More often than not, parents refuse to answer what child they love most. There are days, however, when one becomes the clear favorite. One too many temper tantrums may push parents to consider putting one up for adoption. Fly anglers have a similar relationship with wet and dry flies. There are days when anglers really want to love dry flies, but the wet flies are producing the results and vice versa. Don’t get too angry at the flies, you need them on your side.

What is the Difference between Wet and Dry Flies?

The answer to this question is in their names. Wet flies sit under the water. They can be emergers, nymphs, streamers and imitate hatching flies or other types of larger bait. Dry flies sit on top of the water. They can resemble full-grown flies, rodents, insects, etc.

When Should I Use a Wet Fly instead of a Dry?

Wet flies can always catch fish, but it takes extra observation to determine what to use.

There isn’t a perfect time to fish streamers. They’re always going to have success. Even in the midst of a hatch, trout will feast on a streamer. Trout will bite streamers in the heat of the day. As long as they’re presented well, the fish will strike! Streamers imitate minnows, crawfish, along with a few other baits.

When fishing with streamers, be prepared for aggressive strikes! Trout know that it’ll take an aggressive attack to finish off whatever they think your streamer is, so keep that fly line tight!

If you choose to use a nymph, use it early in the morning even before the sun is showing itself. At this time, the flies will be starting the hatching process and looking like nymphs. Most nymphs have a bead head at the top to make sure they get to the bottom of the stream.

Emerging flies are best to use right before a hatch. If you see the tail of the fish out of the water, it generally means it’s feeding on emerging flies. Emerging flies are right at the hatching stage. Their wings aren’t fully developed and they can’t fully get out of the water.

These make them easy targets for trout. It’s difficult to predict exactly when the flies are in the emerging stage, but with practice and close observation, you’ll be able to see the trout feeding just below the surface.

Dry flies are best to use when you notice a hatch or trout surfacing. The little ripples on top of the surface show the trout feeding on whatever is on top of the water. These hatches generally happen when the sun is rising or setting. If you observe the stream before you approach, you’ll notice groups of flies hovering right over the water. Get ready because this is some of the most entertaining fishing around!

Take a look at the “Best Time of Day to Fish” article linked here. It provides a greater insight on what flies to use at what time of day.

How to Fish with a Dry Fly vs. Wet Fly?

There are all sorts of different techniques in fly fishing. Those techniques are what make people nervous to take up the sport. However, there are a few universal techniques that are great for those interested in getting started.

For dry flies, technique is everything. Trout don’t want to have to dart out far from their hiding places. They only will if the food looks irresistible. The first step when fishing is to find the foam on top of the water. It’s where the food is.

The next step is to not be too eager. If you see a rise 50 feet down stream, that doesn’t mean you have to cast to it. Keep you casts to 15 feet or so plus the leader. Once you’ve made your cast, pay attention. If you see your fly line pulling the fly down stream, complete your first “mend.” Mend your fly line upstream to let the fly take control. In reality, you’ll get a solid 8-10 feet of drift before you need to re-cast. You want the fly to drift from a few feet in front of you, right across your body. The shorter casts make this possible.

Don’t worry if the cast isn’t perfect. If it isn’t, pulling it right out of the water can spook all sorts of fish. Let it drift past you and try again. A trout’s field of vision is 320 degrees. If you cast 20 degrees from the fish, you’ll be in the blind spot and be less likely to spook the fish. As soon as you’ve hit a spot and drifted over it a few times, take a few steps upstream and go again.

For wet flies, it all depends on what type of fly you are using. If you’re using a streamer, try and find a section of rapids that turns into a pool. Cast into the rapids, let it drift into the pool and right as you see it “swing” back towards you, start stripping. Small, aggressive strips are going to get those fish to come away from the bank.

streamer fly fishing in the smoky mountains
streamer fly fishing in the smoky mountains

Again, you don’t need to cast streamers far. Let it naturally float in the pool from the rapids. Keep your rod tip high as it flows through the rapids and the change of getting snagged drops. Nothing ruins a hole more than having to get in the water to remove your fly from a snag.

Nymph fishing can be just as difficult as dry fly fishing. Cast five to ten yards upstream to the opposite bank. Keep the rod tip high because you don’t want the fly line to ruin the fly’s descent in the water. Be ready for the strike as the fly drifts right in front of you. You’ll see that quick tug and be ready to set the hook. It’s a small window that the fly will be drifting naturally.

As you gain experience, you’ll know when the fly is moving correctly. The fly line isn’t dragging it down stream and you can see the fly doing the work.

When fishing an emerging fly, fish it similarly to the dry fly. A few yards upstream, a quick mend and be ready. You’ll see the tips of the wings sticking out of the water. If it is the right time to fish an emerger, there will be quite a bit of action near the surface so make sure you can locate the fly or end of your fly line. Let it swing a few feet past you and try again.

Be sure to be active when you are fishing. If you continuously to hit a spot in hopes of catching a fish, your chances of catching one drop. If fish are interested in your fly, you’ll either get hit on the first couple casts of the fish will “flash” at it. This is most common with streamers. If you’re stripping it out of a pool, you may catch the flash of a trout chasing it and dipping away at the last second. This is a good sign. Cast in the pool again and see if you can get it to strike.

Best Wet Flies for Trout

San Juan Worm– It’s all in the name. This fly imitates a worm. It’s often forgotten by anglers, but it doesn’t take an expert to know that fish love worms!

Wet Flies for Fly Fishing
Wet Flies for Fly Fishing

Woolly Bugger- It may be the most versatile fly in your box. It’s easy to find and purchase and comes in all sorts of designs.

Pheasant Tail Nymph- This is a solid choice for a nymph. You can either fish with one that has a bead head or opt not to. It can portray several different preys that entice trout!

Crayfish- Crayfish are all over the place. The beauty of this fly is that the fish are likely not used to seeing it! You have unfamiliarity in your favor.

How to Tell the Difference Between Different Types of Flies

Dry Flies– they usually have lighter hooks and collars. If they are made of elk hair or stiffer material, they’re likely dry flies. Also, if they are made of foam, they’ll float!

Flies and Hooks Dry Fly Nymph and Streamer
Flies and Hooks Dry Fly Nymph and Streamer

Nymphs– You can tell a nymph by its size and material. If it’s a softer material, small (size 8-12) it likely is a nymph. Also, many nymphs have brass beads right near the top of the hook.

Streamers– These flies are going to be some of the biggest flies in your box. They need to imitate a bait fish or bigger prey. These will also often be weighted with eyes or a large bead head. They’re anywhere from size 8 to size 1 hooks.

Wet flies– These flies are going to have material going everywhere. Long wings and a little softer material will give these away. Remember, they need to imitate a fly just below the surface. They won’t have the hard collar like dries, but will contain some harder material to stay near the surface.

Fly selection can be difficult. Do your research. Once you’re at a river find the hatched flies away from the banks, grab one and compare it to the fly in your box. If nothing is hatching, a pheasant tail nymph or woolly buggers are great searching flies!