The Beauty of Classic Wet Flies

March 10, 2020 By: Fred Klein

Brook Trout Fin Fly

A brook trout fin wet fly that I designed and have fished with success. Trout fin flies are tied to mimic the fin of a brook trout, which are territorial and aggressive, biting one another’s fins, especially during the spawn. These wet flies will work all through the year.

My journey in pursuit of trout with the fly began over 40 years ago with a new fly rod and instructions to cast and drift a fly. What a gift that was. The woods and waters of Pennsylvania, the Appalachian Mountains and beyond have brought a life of admiration for the wilderness, forests, wildlife, and a thirst for “what lies beyond the next bend in the stream and over the mountain.”

Royal Coachman Fly

Royal Coachman from Ray Bergman’s Trout (1938)

The history of fly fishing is a rich and romantic culmination of woodsmen, artists and literature which lies at the heart of early American history. The flies from the 1800s and early 1900s tell a story of their originators: the men and women in pursuit of wild trout and salmon. Their names are recorded in various annals along with their flies and their stories. They fished the waters of Maine, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Montana, to name just a few places where these pioneers made their marks.  Many of the patterns from the early years of fly fishing in the US (and elsewhere) were elaborate, colorful and artistically designed. They were flies tied on large hooks.  Many were tied in hand with no vise, and often on the river banks where the authors fished.

Jay Silver Fly

Jay Silver, from Ray Bergman’s Trout (1938)

Several exhaustive books were published with descriptions and painted plate illustrations of the most popular fly patterns of their era, giving us a glimpse into the details of the flies and techniques used. The first was Charles F. Orvis’s Fishing with the Fly in 1883, then Mary Orvis Marbury’s Favorite Flies and Their Histories (1892). Ray Bergman, born in 1911, was an intelligent and passionate fisherman, publishing his most influential book, Trout, in 1938, just before World War II. He fished extensively throughout the United States and Canada, becoming the editor of Outdoor Life for three decades. A brilliant work of art and literature, Trout included painted color plates of 440 wet flies, streamers and dry flies.  It displays a remarkably extensive collection of flies, including many patterns dating back to early America and many originally from England, Scotland and Ireland.

Golden Pheasant Fly

Golden Pheasant, from Ray Bergman’s Trout (1938)

There are a number of talented contemporary fly tiers who have pursued the classical tradition. Our endeavor is to continue the traditional methods and pass them on to the next generation.  I hope you might tie a few old flies, and perhaps cast them downstream.