Wet Fly Questions Answered

I’ve been getting a lot of wet fly questions, and I thought I’d share my answers with the group. I’m excited that so many of you are interested in this ancient and traditional art. So here we go:

Q: What size and length rod are you using on the Farmington? A: My dedicated wet fly stick is a 10-foot 5-weight Hardy Marksman II. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it. It’s got a good backbone for helping manage bigger trout in snotty currents, but I wish it were a bit softer in the flex. What’s important is that it’s a 10-footer, which I find useful for mending. Note: I still take the 7’9″ Tonka Queen out for an occasional wet fly jaunt, albeit in moderate/slow currents. That cane pole is a dream for mending.

The Queen in action. This rod gives me an ultra-fine level of line control.

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Q: Do you use an indicator? A: My joke answer is “yes” — the splash of the take, the spray of water, and the jolt of the rod tip all indicate a strike. The real answer is no, not in the traditional sense. The vast majority of time, you need no visual aid to tell you the fish has taken the fly. An exception would be when you’re fishing upstream, drawing the line toward you as the rig moves downstream. I’m watching the tip of the line like a hawk for stalls, shudders, or stoppage that would indicate a delicate strike well below the surface.

Q: Do you use a floating line? A: Yes. (I’m a line control freak.)

Q: When you’re casting and mending, is it basically a dead drift, then the flies start swinging and rising? A: Kindof. Unless you introduce slack into the presentation, you’ll never really have a true dead drift. So even when I’m doing a quartering down or straight across cast and mend, the flies are moving downstream and across, albeit in a slower manner than they would with a traditional wet fly swing.

Q: You’ve said that in spring, you focus more on pool-type water, and faster water in the summer. I’m having trouble finding the right type and depth of water. Any advice? A: Generally speaking, the colder it is, the greater the chance that trout will be in deeper pool-type water. That doesn’t mean you won’t find trout in 1-foot deep riffles in December. The bottom line is: there is no substitute for experience on the water. Get out and explore. Keep a log. Where and when did you fish? Were you catching? Were others catching?  What was the weather like? What was the water height? You can see where this is going. And finally, a wee plug for myself: take a lesson. I hear this a lot from clients: “I’ve driven past this spot a hundred times and never thought to fish it.”

Q: I fished wet flies and only had one bump. What was I doing wrong? A: (This person was out on the Farmington this week.) You’ve got a lot of elements working against you. For starters, I don’t like to fish wets in the Permanent TMA in any flow over 500cfs (it’s been 750cfs and higher). 250cfs-400cfs is the wheelhouse. Hatch windows also have a lot to do with the wet fly bite. For example, right now (Hendrickson and caddis hatches) you want to be swinging anywhere from 11am to 3pm-ish. You’re trying to entice the trout that are taking the emergers. And this cold, wet weather isn’t helping, either.

When you hit the emergence just right, the results can be magical.

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Keep on swinging.

Wet fly fishing questions answered

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.

The Edison Plan for Friday Jan 24

Tomorrow, Friday, January 24 is my only day at the Edison Fly Fishing Show. Here’s my plan:

Arrive noonish or a little before. Walk the floor, make the rounds, say hello. You can always text me if you’re looking for me — you can find my number here. I’m going to try to catch parts of a few presentations before my Seminar, which is 4:30pm in the Catch Room, Wet Flies 101. Of course, I’ll see you there. Right?

Thank you to everyone for your continued support.

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I’m officially in at the Edison Fly Fishing Show

I don’t have my complete schedule, but I can tell you that I will be appearing at the Edison, NJ Fly Fishing Show next month. I have a seminar, Wet Flies 101, in the Catch Room at 4:40pm Friday January 24. I’m hoping to have another gig on Saturday Jan 25th — as soon as I have details, I’ll pass them along to you. Hope to see you there!

Wet flies have been fooling trout for centuries, and the fish aren’t getting any smarter. This big Housy brown was taken this fall on a simple soft hackle.

