Adding weight to a wet fly team: when and how

“Do you ever add weight to your wet fly rig? If so, where do you place the weight on the leader?” “Do you ever use weighted wet flies?” I get these questions a lot. Here are the answers.

This is how we do it. Two options for adding weight or a weighted fly to a wet fly team. There’s a downloadable pdf link below. FYI, the Maxima I use most often is 4# Ultragreen.



Let’s start with the last one. I hardly ever use weighted flies, and when I do, it’s with a specific purpose. Syl Nemes was of the opinion that if you were using beadheads or weighted flies, you weren’t wet fly fishing. I have a lot of respect for Syl — he is, after all, a giant in the pantheon of American wet fly fishers — but I find the weighted wet fly a practical arrow to have in one’s quiver.

So, I’ll add a tungsten beadhead wet on point when the water is generally higher than I’d like (500-800cfs on the Farmington); if I’m fishing a deep pool where there are some trout rising, but I suspect the bulk of the emerger action is well beneath the surface; or if I want to sink the flies quickly and then create a more precipitous rise as the line comes tight. If my drift is of any significant length, or the pool is particularly deep, I’ll be throwing mends and keeping slack in the line to help sink the rig. In some cases I may throw a shorter line and “nymph” without touching the bottom — almost like a deep water Leisenring Lift.

Adding weight to the leader is almost always a strategic decision I make based on river structure. Okay — that, and also because I’m lazy. Let’s say I’m wading along, fishing a stretch of riffles and pockets and runs with a water depth of 1-3 feet. Suddenly, I’m faced with a riffle that dumps into a stretch of deep water — or a deep, long pocket. Nothing is rising, and a few swings through prove fruitless. Still, it’s a fishy looking hole, and I’m certain there are trout holding on the bottom. This is where the lazy kicks in. Rather than swap out the wet fly rig, I’ll create a quasi wet fly/nymph rig by adding a removable BB shot just above the knot that forms the middle dropper.

Keep the line plumb when you’re presenting deep. Feel that shot ticking along the bottom. If you detect a strike or if the line moves off vertical, set the hook hard downstream.

WF101Presenting Deep 1

Now I’ve got a three fly team that, when presented correctly, covers two crucial areas of water. If I present like I’m short line/tight line nymphing, the middle dropper fly will be right at the bottom; the point fly, just above the bottom; and the top dropper about 16-24″ off the bottom. I’ll either feel the take, or, as I’m tracking the drift and keeping the line plumb, see the line begin to angle behind the drift; in either case, a hard set downstream is in order.

There is no magic depth for making the decision to present near the bottom. Channel your inner Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, and you’ll know it when you see it.

My client Paul was swinging a team of wets through a run that I knew held fish. We had no takers, so we dipped into the shot-on-the-leader till for some tight line bottom presentations. Ding-ding-ding! Paul scored this gorgeous high teens Survivor Strain truttasaurus.



15 comments on “Adding weight to a wet fly team: when and how

  1. Steve says:

    Great tip. Gotta be flexible!

  2. James Berry says:

    Can you achieve the same with three flies in line? I have not tried the system pictured here – thinking about tangles – but maybe the way I am trying is wrong.\Jim

    • Steve Culton says:

      You can achieve the same as far as depth goes — but not the same in terms of action on the flies. Dedicated in-line flies are beholden to one another, and lack the capability to swing freely on a tag. I understand if you’re daunted by the idea of three flies. Consider that many, many years ago, it was not uncommon for anglers to fish a team of flies that included a double-digit amount! You can always start with two, and work your way up to three.

  3. Greg Tarris says:


  4. […] 1o1: How to get hooked on the sport in Minnesota to MPR News Adding weight to a wet fly team: when and how to CurrentSeams Summer trout go for grasshoppers to NWA Democrat Gazette Fishing has improved in […]

  5. michael silfen says:


    I have a question relating to technique using multiple wet flies. Do you typically just basically pick up and lay the line down as your basic casting technique? Limited or no false casting to prevent flies getting tangled up on the leader.

    Your thoughts?

    • Steve Culton says:

      Casting is everything when it comes to avoiding tangles. Yes to minimal false casts.Yes to slowing down the casting stroke. If it’s windy, cast at your peril, or wait between gusts. Pile casts and tuck casts are recipes for disaster: you want that leader laying out flat from line’s end to point fly. Get into the habit of checking the team before every cast — snarls grow exponentially with each undetected drift. Hope that helps!

  6. Great post, Steve. I asked about weighted wetfly rigs in the comments of a previous post, so I am glad you made a more in-depth post about the topic.

  7. Very interesting, thanks for sharing! What weight maxima are you using in your rig described above? And I’m guessing you use maxima because it is stiffer and keeps the droppers away better from the leader?

    • Steve Culton says:

      Dagnabbit, I left the # test off the diagram. I typically use 4# Ultragreen, although I have used both 4# and 6#, and sometimes Chameleon. Spot on about the physical properties of the material: Maxima is the only stuff I use for this trader system.

      • Thanks for the # details Steve, and for confirming the suspicions on the reason for Maxima. I use the Lance Egan leader system for the tight-line nymphing ( all beaded nymphs there of course ) and sometimes i’ll swing a run with the rig too, but often noticed the flies foul when doing so. I’ll have to try this out!

  8. […] When it comes to lines, I only use floaters for wet fly fishing. My leaders (droppers) are constructed of Maxima. If I want to help sink the rig, I’ll use a brass or tungsten bead head fly on point. Mending — doable only with a floating line — helps introduce the slack required to let gravity do its thing. If I want to get the team deep for a nymph-like presentation along the bottom, I’ll attach a split shot to the leader just above the knot that forms the middle dropper. This will create a seat for the shot so it won’t slip down the leader. You can read more about the black arts of sinking your wet flies here. […]

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