A Beginners Guide: What's The Difference Between Wet And Dry Fly Fishing?

March 21, 2024

Our ultimate guide, specific to Tasmania, breaks down a common question among many new anglers in exactly what is the difference between wet and dry fly fishing?

A Beginners Guide: What's The Difference Between Wet And Dry Fly Fishing?

In Tasmania, where fly fishing is a big deal, knowing this difference is key to a good fishing trip. Whether you're casting into a calm lake or a flowing river, figuring out if you should be using a wet or dry fly will help you catch more fish and have a better time doing it.

 In Summary:

  • The fundamental distinction between wet and dry fly fishing lies within the water. Wet fly fishing targets the underwater world, where as dry fly fishing operates on the water's surface.
  • Wet flies are the underwater imposters of the fly fishing world tied to resemble a variety of aquatic life forms that fish prey on, such as small fish, tadpoles, frogs, and even the larval stages of insects (nymphs).
  • Dry flies, in contrast, are the aerial mimics. They a redesigned to look like terrestrial and aquatic insects that land on the water's surface, such as mayflies, caddisflies, beetles, and grasshoppers.
  • Choosing between wet and dry fly fishing often comes down to the season and the corresponding behaviour of fish and insects.
  • The technique involved in wet fly fishing requires the angler to impart movement to the fly, simulating the swimming or drifting motion of the prey being imitated. Dry fly fishing however often demands a more static approach.

With all this in mind, if you're interested in more of a deep dive, keep reading

Wet vs. Dry Fly Fishing - The Basics for Beginners

Copying Life Below and Above Water:

Understanding the distinction between wet and dry fly fishing starts with recognising the role that each fly plays in the aquatic food chain.

  • Wet flies: Are designed to sink beneath the water's surface, imitating the myriad of creatures that thrive in the underwater ecosystem. These flies replicate the look and movement of prey such as small fish, nymphs, and even amphibians, appealing to the predatory instincts of fish. The design of wet flies, often with heavier materials or added weight, ensures they quickly reach the feeding zones of fish lurking below.
  • Dry flies: In contrast, are crafted to float, mimicking the insects that land on the water's surface. These flies often use materials that repel water, such as hackles and buoyant bodies, to stay atop the surface, simulating the behaviour of terrestrial and aquatic insects in their adult stage. The illusion created by dry flies is that of an easy meal, trapped on the water's surface, vulnerable to being picked off by fish from below.
mans hand holding dry fly fishing fly
Dry fly fishing is characterised by smaller, more delicate flies that sit above the water surface.

Tasmania's Seasons Decide:

The choice between wet and dry fly fishing in Tasmania is significantly influenced by the seasonal changes the island experiences.

During the colder months, insect activity diminishes, making wet flies more effective for mimicking the limited food sources available underwater.

Fish, adapting to the scarcity of surface food, turn their attention to the more abundant subsurface prey, making wet fly fishing the go-to method.

As the seasons shift and the warmth of spring and summer invigorates the insect population, the air and water's surface become alive with activity. This abundance of surface insects makes dry fly fishing particularly effective. Fish become more surface-oriented, eagerly awaiting the next meal to land or hatch.

This period is marked by exciting visual fishing opportunities, where anglers can witness the direct interaction between fish and fly.

Different Moves for Different Flies:

The techniques employed in wet and dry fly fishing reflect the natural behaviours of the prey they imitate. Wet fly fishing requires a dynamic approach, where the angler must impart movement to the fly, simulating the swimming or wriggling actions of underwater creatures. This can involve techniques such as "stripping" the line in short, sharp pulls, or a steady retrieve that makes the fly swim through the water in a lifelike manner.

Dry fly fishing, on the other hand, often relies on the natural flow of the water to carry the fly into the feeding path of fish. The skill lies in presenting the fly in such a way that it appears natural and unattached to anything suspicious. At times, slight movements may be imparted to mimic the struggling of an insect on the water's surface, but the essence of dry fly fishing is in the art of the delicate, undisturbed drift.

FAQs: Wet and Dry Fly Fishing in Tasmania

What's the real difference between wet and dry fly fishing? 

The core difference between wet and dry fly fishing lies in the zone of the water column they target and the natural prey they mimic. Wet fly fishing delves into the underwater world, requiring flies that are designed to sink and resemble the aquatic life forms that fish feed on beneath the surface. On the other hand, dry fly fishing plays out on the water's surface. Here, the flies are crafted to float, imitating insects that have either landed on the water or are emerging from their nymphal stage.

Can I still use wet flies when it's hot out?

Absolutely, while wet flies are typically associated with colder weather due to their ability to mimic the subsurface food sources fish rely on during these times, they can also be effective during warmer periods. Fish diets are diverse and not limited to surface insects even in warm weather. Observation is key, and if you can't see any insects or rising fish, wet flies can be a good alternative.

Do I need special gear for wet and dry fly fishing?

While the fundamental gear— rod, reel, and line —remains consistent across fly fishing, the specifics of your setup can vary slightly between wet and dry fly fishing. The primary difference comes down to the flies and sometimes the line type you choose.

Why don't people talk about wet fly fishing as much?

Wet fly fishing might not get as much attention as dry fly fishing, especially in places like Tasmania, known for its spectacular dry fly fishing opportunities. The visual thrill of seeing a fish break the surface to take a dry fly is undeniably appealing and represents the quintessential fly fishing experience for many. While it may lack the immediate visual feedback of dry fly fishing, the anticipation and skill involved in successfully hooking a fish with a wet fly can be incredibly rewarding.

