Beginner Fly Fishing: Difference Between a Wet and a Dry Fly

When I first started to learn about fly fishing I was starting with a clean slate. I had a very basic understanding of the technique. I just knew what a fly rod set up looked like and I new that different types of flies were used to catch fish. I felt that fly fishing was very focused on dry flies and only a little on wet flies. Looking back that makes sense. To my beginner mind the idea of catching a fish on a fly that just floats on the water surface was exciting to say the least. And to add to that excitement was the fact that you could watch the whole thing while doing it. As I got into fly fishing more I started to understand the different roles that wet flies and dry flies played in fly fishing.

To first understand flies in general and how they play into fly fishing you must understand the concept of fly fishing. Fly fishing is the means of fishing with a longer rod that has a reel near the butt of the rod. The reel is usually a simple reel by having a drag system that you can adjust and a little nob to help reel in line. Its purpose is mostly to hold your fly line. The fly line is the key to fly fishing. The fly line is weighted and allows you to cast the practically weightless fly out onto the water. You are basically casting the line not the fly. Spin fishing is different in the way that you are casting a weighted lure or bait out in the water so it is relatively easy to do. Fly fishing, most techniques of it, require you to take time to learn casting techniques. I mention this difference to not only help a novice angler understand and have something to compare your knowledge to but it will help you understand the idea of wet and dry flies.


Dry Flies

Lets start off with dry flies. This is the stereotypical image of someone fly fishing. Usually these are the flies that are being casted by the anglers you see waving their line in long loops. Dry flies are simply flies that you fish on the surface of the water. These flies can be small or large depending on the fish you are targeting. The way these flies are tied are to give them the ability to easily rest on the surface of the water without breaking the surface tension of the water. After casting a few times these flies will inevitably get wet and take water, making it more difficult to see or even keep them on top of the water. There are different products, called floatant, that are used to help the fly repel water which will help the fly stay on the surface for a longer time. When you buy your first dry flies ask the fly shop owner what the best floatant to use is.

You will find that fishing dry flies can be difficult at first. You want to present the fly in a manner that will not scare the fish when it lands on the water's surface. As it floats down the river into the area where the fish will see it, you want it to look as natural as possible. You want to avoid drag on the fly and the line. This will make it obvious to the fish that it is not foot. Do your best to make it look like food. When casting dry flies you want to avoid slapping the fly on the surface. This can be caused by your tippet being the wrong size for the size fly you are using, I will cover this in a future post. I wont say never slam your dry fly because there are times where doing that will cause a fish to take your fly. These situations are usually stoneflies, or other types of flies, depositing their eggs into the water.


Take time to practice your casting on the water with different size flies and tippet to help you get a feel for casting and presenting the fly. Practice will pay off and the excitement you get watching a fish take your fly is well worth the time.


Wet Flies

These are flies that are fished just under the water surface or deeper in the water. There are two different subcategories within the wet fly category. There are streamers and nymphs. Streamers tend to represent small fish or larger target food species like leeches, or even crawdads. Nymphs, on the other hand, tend to cover a wide range of bugs in different stages of life while still in the water. Each of these, streamers and nymphs, can come in a wide range of sizes and patterns. What you fish tends to depend on what you are targeting and what activity you are seeing in the water. Each one is fished differently as well.



Fishing wet flies usually involves having some type of indicator on your line to help you know when a fish has taken your fly. Streamer flies are fished almost like lures. You can pull your line in, stripping line, to move the streamer fast or give it some type of action that could cause a fish to strike. Wet flies are fished in a swinging manner. This is where you cast up stream, allow the fly to sink following the fly in the water with your rod floating above the water while keeping loose tension on the line. Once the fly gets further down stream at about a 45 degree angle stop moving your rod and this will cause the fly to start moving up in the water column like it is going up to the surface of the water. This technique can be very effective if done right and fished in the right conditions.


Keep in mind that both wet and dry flies can be fished in many ways. Do not think that you can only use one or the other. There are times when using one with the other can be very effective and productive. An example of this can be a "dropper rig". This is usually a dry fly that is further up on your line and then a wet fly, like a nymph, eighteen inches or more down the line. The dry fly needs to be large enough , or the wet fly small enough, to handle the weight of the wet fly and still stay buoyant. You can also have multiple dry flies, two or three, or wet flies on your line. Each technique can be used to help you catch fish effectively. Learn how to read the water and what the fish are eating and you will find a good way to rig your fly set up.



When starting to fly fish as a beginner it can be hard to get into it just due to the different terms that are associated with fly fishing. Just be patient and take time to research and ask questions. It may seem like people do not want to help but you will find that if you ask questions to people at the fly shop, friends, or even on the river there will be lots of people willing to take time to help you out. Learning the basics of flies is part of that. Once you learn the basics you will be able to know what you need for your fishery and the fish you are targeting. So with this knew found knowledge go to your local fly shop, ask questions, buy some flies, and put a bend in that rod.


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