A look at dry flies vs. wet flies, how they differentiate, when you might use one or the other, and a few options to try the next time you’re on the water.
There are few things more exhilarating in the sporting world than seeing an aggressive trout rip the river’s surface to take a fly. Or more relaxing than watching silhouettes make gentle ripples in a deep pool as fish merely “sip” caddis and mayflies. This is the essence of dry fly fishing. What many consider the purists’ approach.
On the other hand, feeling the tug from down below is pretty first rate too. Knowing you’ve selected the correct nymph or midge in a river full of bug life is a good feeling. This is the reason many will say that fly fishing, much like film photography, is an art and a science.
Dry Flies Vs. Wet Flies
While I wouldn’t consider myself purely a dry fly fisherman, I prefer it, for the reasons I mentioned above and some I simply cannot explain. Fishing a dry fly takes a level of skill not required for drifting a nymph below a strike indicator. Dries ride the current. And that current can create drag and/or pull the fly below the surface, causing feeding trout to refuse your fly and eat others deemed more presentable.
Fishing only dries though is not the most effective way to catch fish. Sure, it’s not always about catching fish. But there’s still a challenge to overcome and an element of success associated with choosing the correct fly and tricking a trout into eating it. That is the reason – as I contemplate dry flies vs. wet flies – I fish both.
It seems appropriate to talk about wet flies first as many anglers begin their lifelong journeys fishing these. And like me, most will keep a box of them for the duration. Throughout the winter and much of the spring in Colorado, the water is too cold to fish dry flies. When the temperature is low, so is a trout’s metabolism. Their diet consists of bugs that are nearly 100 percent below the surface.
The wet flies I’ve found success with in Colorado include nymphs like the pheasant tail, prince, and Copper John. Streamers, especially when the water is high in the spring, are also a great option. You’ll start to see some stoneflies crawling out of the river during late winter and early spring as well. Drifting a rubber legs stonefly, also known as a turd fly, through deep, slow water can result in some really nice fish.
Come June in Colorado, it’s time to take out a fly box I haven’t touched since fall. I get excited about dry fly fishing for a multitude of reasons, some stated above, including the fact that it’s summer. If you can spend a few days, a week, or even the entire month of June in Colorado, do it. Many transplanted residents will tell you they moved out for the winter (skiing) and stayed for the summer.
In late spring/early summer you’re going to start seeing some hatches on the river. Then, the salmon flies show up. You’ve never witnessed dry fly action like drifting a big salmon fly down a stretch of river where trout are actively feeding. It’s what you would call a feeding frenzy; fish literally gorge themselves.
Choosing the correct fly is much more important with dry flies vs. wet flies. Trout are extremely picky eaters. In fact, a half dozen fish might be sipping bugs in close quarters. But even a great cast and perfect drift doesn’t mean they’ll eat your fly if it’s not an exact match. It could be a difference in leg or wing colors, which boils down to scant millimeters.
If any sport requires students, it’s fly fishing. And becoming an amateur entomologist, one who studies insects, will greatly increase the level of satisfaction you take from a day on the river.
Combining dry and wet flies is a great way to fish whether you’re exploring new waters or just aren’t sure what the trout are eating. Something like a chubby chernobyl serving as your dry fly and strike indicator with a pheasant tail drifting beneath is a great combo. As these are two bugs quite common in Colorado rivers, it will help your chances of getting a strike even in places where it may seem fish aren’t active.
Something else to keep under your hat is the fact that a trout feeds below the surface 90 percent of the time throughout the year. Also, they are typically always feeding during the warmer months.
That’s because they live in moving water where they’re constantly forced to exert at least minimal energy to stay in one place. While there will be days that you strike out, know that if you’re not getting bites, it’s likely because you’re fishing the wrong fly. So, keep changing and casting. You’ll get it right.