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.

AddingWeightWetFlyTeam

AddingWeightWetFlyTeam

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.

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Currentseams Q&A: The Leisenring Lift

Q: Fished White Clay in Pennsylvania, after April and May. I tied some size 18, 20 wet flies using just yellow or orange floss and light Hungarian partridge or grouse. I noticed that the trout either hammer the wet fly as it swings; or, after it swings, as I pick up the line trout hit it and I didn’t know they were on it? Is this the idea of Leisenring Lift? Just finished reading your article (“Wet Fly 101”) in the Nov/Dec 2013 American Angler. Good stuff!!!

A: Thanks for your kind words, and thanks for reading. The Leisenring Lift is one of the most misunderstood of the wet fly methods. According to Dave Hughes, Leisenring would present to a fish, or to a lie that was in the two-to-four-foot depth range, in a slow-moving current. He’d make his cast 10-20 feet above the lie. He kept tight to the fly, tracking the drift with his rod, making sure that the line and the fly weren’t dragging. At the point of where he thought the take would occur, he’d stop tracking with his rod. This would cause the fly, which had been naturally sinking (Leisenring did not use weighted flies) to come off the bottom and start swimming toward the surface. So the lift comes from the physics of the fly lifting off the bottom due to drag, not from the physics of actually lifting the rod. What I think is happening in your case is a trout is following the fly subsurface — or holding at the point where your fly dangles — and as you begin to lift your rod, it sees a potential meal escaping (much like it does an emerging caddis). The trout decides, “I want that!” and you’ve got a fish on. Good for you. 🙂