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  • Writer's pictureMarc Fryt

How to Use Wet Flies - Rigging

Why Wet Fly Fishing is Effective

Knowing how to rig up and fly fish with wet flies (aka soft hackles or spiders) is a versatile skill to have while on the river. It is the oldest (and arguably easiest) method of fly fishing, and it can help to save you from a tough day of fishing and avoid getting skunked. Wet fly fishing is an efficient way to cover water when there is little surface activity, when there is a lack of a hatch, or when you are not sure what the trout are feeding on.

Adding to their effectiveness, wet flies can imitate a range of trout food: aquatic insects, baitfish, sculpins, and small crayfish. Wet flies are also a great method to target the front side of boulders where some of the larger trout hang out in pocket water. For more information on how to use wet flies, check out Wet Flies: Tactics and Techniques for Multiple Fish Species.



how to rig wet flies for fly fishing how to set up soft hackles spiders

Below, this instructional article will dive into three basic ways to rig up wet flies onto your leader. Before we dive in, let's quickly cover gear recommendations to use when wet fly fishing. A standard 9 foot fly rod absolutely works, and I prefer to use a five weight or smaller rod when fishing with wet flies. A 10 to 11 foot fly rod, 2-4 weight, moderate to moderate-fast action, can be a better rod at times. The longer length and softer action can help you to pick up and mend the fly line and leader more easily in order to achieve improved drifts/swings and impart more subtle action into the wet flies. Many of the fly rods used for euro nymphing (aka tightline nymphing) are great to use for fishing soft hackles.

Finally, a floating line will have you covered for most situations, but for larger rivers an intermediate line might be necessary in order to get the flies deeper into the water column.

Also, if you need a refresher on knots and how to tie them, check out our other article: 7 Useful Knots to Know for Fly Fishing.


Single Wet Fly Set Up


how to rig wet flies for fly fishing how to set up soft hackles spiders

This first set up is very straightforward and is really the same as if you were using a single dry fly. When fishing with wet flies, I typically use flies that are sizes 10-18, and for those sizes I will use a 9 foot leader that tapers down to 4-6x tippet depending on the size of the wet fly. Fluorocarbon or nylon leaders both work equally well, but if you are fishing over rough boulders or logs then fluorocarbon could help out since it is a little more abrasion-resistant.



Double Wet Fly Set Up



how to rig wet flies for fly fishing how to set up soft hackles spiders

Ok, so now we are stepping it up to a double wet fly rig. This rig starts with a 9 foot leader that is tapered down to 4 or 5x. To set up a double wet fly rig:

  • First, cut off about 12 inches of the leader at the tippet end. Most packaged leaders come with about 20-24 inches of tippet and we just won't need all of that tippet. Cutting off some of that tippet (before we add the flies) will also help with casting and turnover of the leader.

  • Second, clip off 20-28 inches of 5 or 6x tippet from the spool. Run your fingers up 8-10 inches up from the end of the leader (the tippet end). Attach the new tippet at this point using a triple surgeon's knot.

  • Third, tie on your tag end and point end flies.

Why use the triple surgeon's knot to attach the flies? Well, the triple surgeon's knot give us a nice tag end that we can attach a fly to which allows the fly to have a little more movement. When tying the point wet fly in via the hook eye or bend of the hook of the first fly, it restricts movement and can even impede a fish from easily taking the first fly. Finally, we can easily change out the tag end fly without having to cut off the point fly. If we had tied the point fly to the hook eye or hook bend of the first fly then we would have to cut off the point fly just to change the first fly.

When using a double wet fly rig, you can choose to use weighted or unweighted wet flies depending on the depth of the water you are fishing in. If I am going to use a weighted wet fly then I prefer to have it as the point fly since it will cast better and I will have a tighter connection to my flies while they are swinging in the current.


Triple Wet Fly Set Up


how to rig wet flies for fly fishing how to set up soft hackles spiders

Using three wet flies might seem like a bit too much, but after you have fished with a double wet fly rig for a while, adding a third fly is not all that difficult. However, when adding more flies to the system there is always a greater tendency to get things tangled up, so practice casting and fishing with the double rig before trying three flies.

Three flies however, increase our chances of catching trout since we can use three different flies both weighted and unweighted in order to zero in on where and what the trout are feeding on. When using this rig you can also use two or even three weighted flies to fish slightly deeper in the water column.


This rig starts with a 7.5 foot leader that is tapered down to 4x. Using a 7.5 foot leader helps to keep the rig more manageable because once we tie on all three flies it will end up being 10-11 feet in length. If we started with a 9 foot leader then it would end up being 12-13 feet. To set up a triple wet fly rig:

  • First, cut off about 12 inches of the leader at the tippet end. Most packaged leaders come with about 20-24 inches of tippet and we just won't need all of that tippet. Cutting off some of that tippet (before we add the flies) will also help with casting and turnover of the leader.

  • Second, clip off 20-28 inches of 5x tippet from the spool. Run your fingers up 8-10 inches up from the end of the leader (the tippet end). Attach the new tippet at this point using a triple surgeon's knot.

  • Third, clip off 20-28 inches of 6x tippet from the spool. Run your fingers up 8-10 inches from the new end of the leader (the 5x portion that you just added). Attach the 6x tippet here by using a triple surgeon's knot.

  • Fourth, tie on your two tag end flies and point fly.

Stepping down from 4x, to 5x, to 6x also adds some assurance that if a fly gets snagged it will hopefully just break off at the fly rather than somewhere further up the leader.

If you are wanting to tie on a heavier, larger fly to the point (like a size 12 wet fly), then attach it using a 16/20 knot or trilene knot. Both of those knots are stronger and suitable for attaching small tippet to larger diameter hook eyes (like attaching a size 12 fly to 6x tippet). More info on those knots can be read about here: 7 Useful Knots to Know for Fly Fishing.

You can also start the rig with a 7.5ft leader that tapers down to 2 or 3x if you want a stouter leader in case you are targeting larger, more aggressive trout.


 

Some final thoughts on using these wet fly rigs:

  • Be sure to check the regulations for where you are fishing since some states, areas, or specific rivers do not allow for more than one or two flies to be on a leader.

  • After a few fly changes, the tag ends will become too short to attach a fly onto. When this happens, clip off 8-10 inches of fresh tippet, tie a uni knot above the original triple surgeon's knot, and then slide it down until it rests against the knot. Now you should have a new tag end that is roughly 6-8 inches in length.

  • The tag ends work best when they are no more than 8 inches long. Normally, you will notice the tag end flies twisting around the leader, this is fine since once they are swinging through the current they typically right themselves. This is not the case if the tag ends are much longer than about 8 inches, and they will really twist themselves into a mess.


 

Lastly, if you live in or are visiting Spokane, I provide guided fly fishing trips and instructional lessons around Spokane to include float trips on the Spokane River and stillwater trips across various Eastern Washington lakes. I guide with Fly Fish Spokane, and more information/trip rates can be found at the website: FlyFishSpokane.com


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1 Comment


Hunter Johnston
Hunter Johnston
Apr 24, 2023

I never thought about tying the triple surgeons knot above the end and tying a fly on the end of the tag already left. Genius thank you so much.

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