James Leisenring’s favorite wet flies

I’m embarrassed to say that it took me 55 years to buy a copy of the American fly fishing classic The Art of Tying the Wet Fly.

But now, I have it. This week I tied up James Leisenring’s favorite dozen wet fly dressings for a client. Here are three of them, lovingly rendered against the yellowed pages of an old book many anglers have never read — but should.

Like so many effective patterns, these flies wouldn’t get a second look in a fly shop’s bins. There are no hot spots, bead heads, or new-fangled UV resins. But Leisenring — and his contemporaries — knew the power of natural materials and simplicity. I’m thinking the Old Blue Dun is going to get into my three-fly team Hendrickson rotation this spring.

Leisenring Wets


11 comments on “James Leisenring’s favorite wet flies

  1. Gary S says:

    Steve when I started in the 70’s I used to fish wet flies on my fiberglass Fenwick 1492 Pflueger loaded with a sinking line. I fished these actively down and across the Jeremy, Blackledge and Salmon Rivers. Stripping them like streamers sometimes. I believe it was the strikes on those that hooked me along with the trout. I tried it last year on Salmon River. Still works. So many ways to fish wets. Love them.

  2. Will says:

    Awesome flies for sure. Things that once worked well – tend not to lose that ability. They may lose the anglers mind for a while… but eventually, we all come back to things that just plain work!

  3. Jim Wilson says:

    Lance Hidy, son of co-author Vernon S Hidy (1971 edition) did a most interesting presentation at United Fly Tyers in 2014. Lance Hidy said he had access to most of the original flies in the book & was contemplating a further revision.

    • Steve Culton says:

      I’m curious as to why Sylvester Nemes left out Leisenring’s call for a tinsel rib in several of these flies in his book “Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies.”

  4. Ray Hamilton says:

    On a slightly different note, why don’t people use the muddled minnow as much as when I started fly fishing? It still works. The fish have not seen many of these flies very often which might help the success rate.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Maybe if they were articulated, Ray.

      So much in fly fishing is trend and popularity-driven. Those wise enough to know the truth are immune to such folly.

      Btw, I’ve never fished the Muddler very much. But I probably should. I’ve got a place and a summer night in mind…

  5. Richard Heffernon says:

    Hi Steve, about a week & 1/2 ago I was on the Farmington in early afternoon when Henrdikson’s started coming off. I had a dark wet on and got sevedral “hits” but no hook ups. Any ideas on why the fish failed to hook themselves? When they hit I reacted as tho’ they’d taken a streamer and tried to set the hook.h

    • Steve Culton says:


      The most likely scenario is that you’re pulling the fly right out of the trout’s mouth.

      AHE Wood described it as if someone was feeding you with a fork; right when you’re ready to clamp down on the food, they pull the fork and food away.

      Since you’re fishing under tension, let the fish do most of the work. When you feel the tug, don’t set the hook. Rather, ask yourself, “Are you still there?” Then raise your rod tip. In the time it takes you to do that, the fish will have turned away and your fly will be seated in the corner of its mouth, right where it’s supposed to be.


  6. […] you’ve read James Leisenring’s book The Art of Tying The Wet Fly, you know that he was quite particular about hackle. (Cockerel, anyone? In case you didn’t […]

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