Streamers and Wet Flies: My Fly Patterns and Set-Up

My project for the year has been this: fishing streamers and wet flies. Fishing with Joe Drake and reading Dave Hughes’ Wet Flies will do that to you.

Every year, I decide to pick a river or a technique on which to focus. I’ll liberally visit other waters or employ other techniques to catch fish, but I like learning something new.

This year, my Orvis H2 tip-flex #4 has gone from being a dry-fly rod to a streamer rod. It can handle big fish very easily and has enough backbone to chuck-and-duck. I’m not throwing big, articulated streamers, and so, I’ve yet to need the usual #6 streamer rod. I’ll leave that project for another year!

My go-to streamers tend to be Wooly Buggers and Gartside-style soft-hackle ones. They’re not weighted. I instead use split shot, for I like unweighted flies that dangle in the current at the end of a drift. I trail the streamer with a wet fly, usually a size 16, 18 or 20.

Here are some photos (the wet fly patterns all came from the Hughes book; he has some novel all-fur wets and cool techniques for putting on a soft hackle to really secure it):



Here is my set-up:

    • Regular WF floating fly line
    • A 5x nylon leader cut back a few feet
    • Split shot
    • Tippet ring
    • 4x fluorocarbon. One or two dropper tags

A few other things are worth mentioning.

First, I tie the streamer onto the upper-most dropper tag and put on wet flies below that. I want the fish to see the streamer first as an attractor pattern during a swing. Trout have taken a wet fly 80% of the time.

Second, in faster water, the key is to put on enough split shot to get down quickly. I’ve been surprised how deep some of the buckets are that sit just below the shallow riffles.

Third, with 4x, I almost never lose flies. When I do snag, it usually is because the split shot gets trapped among some rocks, but a hard pull nearly always frees up the rig intact. I don’t think the fish are tippet-shy when they see a streamer.

I still feel that I’m new to the technique, but it has yielded some good fish already. I also bring to the river my tightlining rod, just to mix things up.

On my most recent trip to the Farmington, a rare mid-week visit just before a long work trip, it was a lot of fun to throw and swing the streamer-and-wet-fly rig.

The morning during a cold rain was surprisingly slow. Even though I hit a spot loaded with fish, I couldn’t buy a take. The water was 60 °F, and I thought the fish would be active. They weren’t, at least, for me.

So, I moved spots.

Eventually, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and loads of bugs started popping, even though the wind was blowing very hard. I landed a lot of fish. Here were some of the better ones, which measured 14″ to 17″ and which fought harder than any new stockie could.



But, the grand-daddy of ’em all was a big brown at a new spot that looked fishy but, unfortunately, I was there after other anglers had thoroughly worked the area and landed some fish. I caught the brown while tightlining with my Thomas and Thomas Contact #3. I was using a drop-shot set-up, as I was tired of the snags at that particular run.

The fish absolutely slammed the SJW. Once hooked, it leapt into the air and straight towards me. The trout was huge! My pulse accelerated quickly, and I followed the fish downstream as it pulled away.

Fortunately, my knots held, and very low side pressure with the rod tip pointing upstream gently led the fish above me, at which point I put the absolute wood on it with the butt of the rod. The fight ended quickly once I did that.

I was stunned when it taped at a solid 20″!

The brown had an orange elastomer behind its left eye, which meant that it was stocked in 2014 or 2015 (or possibly this season, if orange is being used for 2019). I’ve a note to DEEP to see what the elastomer colors are for this year, but I did see some newly-stocked fish with red elastomers during my outing.



So, enjoy the late-spring conditions. They’re very forgiving right now, and I hope you soon can get out on the water!


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17 thoughts on “Streamers and Wet Flies: My Fly Patterns and Set-Up

  1. It has been a good spring for swinging wets! Glad you added them to your quiver as they are a fun and sometimes productive way to cover a lot of water!

  2. Huh, all this talk of the streamer fishing you’ve been doing this season and I just assumed you were tightlining them! I guess 9′ 4-5wt rods still are useful beyond throwing dries 🙂 Great read as always

  3. I love streamers with a wet fly trailing it. You definitely are upgrading beyond how I do it, I am kinda lazy and just take the wet off the bend of the streamer hook! Also those are some really good looking fish!

  4. Thanks for writing! I am looking to start swinging wets on my trip to the Trophy Stretch next week. What size wets are you swinging? What size streamers? Why nylon leaders and not fluorocarbon? Any tips on tying leaders for a wet fly set up?

  5. Whoops, just reread the post and saw the bit about size 16/18/20 wet flies. My bad. Do you really tie on a size 20 fly with 4x tippet?

        1. Also, I find that, starting in mid-summer, small flies do much better, given the pressure fish face in the C&R area. Sizes 18 to 22 would be my recommendation for wet flies, particularly at the slower seams and runs. When nymphing, definitely have a smaller nymph as a dropper.

          I’ve also found that fish will start to key in on movement as a strike trigger. So, wet flies should work well when bugs are popping, and remember to let your rig swing up at the end of the drift when you’re nymphing.

          Have fun!

          1. Thanks! For some reason I always had it in my mind that wet flies tended to be bigger, like 8/10/12. This has been very enlightening! Gonna spend the evening with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale pre-rigging some tandem wet flies on leaders.

            1. No worries!

              They can be, if bigger bugs are in the water, such as Hendricksons. You can always pair a larger wet fly with a smaller one and see which one the trout prefer. You also can pair a bright wet fly with a drab one to get a sense of color preference, too. The larger or brighter fly can serve as an “attractor” at times.

              But, in general, at the Trophy Stretch, small flies rule the day once the fish get educated. It has been the same for me at other tailwaters, such as the Deerfield and Farmington.

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