubtful about non-swimming items which may be simply twigs.
Normally a trout relies on vision to distinguish the animate from the inanimate, and the best way of doing this is to detect movement relative to the current. An object that moves in a different direction from that in which the current would carry it is fairly obviously alive. Fish know this by instinct.
Working the fly gives it this necessary touch of vitality. Broadly speaking it may be said : quick working for fast streams and slower working for slower streams. Quick working will hook fish on dull days when slow working fails to get an offer. At the other extreme — in clear sunlit water — flies can be drifted without working, the slight drag from the line being quite enough to give life to the hackles.
Working the fly can be done in several ways. Some anglers draw line in slow pulls; others collect line in the palm of the hand. Still others tremble their rod tips. Personally, I try all these methods in rotation to find out which the fish fancy.
Most wet-fly fishers use a leader of three flies, but some North Country fishers put up more than half a dozen. It depends on what local rules allow and what you think fair. I use only a point-fly and a dropper high up the cast. If you can’t make a basket with two flies then three or four are unlikely to help.