The Forgotten Wet Flys

Kate McLaren (above)

"The Backbone of Lake Fly Fishing with the Forgotten Flies" is an article that highlights the importance of the Wet Fly in this type of fishing.

Wet flies are a unique type of fly designed to be skillfully maneuvered through the water, setting them apart from nymphs, chironomids, and dry flies, which tend to remain stationary or move very little in comparison. While this explanation may not be all-encompassing, it is widely embraced by anglers who fish in Stillwater. Interestingly, wet flies tend to be more alluring to brown, tiger trout, and brook trout than to rainbow or cutthroat trout. In fact, wet flies were once the preferred pattern for catching wild trout and played a pivotal role in the centuries-old Scottish tradition of loch (lake) fishing for trout which heavily influenced our waters until the early 1970’s. If you have ever seen the old Sportsman Cigarette Fly Series collection of the time, it would be very noticeable and most shops of the time had these patterns styles as the mainstay of the fly shops collection to be sold to the consumer. Many in the collection are of a North American order. But there are also many European designs that heavily influence the tiers of North America at the time. 


The Celtic folks, comprising the Welsh, Irish, and Scots, seem fond of wet fly fishing. However, this could simply be because the true still-water with wild trout can be found mostly in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, and the fish may be more inclined towards this type of fishing. Stocking programs the world over has allowed anglers the opportunity to fish many non indigenous species. What we should not do is approach them the same as our indignous rainbow trout. Char based species are vertical feedings and trout are horizontal feeders. This then changes the over all approach and often how a tactic is used and setup.

As with any fishing endeavour, success is measured by the outcome. Given the territorial and opportunistic tendencies of wild trout, wet fly fishing via drifting boats or walk and wade anglers proves to be a highly effective method.

To attract trout, a wet fly needs to move. This movement is achieved through the use of soft and long materials that are included in most wet fly patterns. However, wet flies do not accurately mimic any specific prey that trout would typically hunt. Nevertheless, anglers have long recognized that movement in fly patterns triggers a predatory response, and fly tiers have incorporated this knowledge into their designs by adding elements that simulate breathing or movement. This expertise comes from years and centuries of experience in the field. When it comes to wet fly fishing, anglers often steer clear of using flies that bear a close resemblance to invertebrates. Instead, they tend to opt for suggestive tying techniques and fly patterns rather than impressionistic or realistic designs. This is because many of these intricate impressionistic and realistic patterns are not always effective at luring fish. Simply looking good is not enough to catch fish, and fooling the angler does not necessarily mean fooling the fish. Fish perceive things differently from humans, so recognition points in the fly design are crucial to satisfying a trout's hunger. The most successful wet flies are those that do not look like anything that swims, crawls, or flies. However, when these patterns are pulled through the water, trout are drawn to them and accept them as food. because movement is life. 

Movement is key to life, and this applies to fly patterns as well. Trout are more likely to accept a fly if it appears alive. However, when a wet fly is pulled, the trout faces a dilemma: grab it now or risk losing the chance at an easy meal.

The movement of wet flies is important for their success, and this is achieved through the use of fibres that flutter or kick, imitating natural movements. When a fly with mobile components is retrieved underwater, it changes shape with each movement (pull), making it more attractive to fish. Some of the most effective wet flies over the years are listed below. Despite being told that UK flies wouldn't work in North America, I've found that they actually work very well if fished in the right position on a team and under the right conditions. This usually involves fishing them on a wavy day with some wind and in the upper two-thirds of the water column. This Brown from our local waters seems to have no borders to flies, with presentation of the UK and a willingness to adapt in our local waters.

When choosing flies for fishing, presentation and profile are the primary considerations. And of course size matters. I typically can run a slightly larger wet fly in my region than that of the overseas counter parts. We easily get away with flies from #6-#12. Additionally, the colour of the fly is a critical factor in creating a lifelike imitation. Since flies are usually backlit with diffused light while being fished, selecting the appropriate colour is crucial to the fly's effectiveness in luring trout. Colours that reflect the surrounding environment, such as black, white, silver, and gold, can produce realistic results. Moreover, the translucency of materials such as seal fur and the light absorption and reflection properties of hare or squirrel and synthetic dubbings can vary depending on different conditions.Peacock Herl is also a prime example of what we see as a tier to what the trout see in a fly that is wet. Peacock herl has very fine breathing movement of the barbules and becomes a more natural copper (rusted) in appearance with great reflectiveness. 

The proverbial snail or backswimmer/boatman


Wet flies are a go-to option for fishing enthusiasts who enjoy exploring both lakes and rivers, thanks to their numerous variations and styles. While classic patterns like winged, spider, palmer, and hackled flies form the foundation of this technique, they are sometimes ignored in favour of less effective modern flies. Over recent years, the wet fly style has evolved to include subcategories like Ordies, Muddlers, Dabblers, Sedgehogs, Hoppers and Half Hogs, each with its own distinct technique and dressing procedure designed for specific purposes. The list will grow in time as new thinking develops more unique wet fly patterns in time.

Combing the classics and forgotten with modern flies is a receipe of success for me in many situations. I tell people what I am using when asked...but usually get that blank stare in return. With some basic direct and explanations and the willingness to share a few patterns, usually goes fruitless because the time in studying these forgotten patterns with when, how and under what conditions requires some time on the water. We cant just pull out a fly or think what is the best fly to be successful. There needs to be reason and understanding when and how these patterns work. When you figure it out it will change your game ten fold to the positive. 

Dabbler Style

Cruncher Style


More Crunchers a bit shiny (exceptional Mayfly nymph pattern)

Snatcher Style - deadly chironomid pupa or emerger pattern


Google these styles of patterns to have your lake fishing world just rocked. They work here extremely effectively and there are thousands of variations of each style


  1. Dabblers Style
  2. Ordies Style
  3. Half Hogs Style
  4. Bumbles Style
  5. Hackled Wet Fly
  6. Palmer Style
  7. Snatcher Style
  8. Cruncher Style
  9. Cormorant Style
  10. Shuttlecocks Style
  11. Sparklers Style
  12. Hoppers Style
  13. Muddlers Style

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