Our Top Flies for Fly Fishing in Tasmania:

Tasmania's diverse fly fishing opportunities mean that both wet and dry flies play crucial roles in an angler's arsenal. Below, we explore three top picks for each category, detailing their design, purpose, and when best to use them to increase your chances of a successful catch.

The Best Wet Flies for Fly Fishing in Tasmania:

Woolly Bugger: 

image of a wooley bugger

The Woolly Bugger is a versatile and widely used wet fly, mimicking a variety of underwater prey such as leeches, baitfish, or even large nymphs.
Its marabou tail and palmered body create enticing movements in the water, triggering aggressive strikes from trout.

Best Used: This fly excels in a range of conditions but is particularly effective in murky waters or during early and late seasons when fish are less likely to rise to the surface.

banner showing buy it now for the wooley bugger

Nymphs (Pheasant Tail Nymph):

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is designed to imitate mayfly nymphs, a staple in the trout diet. Its slender body and natural colouring make it an effective choice for mimicking a wide range of nymph species.

Best Used: Ideal for fishing in streams and rivers, especially during times when mayflies are hatching. It's a go-to fly for sub-surface feeding fish, particularly in clear water conditions where realism is key.

Bead Head Nymph:

bead head nymph

Bead Head Nymphs add weight to the traditional nymph design, allowing them to sink quickly to the feeding zone. The bead head also adds a flash of attraction, simulating the air bubble of an emerging insect.

Best Used: These flies are perfect for deeper waters or faster currents were getting your fly down to the bottom quickly is crucial. They're especially effective in the colder months when trout are holding in deeper pools.

Best Dry Flies for Fly Fishing in Tasmania:

Royal Wulff:

royal wulff

The Royal Wulff is an attractor dry fly, known for its buoyancy and visibility. Its bright colours and bushy profile make it easy for both anglers and fish to spot, serving as an excellent searching pattern when no specific hatch is occurring.

Best Used: This fly shines in choppy water conditions where its visibility can attract attention. It's also a great choice for covering large areas of water to locate actively feeding fish.

Banner showing royal wulff for purchase on trout tales online store

Elk Hair Caddis:

Designed to imitate the adult caddisfly, the Elk HairCaddis features a buoyant elk hair wing and a rough body that mimics the silhouette of the natural insect. It's effective for fishing in fast-moving streams and rivers.

Best Used: Perfect during the caddis hatch, usually in the warmer months. Its ability to float high and dry makes it ideal for skittering across the surface, imitating the erratic flight of the caddisfly.

Mayfly Dun:

mayfly dun

The Mayfly Dun replicates the adult stage of a mayfly, characterised by its delicate wings and slender body. It's designed to float gracefully on the water, mimicking the natural insect as it emerges and dries its wings

Best Used: Most effective during a mayfly hatch, when trout are selectively feeding on the surface. This fly is best used in calm waters where its realistic profile and gentle landing can perfectly imitate the natural insect.

Each of these flies has its place in the Tasmanian fly fisher's box, ready to be matched with the conditions, hatches, and feeding patterns observed on the water. Whether you're drifting a nymph through deep pools or casting a dry fly onto the glassy surface of a highland lake, the key to success lies in understanding the life cycle of the prey you're imitating and adapting your approach accordingly.

Final Thoughts: Either Way, An Adventure Awaits!

Embarking on the journey of fly fishing is an adventure that introduces you to the intricate dance between angler, fly, and fish.

Each method of both wet and dry fly fishing offers a unique perspective on the water, the weather, and the whims of the fish beneath the surface.

By familiarising yourself with the fundamentals of both approaches, you're not just preparing for success in the diverse environments of Tasmania's rivers and lakes; you're opening the door to a richer, more fulfilling fly fishing experience.

Either way, the beauty of fly fishing lies in its versatility.

Wet and dry fly fishing are not just techniques but also expressions of the angler's understanding of the aquatic environment and the behaviours of the fish within it.

Learning to read the water, the weather, and the fish are skills that come with time, patience, and practice. Embrace the process of learning, and don't be afraid to try new methods or tackle different conditions. The more you experiment with both wet and dry flies, the more intuitive your fishing will become.

If you're keen to dive deeper into the world of wet or dry flies in Tasmania, book a guided fly fishing tour in Tasmania with Trout Tales.

Our expert guides are ready to lead you through the pristine Tasmanian waters, offering insights, tips, and the chance to experience some of the best fly fishing spots firsthand.

Thanks for reading, and tight lines! Matt.

latest posts on the trout fishing tasmania blog

Winter Fly Fishing in Tasmania - What to Expect

Winter Fly Fishing in Tasmania - What to Expect

Discover what to expect during winter fly fishing in Tasmania including tips, expert insights, and how to make the most of the off season.

read post
Cast Away The Winter Blues: Trout Tales Announces 2024 Winter Campaign

Cast Away The Winter Blues: Trout Tales Announces 2024 Winter Campaign

Trout Tales Tasmania invites you to book your winter fly fishing adventure in Tasmania for a special early season discount.

read post
Our Mega Recap Of The 2023/24 Tasmanian Fly Fishing Season

Our Mega Recap Of The 2023/24 Tasmanian Fly Fishing Season

Join with Matt as we recap the 2023/24 fly fishing season in Tasmania, including highlights, lessons learnt and outlooks for next season.

read post

ready to embark on your own tassie 'Trout tale'?

If you're ready to begin your Tasmanian trout fishing adventure, get in touch to organise your all-inclusive, personalised trout fly fishing tour packages.
view trout fishing packagesbook now