| History and Background to Wet Fly Fishing
Around the middle of the 19th century a small book about trout fishing
was published in Edinburgh. The author was W. C. Stewart, the book
was entitled The Practical Angler, or The Art of Trout Fishing,
More Particularly Applied to Clear Water. This book discusses
in some detail just about every aspect of angling for brown trout,
from the excuses of anglers, to different woods for rod making. There
is also advice about staining gut, different kinds of worms, and minnows,
best weather, par-tail fishing, experiments with hooks and on and
on. Never has a book been written with more information on angling
for brown trout. There is even a section telling the reader how to
catch twelve pounds of trout in one day!
Even though the writing style is of its day, this small volume is
packed with very sound advice throughout. Its pages covering wet fly
fishing on rivers, are in my opinion, invaluable. They need to be
read and digested by every river fly fisherman who enjoys wet fly
fishing. The information and advice on wet fly fishing and the tying
of spiders has yet to be bettered.
Stewart strongly advises the 'upstream' or 'upstream and across' style
of wet fly fishing, and puts forward a strong case why we should do
so. In fact, it's the strongest case possible - only by casting our
flies upstream and then allowing them to drift with the flow, back
towards the angler will they behave naturally. This is not rocket
science! So, why then does just about every river wet fly fisherman
swing wets 'down and across'?
Pritt and Edmonds & Lee offer the same advice (when the river
is running clear). Edmonds & Lee even take the reader through
an imaginary session, their coaching mirrors Stewart's teachings.
However, all these authors agree that upstream wet fly fishing is
'an unnecessary toil' when the river is running high and coloured.
In the mid eighteen hundreds, angling entomology was, at best a bit
sketchy, and often just plain wrong. Stewart typically avoids any
'matching the hatch' scenario (for that information you have to refer
to Edmonds & Lee's Brook and River Trouting (1916). Instead
he has his favourite patterns, in fact just three - The Black Spider,
Red Spider and Dun Spider. He tells us that these flies are all that
are necessary. What a shock he'd get if he could see today's fly fishing
scene! He also has a few favoured winged flies, but claimed the spider
style patterns are far more deadly, right again!
Stewart's advice (as well as Pritt's and Edmonds & Lee's) was
simple. Cast 'upstream' or 'upstream and across' and also progress
upstream. Cast only a short line, cast very frequently, allowing the
flies to drift naturally for only a short distance and search out
every likely looking spot - that is most important. Today very, very
few river fly fishers, including regulars, fish upstream. They don't
like it, for several reasons. It's repetitive, has a high work rate,
and requires complete focus. It also requires good co-ordination with
the rod tip, because the flies are drifting back towards you, so there
is no tension on the line, and the take is not a pull felt by the
angler. You'll have to be on your toes, as quite often, you only have
a split second to react to a take.
So why go to all that trouble when it's possible to get a brace, swinging
the flies 'down and across'? Think about it for a moment, how many
pulls do you get that don't convert? How many times do you hook one
and lose it almost immediately? And how many times have you been 'pinged
off'? This does not happen when fishing wets upstream.
Very few techniques work well during a late June heat wave, when the
river is showing its bones and it's three in the afternoon - 'the
dead time'! But even so, as you'll see on the DVD, 'upstream' wet
fly can still produce fish. Obviously, this technique is at its most
effective when the fish are regularly taking surface borne insects,
when trout are looking up, eager to take any drifting, hapless insect
- during a hatch or a fall of terrestrials.
When conditions aren't ideal, when very few fish are rising, perhaps
just the odd 'oncer', I very often 'search fish', using my own method,
the 'escalator'. It is a technique that increases your search area.
It is another simple skill that you ought to learn. Like the 'upstream'
style, it also presents dead drifting flies. However as the dead drift
part fishes out, the fly line tensions slightly, causing the flies
to rise. This can be the most deadly part of the drift - the flies
rising in the water column - sometimes, just what you need to provoke
a trout to take. The 'across' method should also be part of your armoury.
This technique is particularly useful on crinkly, near flat glides,
when fish are up, eagerly knocking off duns, cripples, emergers and
Here then, are the three alternatives to 'down and across' that I
show you on this DVD. All three skills require some dexterity, plus
an understanding of river craft. But, they're simple to master, and
so much more effective than the common 'down and across' style - and
it's how you should be wet fly fishing today. The biggest problem
I suspect for most anglers, will be changing the habits of a lifetime!