“What are the best soft hackles (or wet flies) for fishing the Hendrickson hatch?” is one of those questions I get a lot this time of year. As always, the best flies are the ones in which you have the most confidence. I should also make this clarification: technically, with Hendricksons you’re fishing wet flies under the hatch. On the Farmington River, prime time for swinging Hendrickson wets is generally in the 11 am-to-3 pm window. Every day is different. Once you see duns on the water, and trout snapping at them, the wet fly game is all but over. But if you want to catch more trout, you should be swinging wets in this pre-hatch time frame. (Of course, you’re fishing a team of three wets. Here’s how to build a wet fly leader.) And so, in no particular order, these are some of my favorite Hendrickson wet fly and soft-hackled patterns.
I had some excellent Q&A sessions about wet fly fishing at the Marlborough and Edison Fly Fishing shows (great job, people!) and I wanted to share some of what we discussed with you.
Q: What knot do you use when you build your wet fly team leader? A: I’ve been using a triple surgeon’s knot for years. It’s easy for me to tie, and it’s reliable — I don’t think I’ve ever had one fail. People also asked about the blood knot, and the answer is: use the knot you feel most confident about/is easiest for you to tie.
Q: Do you use tippet rings when you build your wet fly team leader? A: I don’t, mostly because I don’t see a need. The perceived need is that it would be easier to replace a dropper tag (rather than build a new leader) with a tippet ring and it’s hard to argue with that. This is a “what works best for you?” situation. I don’t use tippet rings because I rarely change flies on my leader system, and even when I do I’ve learned how to reattach a fly using a minimum of tag material. Speaking of attaching flies, here’s a nifty tutorial from my buddy Tim Flagler on the Davy Knot, which uses very little material.
Q: You say to pause before you set the hook. Aren’t you afraid the fish will spit the fly? A: No. I quote from The Book of Syl: “With the soft-hackled fly, the trout throws caution to the wind, because he’s not afraid to move under the water, and speeds to the fly with urgency.” The fish has made the decision to eat. He’s said “yes” to the fly. With an immediate hookset, you’re saying “no” to the fish. By pausing — asking, “Are you still there?” before you set the hook — you’re ensuring that the fish will turn away with the fly in his mouth, having neatly hooked himself.
This massive hen blasted the fly, an old English pattern called a Hackled March Brown. She hit so hard she ripped the line out of my hands. There was no need for me to set the hook.
Q: Is fishing wet flies a secondary tactic, or do you ever go to the river intending to fish wet flies? A: I frequently go to the river with the sole intent of fishing wet flies. In fact, I’d say wet flies account for the vast majority of my trout fishing — and catching — between late April and mid-summer.
Ask currentseamser Greg about how good the pre-hatch fishing can be with wet flies!
Q: You talked about using wet flies to catch trout feeding on emergers. Is there a point during the hatch, such as when you see duns on the surface, that you’ll switch to dry flies? A: What a great question! The answer is yes. If I am pounding up fish on wet flies and suddenly my hookups stop — but the river is still boiling with feeding fish — that’s my cue that they’ve either stopped eating what I’m throwing or may now be feeding on the surface. If I see the duns getting taken, and my wets aren’t catching, that is compelling evidence to switch to a dry fly. This scenario frequently plays out during the Hendrickson hatch. It’s wet fly gangbusters up until about 3pm, then suddenly the hookups slow to a crawl. Changing over to a dry usually solves the problem.
I hope that helps, and if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
“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.
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.
One of the most frequent questions I get is, “How do you build a wet fly leader?” This material originally appeared in my article “Wet Fly 101: Take the ancient and traditional path to subsurface success” (American Angler Nov/Dec 2013) but I wanted to give it its own place here on currentseams.
At first glance, building a multi-fly dropper rig looks complicated. But basically, you’re just tying three triple surgeon’s knots. You’ll need a 9-foot, 3x or 4x tapered leader for the butt section, and some 4 or 6-pound Maxima (I prefer Chameleon [AUTHOR’S NOTE: I used UltraGreen four-pound in 2014 and it worked just as well as Chameleon]) for the droppers. I’ve tried a lot of different leader materials, and Maxima is by far the best because of its stiffness. I use the 4-pound in lower, clearer flows.
Here’s a pdf of the diagram: Three-fly wet fly leader
Step 1: Cut off the bottom three feet of the tapered leader. Discard this bottom section.
Step 2: Knots are not worthy of your trust. Wet every knot before you pull it tight, and test every knot by giving it a good tug. The heat of battle with a trophy trout is a bad time to discover you tied a substandard knot.
Step 3: Tie just over a foot of Maxima to the tapered leader with a triple surgeon’s knot. The bottom of this section will form the first dropper. Trim both tag ends.
Step 4: The ideal length between wet flies is somewhere between 18 and 24 inches; I prefer my dropper tags between 4 and 6 inches. If you’re going to build a dropper rig with the flies 24 inches apart and the tags 6 inches long, you’ll need a 30-inch section (24 + 6 = 30) of Maxima for the next step.
Step 5: Take the first, shorter section of Maxima (the one you tied to the tapered leader) and hold it 6 inches from the end. This will be your first dropper. Join the 30-inch section to the shorter section at this point with a triple surgeon’s knot.
Step 6: Trim the excess of the second section above the knot (the part you trim is on the butt side of the leader). You should now have a dropper tag about 6 inches long, pointing away from the butt, and about 30 inches of Maxima below it.
Step 7: You’re in the home stretch. This is basically a repeat of step 5. Grab the second section of Maxima 6 inches from the end, and join another 30-inch section of Maxima to it with a triple surgeon’s knot. As with Step 6, trim the excess above the knot.
Step 8: You should now have a rig that looks like the one the diagram: two shorter tags, to which you’ll tie dropper flies, and a longer end section, to which you will tie the point fly.
Good things happen when you give the trout a choice.