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Wet fly fishing!

Judy Van Put
Posted 5/3/22

It’s the glorious month of May! May Day dawned bright and sunny, with morning temperatures rising from frosty 30 degrees to a balmy 74-degree afternoon out on the sunny deck. The songs of the …

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Wet fly fishing!


It’s the glorious month of May! May Day dawned bright and sunny, with morning temperatures rising from frosty 30 degrees to a balmy 74-degree afternoon out on the sunny deck. The songs of the birds sounded even sweeter, and more colorful flowers are beginning to push their way out of the soil to cheer the slowly greening landscape. By midday, the drone of a lawnmower could be heard in the distance. I planted one of the garden beds, and was surprised at how dry the soil was. A check with the USGS website on Sunday at 12:15 pm revealed that water levels had been dropping all week, and the Beaverkill at Cooks Falls was recorded at 607 cubic feet per second, slightly below the Median average flow of 634 cfs over 107 years of record-keeping. It was the first time in a couple of weeks that water levels were below average, but no real surprise, as evidenced by the dusty raised garden beds.

Water temperatures reached that “magic” number of 50 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, considered the benchmark for when mayflies are seen on the water, good hatches begin in earnest, and fly-fishers look forward to fishing with their favorite dry flies.

However, during the months of April and even into May, fly-fishers can count on having greater success fishing below the surface with wet flies and nymphs. In fact, in the early 1800s when people began fly-fishing in the Catskills, only wet flies were used. Frederic M. Halford, an English writer and fly-fisher of England’s chalk streams, published two books that were significant in the development of dry-fly fishing here in America: first, Floating Flies and How To Dress Them, published in 1886, followed by the popular and very influential book Dry-Fly Fishing in Theory and Practice (1889). But it wasn’t until 1935 when Preston Jenning’s work, A Book of Trout Flies, was published that dry-fly fishing in this country really took off.

Old-time Catskill trout fishers would fish with two or even three wet flies at once, as trout fishers in Ireland and Scotland do. How this is done is by tying a wet fly, such as a Leadwing Coachman or a nymph, such as Art Flick’s Hendrickson or March Brown, to the end of your tippet. This is considered the “end fly” and will most likely become the fly that the fish takes. Next, tie on a dropper, which is a section of tippet about 12 inches in length, about 20 inches above the end fly. To the dropper you would choose a brightly colored wet fly, which will act as the attractor to the fish – it gets the trout’s attention. Our favorite dropper fly is the Royal Coachman, with its beautiful bright colors and white wings that are easily seen under water. Cast the flies across the stream and allow them to swing downstream with the current – no false casting should be necessary, as the flies need to remain under the surface. Once the flies are downstream of you, slowly retrieve with a slight ‘twitch’ to the line, which gives the flies movement. Be ready to gently set the hook if you see the line suddenly stop; oftentimes a trout will hook itself. Being a predatory fish and an opportunist, once a trout sees a colorful attractor fly pass by, it will be eager to pounce on the moving nymph. And be prepared for the thrill that sometimes occurs, of catching two fish at once – something I first experienced while fishing the upper Beaverkill on Mother’s Day years ago. It was made even more special once I reeled in the pair and found a brook trout attached to the dropper and a brown trout on the end fly!

Good luck fishing, and when conditions are slow, do try that time-honored tradition of fishing two wet flies.


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