Old school when it comes to wet flies

To help pass a few long winter evenings in the past couple of months, I read once again several classic fly-fishing books that had greatly influenced me during my early years.

Absorbing the familiar pages of titles such as “A Modern Dry Fly Code” by Vincent Marinaro, “Nymphs” by Ernest Schwiebert, “Selective Trout” by Doug Swisher and Carl Richards “Hatches” by Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi is like having dinner with an old friend. Those books were first published at least 45 years ago, and all provided many clues to solving the puzzles of a trout stream back then. And decades later, I still find nuggets of wisdom with each new reading.

Of all the venerated fly-fishing books I read in my formative years, my bible was Ray Bergman’s “Trout.” First published in 1938, this book became a landmark work in American angling literature. My first exposure to “Trout” was from the revised second edition first published in 1952, a copy of which I checked out of the school library many times until I was able to save enough to buy my one of own. “Trout” included pattern recipes for hundreds of wet flies and color plates depicting them.

Many of those patterns were gaudy attractor concoctions that looked nothing like any natural trout food. Others were more imitative of common trout stream insects. I tied and fished a combination of both types and developed a selection of my own favorites.

The pages of “Trout” also provided guidance on fishing wet flies in the traditional “down and across” style, employing what Bergman termed a “hand twist” retrieve. Fishing a wet fly, or a pair of them, enticingly in the current with a downstream presentation is not something most anglers do nowadays, but I’m thankful for those lessons learned decades ago.

As much as I enjoy and appreciate all our modern fly-tying materials and methods, however, I’ve always maintained a connection to the classic, winged wet fly patterns. Part of that attachment is undoubtedly linked to nostalgia, but old-fashioned wet-fly techniques are still enjoyable and productive in many situations.

Over the past several seasons, I have been tying and fishing classic wet flies quite frequently. In addition to their traditional downstream presentations, wet flies are equally adaptable to the upstream fishing techniques many of us employ to tempt trout nowadays.

I frequently tie on a wet-fly pattern as a dropper above a weighted nymph and fish the rig with an upstream, dead-drift presentation. For those who like fishing tandem rigs, wet flies are perfect in combination with a dry fly. One of my favorite strategies is to fish upstream with nymphs or dry flies and then rig a pair of wets and fish my way back downstream with them.

Finding some of the classic winged wet flies might be a bit more difficult nowadays for those who don’t tie their own. For a basic assortment, I would recommend stocking a few patterns in dark, medium and light colors along with a few brightly colored attractor patterns. Dark patterns could include the Black Gnat and Leadwing Coachman, which is a great fly when the Grannom caddisflies are hatching in mid-April.

The Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear and March Brown are great medium-colored flies, while the Light Cahill and Pale Evening Dun are good choices when lighter-colored bugs are on the water. Going old school with wet flies is a worthwhile change.

Recruitment time

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is currently seeking applicants for a new class of Waterways Conservation Officer Trainees.

The basic duties of a WCO include law enforcement, education and community partnerships with anglers and boaters, and officers are specifically trained in all aspects of fisheries conservation and watercraft safety.

Applicants must be a Pennsylvania resident at least 21 years of age, a high school graduate or GED, and pass a criminal background check.

The State Civil Service Commission will accept applications until March 14. Applications will only be accepted online. The class of trainees is expected to report for training in January 2021 and graduate in the summer of 2021.

For more information on the position, visit the PFBC website, fishandboat.com. At the bottom of the homepage, click on the “Careers and & Unemployment” link. On the following page, click on the link for “Waterways Conservation Officer Trainee.”

Following civil service testing and selection, trainees will first complete a 26-week Municipal Police Officers Basic Training conducted at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy in Hershey, Dauphin County. An additional 26 weeks of training is conducted at the Stackhouse school located in Bellefonte, Centre County and includes field training alongside seasoned WCOs.

Trainees will assist with investigations, patrol regions, participate in public outreach events and stock waterways. The class of trainees is expected to report for training in Summer of 2021 and graduate in the summer of 2022.

Upon successful completion of training, this class of trainees will become seasonal Waterways Conservation Officers with the opportunity to be promoted to permanent WCO positions as they become available. Seasonal WCOs will work full-time, 40 hours each week from approximately March to October of each year.


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