But even after a fish inhales a wire-bodied fly, the weight factor continues to play a critical role. Trout have an uncanny ability to quickly suck in, sample, and eject potential food items. Because a fish can bite and reject food items it deems unworthy with such amazing speed, anglers miss more strikes than they know. Aaron Frey of the PAFBC explained it like this: “Once they crunch down on them in their mouth and it feels unnatural, they will likely spit it out. Just like you biting into an apple and if it’s crunchy, you’re likely to see how it tastes. If it’s soft and mushy, you’ll likely spit it out before even tasting it.”
If you’re ever able to observe fish casually feeding underwater, you’ll see trout sample everything from passing twigs to pebbles and more, but they quickly reject nonbiological items when they get a sense of their texture. In Wendel Ozefovich’s movie, The Underwater World of Trout, he showed trout actually sucking in sticks, vegetation, and passing leaves. Not all trout are looking for the exact replica of passing bugs. As insects are streaming by in fast water, a fish barely has a second to react, and when they get a quick glance at a shiny fly, it’s hard for them to pass up.
Wire flies have the realistic “crunch” feeling similar to a bug’s exoskeleton, which encourages a trout to want to hold on for a second longer—and even a few extra milliseconds in nymphing can be crucial to multiple hookups and putting more beautiful fish in the net.
Wire Flies Down Under
There are several ways you can fish wire-bodied flies, but two preferred methods are straight-line and strike-indicator nymphing. Straight-line nymphing allows the angler to maintain a direct connection between the flies and rod tip. It’s a shortdistance game (see “The Long & Short of Nymphing,” May/June 2016) that minimizes the amount of fly line on the water. Keep your rod tip high with as little line as possible on the water, and follow your nymphs as they bump downstream along the bottom. If you’re missing fish or having trouble watching your line, attach a one- to three-foot section of fluorescent colored line as a “sighter” between the monofilament and tippet sections. It will help you detect even the subtlest strikes.
Throughout the spring, summer, and fall when fish are packed into fast-water pockets, plunge pools, and riffles, tightline nymphing is deadly. Tight-lining in shallow riffles allows you to feel every bump your fly takes as it tumbles its way downstream. Once again, strikes might be quick and subtle in these conditions, so be prepared to react.
Indicator nymphing is similar to fishing with a bobber in a farm pond, with a few minor changes catering to the particular river. A common rule of thumb is to place an indicator on the leader one and a half to two times the depth of water you’re fishing. For example, if you’re fishing three feet of water, set the indicator six feet from the fly. When I’m fishing wire-body nymphs, I like to keep that distance shorter because the fly’s weight shoots it to the bottom faster. For example, if I’m fishing a run that’s three feet deep, I place my indicator four to four and a half feet above the fly. This is a great technique during the winter months when fish hold in deep pools that are too wide to cover with a tight-line method.
When I use light flies like small Hare’s-Ear or Pheasant-Tail Nymphs—nymph patterns and rigs that typically require split shot—I like to omit the split shot and use wire flies as anchor patterns. Moreover, in my opinion, some of the deadliest nymph combinations an angler can throw include two heavy-wire flies, and they don’t have to represent the same natural. My personal favorite is a black or brown size 6 to 8 stonefly as an anchor behind a brown or olive size 14 to 18 wire-body Baetis. The Baetis covers a lot of bases when it comes to aquatic invertebrates, and the heavy stonefly quickly drops both patterns into a trout’s target zone. This is a fantastic searching method when fishing new water or rocky, fast water and it covers two prevalent trout food sources without getting too caught up in details.
That said, don’t be afraid to think outside the norm once in a while. Fish that might feel persnickety might just grab a bright pink, chartreuse, blue, or purple fly—colors anglers don’t really consider as part of a trout’s natural world. Sometimes, that’s exactly enough reason to cast them.
Working with Wires
If you’re tired of dulling your favorite scissors trying to cut metal at your tying bench, buy and keep a small, affordable pair of wire cutters on your tying bench. Even a good pair is likely cheaper than a new pair of tying scissors, and you’ll have an easier time slicing through heavier gauges.
To that point, how often have your reached that crucial stage while tying a fly, and all of a sudden the thread breaks on a rough edge of the wire and material starts falling off? A simple solution is to use heavier thread. Try bumping up to 8/0 instead of 6/0, or use a waxed thread that can handle small abrasions. Wire needs to be held tight into place on your hook, so naturally putting more pressure on the material helps hold it in place, and a thicker thread can withstand the tension better than lighter ones.
When shopping for wire, don’t always rely on nearby fly shops to provide you the goods. If there is a craft store nearby, check it out, because sometimes you could find sweet deals. Craft stores also carry oddball and bulk material of wire, yarn, large varieties of dyed feathers, beads, and much more, so it’s an opportunity to get some bang for your buck.
If you’re fishing a fly with a wire rib to keep hackles in place, don’t you hate when that first aggressive fish rips its teeth right through the wire and the fly begins to fall apart? To give your fly a little more life, keep a small spool of extra wire handy in your vest or satchel. It may not work every time, but you can possibly secure the hackles back down with a piece of wire and pull off a quick fix.
When it comes to wire flies, all the characteristics of color, shine, realism, and weight combine to form the ultimate wire body confidence patterns. It’s been said by some of the best fly fishers over and over again that catching fish isn’t always about the right pattern at the right time, but rather fishing patterns you’re confident in, effectively. Have fun with wire schemes; you might be amazed at the results.
Jesse Filingo guides in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania and on New York’s Delaware River (www.filingoflyfishing.com). This is his first contribution to American Angler.