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Simple Wet Flies for Uncommon Results

by Al and Gretchen Beatty

Several years ago, a fly fishing friend was visiting us at our cabin in the mountains of Central Idaho. During dinner on the first night, we talked about the success we were enjoying using some of the old-style traditional wet flies. He was definitely interested, so the next day we shared with him the angling techniques and several patterns we had learned to tie in the 1950s. Bob soon found a new love for the old approach to catching trout.

Bob commented that he thought the old wet fly swing worked even better than some of the upstream presentations he had been using over the past several decades. We agreed, and after much discussion decided that the fish’s aggressive reactions were due to the older presentation they had never seen; to the trout, it was new. We all agreed that this presentation was a really effective way to catch fish, and Bob joined us as a wet fly convert—sort of.

Long-Distance Fly Tying

Not long after his visit, we received a phone call from Bob. He was frustrated. Bob had been trying to tie the traditional quill-wing wet flies like those we used during his visit. His flies caught fish, but he wasn’t satisfied with the appearance of the wings. Bob explained that he could never get them to “set right” on the hook.

We used the opportunity to share a simplified version of wet flies we’d been testing. We said they looked like quill-wing flies after catching several fish; in other words, they looked chewed up!

Bob was excited and wanted to tie several right away, so we turned on our speakerphones in our respective fly tying rooms and made a couple of the simple patterns together over the telephone. (This occurred some years ago. Today we could have had a fly tying videoconference using our smartphones!)

During the course of our telephone tying session, Bob mentioned something that sparked our idea to use Gary LaFontaine’s gas-bubble tying method on the patterns we were making. At the time, we tried several ideas for adding extra flash to these flies but never hit on a final solution. Several days later, we combined LaFontaine’s gas-bubble concept with Matt Owens’s simple Krystal Flash loop-tying method, and were pleased with the results; you’ll see the bubble concept on a couple of the flies in this article. Give it a try; we think you’ll like the results, too. Also, notice that we now tie them a little smaller than we did in the 1950s; back then, we made these patterns on hook sizes 10 to 6.

Fishing with one or multiple wet flies at the same time is a very effective way to catch trout, and as you’ll soon see, they are very easy to tie.

Hare’s-Ear Bubble Wing

Hook: Regular wet fly hook, sizes 18 to 8.
Thread: Brown 6/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Brown hackle fibers.
Rib: Pearl Krystal Flash.
Body: Hare’s-ear dubbing.
Hackle: Brown.
Gas bubble: Pearl Krystal Flash.
Wing: Pheasant tail fibers—bundled, rolled, and tied flat over the body.

Comments: This old favorite is recognized today because of its cousin, the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s-Ear Nymph, but it’s been around for many years. We’ve changed the color of the rib, and added a LaFontaineinspired gas bubble under the hackle and wing. We often fish it as a dropper under another LaFontaine favorite, the Were Wulff, which has a hare’s-ear body and a mixed grizzly-and-brown hackle.

March Brown

Hook: Regular wet fly hook, sizes 18 to 8.
Thread: Brown 6/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Brown mottled hen saddle-hackle fibers.
Body: Light brown dubbing.
Rib: Gold Krystal Flash.
Hackle: Brown.
Wing: A slip of turkey tail, doubled and tied flat over the body.

Comments: This pattern is often presented as an early-season mayfly imitation; it’s been used for that purpose for many years. It is also very effective in the autumn for imitating a drowned mahogany dun. Tying the folded wing is much easier than making two separate quill wings.

Tellico (EZY)

Hook: Regular wet fly hook, sizes 18 to 8.
Thread: Black 6/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Brown hackle fibers.
Body: Yellow floss.
Rib: Peacock herl.
Overbody: Several pieces of peacock herl.
Hackle: Brown.

Comments: This fly is best known as a nymph, and we first learned of it as a wingless wet fly from an old book written by Poul Jorgensen in the 1970s. We fish it on the swing or with a dead drift. This pattern became lost to us until longtime friend Mike Stewart reintroduced it to us at an International Federation of Fly Fishers show several years ago. It’s been an important part of our fly boxes ever since.

Iron Blue Dun (EZY)

Hook: Regular wet fly hook, sizes 18 to 8.
Thread: Gray 6/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Brown hackle fibers.
Tag: Red floss.
Body: Gray muskrat dubbing.
Hackle: Brown.
Wing: A slip of duck quill, folded and tied flat over the body.

Comments: In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Al often fished this pattern as a wingless wet on the point of a three-fly cast. In those days, he usually partnered it with other wet flies such as the Royal Coachman, Lead-Wing Coachman, Hair-Wing Trude, or Gray Hackle Yellow. We added the wings when we rediscovered wet fly fishing several years ago.

Adams Bubble Wing

Hook: Regular wet fly hook, sizes 18 to 8.
Thread: Gray 6/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Grizzly and brown hackle fibers.
Body: Gray muskrat dubbing.
Hackle: Grizzly brown mix, wet-style collar.
Gas bubble: Pearl Krystal Flash.
Wing: Grizzly hackle tip tied flat over the body.

Comments: The Krystal Flash bubble between the hackle and wing provides a bit of flash to this old favorite dry fly tied as a wet fly. This pattern is fun to fish as a dropper under its floating cousin.

Hendrickson Bubble Tail

Hook: Regular wet fly hook, sizes 18 to 8.
Thread: Gray 6/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Krystal Flash and blue dun hackle fibers.
Rib: Pearl Krystal Flash.
Body: Gray muskrat dubbing.
Hackle: Blue dun.
Wing: Wood duck fibers—bundled, rolled, and tied flat over the body.

Comments: The fly pictured here is tied with real wood duck fibers for the wing. In years past, we didn’t always have wood duck feathers for this pattern and substituted mallard flank feathers dyed to imitate wood duck. You’ll find dyed mallard in most trout-oriented fly shops.

Al and Gretchen Beatty, who live in Idaho, are regular contributors to this magazine. They are a leading force behind the International Federation of Fly Fishers, and they travel the country giving fly tying classes and demonstrations. For information about their flies, books, and much more, check out their website, www.btsflyfishing.com.