Martyn White | Thursday, 14 April 2022
Following on from last week, I thought I'd look at what makes a good loch style wet fly this week. I'm not talking about style here, if you look at the same pattern tied by good wetfly tyers and fishers you'll often find that they have a certain individual look about them that reflects their home waters and the tyer's aesthetic choices, but anyone looking at them would call them good flies.
Having looked thousands of wets tied by some fantastic tyers, and tied thousands myself, I think you can boil the factors that make a good wet down to three main things: colour, movement and presence. Everything else is just style. I don't think any of them are particularly more important than the other two, they work together to make the fly what it is.
Colour is probably the first thing to look at in a wet, not specific colours but the way the colour is. With the exception of pure black I want all of my wets to have translucent materials in them, this is possibly the most important part of the colour question for me. The reason is fairly simple, trout mostly see them from below backlit against the sky or when fished on a deeper the translucent materials pick up available light giving the fly a bit of a glow. This is why seal fur is so hard to beat as a material. It takes dye beautifully, is shiny and transmits light beautifully, it should always be brushed out with velcro to let the fibers catch the light, always. It's no coincidence shop bought wets only become good after a fish or two have roughed them up. The second is that the colours are blended. Dubbing should be mixed and a slightly different shade than the hackle. Yes you can tie a claret bumble with sealfur straight from the claret packet, but it'll be better if you use a mix of 2,3, 4 or even 5 colours to get the shade you want. Perhaps 2 clarets, a brown black, a deep red and possibly a pinch of magenta adjusting the proportions as you tie clarets for differing light conditions, but no purple! Purple has no place in claret. It might seem excessive, but it can and often does make the difference between success and failure. Third is contrast and varigation either through a lighter or darker tone, mottled material, something bright or some combination of them. The claret bumble is a great example. It's full of contrast, the mix of seal fur brushed out into the 2 hackles 1 claret to catch the light and 1 black to offer contrast and silouhette, then the tippet tail and jay shoulder hackle offer a brightness that works with and against the warm dark tones of the rest of the fly, making this fly a fantastic choice for those days where the light is changing from bright to dark because there's always something the fish can easily see. Fluorescence is a boon on almost every fly, especially on flies that will be fished deeper.
Movement is also important, a wet fly should be alive and swimming so materials have to be chosen appropriately. Recently more and more people seem to be moving towards using all hen hackle on their wets, probably because it's getting hard to get good Chinese cock capes and most genetics are now too spiky and stiff. The genetic hen necks now available are certainly very nice and consistent. I've not yet made the leap to all hen and I'm not sure I will. They're softer than cock hackle and certainly move more, but they are generally less translucent and sometimes need a bit of support to get the most movement out of them. It's always a bit of a trade off and probably the ideal balance is findng some henny cock hackle that will cover most jobs then adding some softer materials to get the fly to swim. Most of the time this is going to be hen or game bird hackle(s) at the shoulder of the fly or soft feather in the tail, wings should also be soft-never do any of that laquering nonsense to keep the wings together- slip wings might look nice when tied, but they should split when fishing allowing the fibers to move freely. You'll also get more movement and a better fishing fly if you put the hackle in front of the wing on your flies rather than tying the old beard style hackles.
Presence in the water is pretty closely linked to movement, bigger flies more heavily dressed with stiffer hackle push more water making them more suitable for a bigger wave, lighlty dressed flies are more suited to calmer conditions. But even small, sparse, more imitative wets like snatchers or smidges have some ability to push water and help fish find them. I really like a snatcher with a stiff head made from chopped up ice or sparkle yarn for example. These flies are being moved and every strip causes them to push water. The turbulence created by water pushing materials also helps to make the soft material in the fly move, everytying is working together. It's pretty obvious with the bigger stuff like muddlers and bushy bob flies, I think it's often overlooked with the wee flies but just a chunky thorax and a couple of turns of hackle can turn a static nymph into a very effective puller. Stan Heady's blushing buzzer is a great example, omit the hackle and it's a dead drifter that might fluke the odd fish when pulled, but a couple of turns of hackle adds a bit of water push (and movement) producing a fly that is still super effective when moved. The cruncher vs. the diawl bach is the same, both work great as nymphs but the cruncher is a much better wet fly ideal for fishing slowly on the point and middle dropper with a half hog on the top dropper creating a tiny attractive wake to draw fish to the team.
In the POD, I've attempted to show how a few different traditionals will appear when viewed from below. Obviously the three fies pictured would be fished in differnet light conditions, but hopefully the picture goes some way to illustrating how the colours work. I can't really demonstrate movement in a still image, but when choosing a wetfly I'm always thinking about movement and light.