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“Tying and Fishing Wet Flies with Steve Culton” class added to Marlborough Fly Fishing Show

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be part of the “Classes with the Experts” series at the 2020 Marlborough Fly Fishing Show, Saturday, January 18, 2pm-4:30pm. Here’s the course description: “Learn to tie and fish classic North Country spiders and other wet flies that trout can’t resist. The course also covers basics like leader construction, fly selection, where to fish wet flies, and how to fish them. Intermediate.”

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To attend you must register, and you cannot do that through me. You need to go to the Fly Fishing Show website. Here’s some more info:

Note: Most tying classes require some experience and others may require more. Ask us when you call. Beginners are welcome, but be prepared for more than basics. All students must bring their own tying vise, tools, lamp if needed, and a sampling of materials. Most classes will provide adequate materials for the patterns being taught.  If a class is cancelled, you will be notified 5 days prior to the show and permitted to switch or receive a refund. Bring your own lamp, vise, tools & a basic selection of materials.

To insure quality instruction class size is limited. Call us for more class descriptions or availability. Classes will fill and close, so register early. The tuition charge of $85 includes admission to the show for that day. There are no refunds unless the class is cancelled. You MUST register in advance. For more information call 814-443-3638.

Thank you Capital District Fly Fishers and the question of the night

Many thanks to the Capital District Fly Fishers for hosting me last night for Wet Flies 101. I treated myself to a pre-game meal at the Farmer Boy Diner — if you’re looking for a good quick bite in Albany, I’d recommend it. To kick off the festivities I tied a couple soft hackles, the Partridge and Light Cahill and the Squirrel and Ginger. Then the presentation (followed by a great Q&A session!) and off through the wind and rain and bluster back to CT.

Here’s the question of the night: do I like to use a soft hackle dropper off of a dry fly, or as the top dropper in a nymph rig? The answer is sometimes, and yes! I don’t do a lot wet-dropper-off-dry fishing — the exception would be on small streams where this setup is usually my default rig. Sometimes on the Farmington, I’ll fish a hopper dry or moist in the film as the top dropper on my team of three. And sometimes I’ll fish a wet-dry team for Housy smallmouth during the White Fly hatch. I almost always fish a soft hackle as the top dropper (tied on a 4″-6″tag) on my nymph rig — it’s a natural place in the water column for an emerger. Some days the fish choose that dropper to the exclusion of the nymph beneath it.

You never know what the small stream residents are going to want. Some days, they’re bashful, and won’t show on top. Others, they’re all in on the dry. Here’s a simple dry/wet rig. I’m unconcerned about the possibility of not hooking fish on the dry due to the leader material on the bend — the bigger fish will hook themselves handily, and the smaller ones I’d rather not touch, so they can bounce off the hook to their little heart’s content. Match your dropper leader to conditions and depth.

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See you tonight in New Britain! 7pm, the world premier of The Little Things 3.0!  Farmington Valley TU, Whinstone Tavern, Stanley Golf Course, New Britain, CT. 

New class forming: Wet Flies 101, Saturday, July 18

I will be teaching Wet Flies 101 on Saturday, July 18. This popular class is through UpCountry Sportfishing in New Hartford. Here is the course description from the UpCountry site:

Join outdoor writer and Farmington River guide Steve Culton Saturday, July 18, as we explore the wonders of wet fly fishing on the Farmington River. Whether searching, imitating drowned terrestrials, or fishing under the hatch, wet flies can be a highly productive summer tactic. Wet Flies 101 includes streamside and on-the-water instruction, and will cover basics like rigging, fly selection, and presentation. Flies will be included. Class begins at noon and will run approximately 4 hours, leaving plenty of time for you to enjoy the evening rise with your new skills. Tuition is $100, and space is limited to 4 people.

Please do not try to register for this class here. You need to do it through UpCountry: 860-379-1952.

I hope everyone had a safe, happy, celebratory 4th of July.

This gorgeous high-teens wild Farmington brown found a Drowned Ant soft-hackle to his liking on a hot mid-July afternoon.

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