If you’re just starting out with freshwater fly-fishing, you’ll want to have a few great wet flies in your tackle box. Rather than sitting on top of the water like a dry fly and mimicking a mature insect, wet flies sink a bit below the surface to create the illusion of an insect in its developing stages or of a small bait fish. While dry flies are great for later in the season when a fish’s tastes run towards grown ups, if you’re fishing right around the time insects naturally hatch, you’ll want to go with a wet fly.
Wet flies vary in a couple of important ways: what type of insect they’re designed to mimic and whether it’s a nymph or a streamer. Because fish feed on different species in different geographical regions, the type of insect you’re trying to mimic will be determined by the part of the country in which you’re fishing. Choosing between a nymph and a streamer is simply a matter of whether the fish you’re after feed on bugs or smaller bait fish. You can get pretty specific when it comes to choosing your wet flies, and local fishing gear retailers are a great source for expert advice, but there are a few all-purpose flies you should have on hand to start with.
One of the snacks most trout and bass can’t resist is a nice, juicy mayfly, and a hare’s ear nymph will mimic this nicely. You’ll want about three sizes in order to get as close as possible to the size of insects in the water. A favorite version of many experienced fishermen is the gold-ribbed hare’s ear, so named because the body and tail are made from hair from a rabbit’s mask and ear, then ribbed with gold tinsel for a bit of fisheye-catching flash. You can purchase premade versions of this fly at most sporting goods stores, such as Cabela’s or Orvis, or you can tie your own following instructions found at sites like Fly Fishers Republic. Fish this fly by darting about between just under the water and then back to the surface.
Another good wet fly that will mimic the look of mayfly nymphs and caddis is the beadhead pheasant tail. Made primarily from the fibers of a pheasant’s tail feathers, the gold bead on the top of the hook is what will attract the fish’s attention. Again, you’ll want to have a few sizes to match the native insects, and you can purchase this classic fly or make it yourself with directions found at sites such as Bass Pro.
Wet flies aren’t all about nymphs, and to catch the really big ones you’ll need a few sizes of a good, all-purpose streamer like the wooly bugger. Not only can this streamer mimic the look of a baitfish, it can also serve as a stand-in for a leech, damselfly nymph, or dragonfly nymph. Made from chenille and marabou, you can purchase this fly pre-made, although it’s one of the easiest to tie. When using this fly, try attaching a split-shot to mimic a wounded baitfish (trout and bass’s favorite kind) or try the classic “strip and pause” technique.