How To Tell The Difference Between Wet And Dry Flies

When starting out with fly fishing, choosing the best fly or bait can be an overwhelming task. Just like any other commodity out there, these fundamental parts of a fishing gear come with distinct specs, pros and cons. 

Generally, there are two types of flies that you can choose from. These are wet and dry flies. This article is here to make you understand their differences to familiarize you with them for a better fishing experience. 

Wet Flies vs Dry Flies. What Is the Difference

Design Difference

The first difference to telling between dry and wet flies lies with their design. Wet flies are shaped to imitate those insects that hatch below the surface of the water. Popular designs mimic insects such as caddis, stoneflies, blue-winged olives, mayflies and many more.  The flies can also be shaped to resemble larger water creatures such as crayfish, leeches and even small varieties of fish found in rivers and lakes. 

On the other hand, dry flies resemble ”floating insects”.  During angling, the flies are made to look like an insect that has fallen on the water surface, stabilized or died. Additionally, they come with other miscellaneous items such as feathers and hairs to help them stay afloat. Unlike the wet flies that can look like nymphs or any stage of the mentioned insects life cycle, dry flies take after adult insects alone. 

Wet vs Dry Weight

The second metric to knowing your type of flies is the weight. Wet flies are weighted mostly with gold (brass) bead head. They also have heavy metal wrapping around their hook to help them break the surface tension and sink. Some models also feature an additional dressings (mainly) zinc to help with extra weight. Other models also come with beads and boast wire for extra bulk. Otherwise, some companies recommend silk-body for their releases. 

Dry flies, on the other hand, are very light. Other than the fluffy and “floating insect-like appearance”, their wings or feathers give them wing-looking appendages. Otherwise, unlike wet flies that are made of materials that absorb water, feathers and wings in dry flies are waxed, oiled or have floatants attached to their bodies. 

The size

Other than the shape, size comes as the third obvious method to differentiating from a dry and wet fly. Generally, wet flies are the largest. The smallest in their wide range of the model is about a size 10.  On the other hand, the largest of all dry flies comes in a size 12. 

Angling spot

Wet flies are designed to go beneath the surface of angling waters. Courtesy of the bead heads, silk bodies, lead or copper wires and water-absorbent materials, they easily sink to the lower depths–to as far as the line can permit.  They are used on angling spots with species of fish that prefer feeding underwater. 

On the contrary, dry flies stay afloat on the surface of the water to attract fish predators. They are ideal for fishing spots with surface feeders. 


The last in metrics to knowing your type of fly is based on the seasons they are used. However, this argument may not give absolute distinction since one can choose to use the most preferred type throughout the year. Whereas, some other anglers use multiple flies all through their fishing life. 

Wet flies work greatly at any time of the year. However, they are the most popular during the early seasons when nymphs are hatching.  They are also popular when insects such as Greenwell’s spider, March Brown and Waterhen Bloa are deadliest. 

Moreover, during the early seasons, as an angler, you will need something that covers a lot of water. It is the time to go for the slower glides that work best with the wet flies. 

Dry fishing, on the other hand, thrives in spring and summer seasons when the water temperature starts to warm up. During this time, the rainbow trout starts to spawn. Additionally, the snowpack begins to melt in most parts of the world that experience extreme temperature. Small to medium water sources such as rivers become dirty and murky hence impairing their clarity. As a result, most anglers employ the dry fishing method since the clarity in water is also greatly affected. 

Can you dry fly fish during winter?

Most anglers choose to stay away from the gloomy frozen tombs of the winter seasons. So cold are the temperatures outside that you may wonder whether anything can rise above the water surface, leave alone hatching. However, the fact is, you can make some catch. 

But first, before hitting the road, it is only wise to understand some few basics here. First, is the winter hatching insects, their colours and their sizes. The knowledge on this will help you with customizing your dry fly to match the best lure. 

Second, is the time of the day to make your casts. Lastly, the spawning fish will not be available everywhere, even in your best angling points. You must understand the correct places to find the fish in order to eliminate guesswork. 

During winter nymphing and streamers are the most effective fishing methods.  However, you will observe some rising trout most often. In such cases, lures such as Griffiths gnats and midges and BWO’s patterns are the best bet. 

Midges and BWO Mayflies for winters should feature white and black colours, and olive or dark colours respectively. They come in size range between 18 and 28, but most anglers keep it at an average of 24 there. Popular models include smokejumpers, sprout or thin pin midges and renegades for midges. For BW’Os, parachute or thorax shape are the most ideal. 

Your water temperature should guide you on the best time to go fishing. For example, BWO hatch in a temperature range between 40-44. This means you must go out during the warmest hours of the day to effectively make a catch using the method. Other than using a USGS water dater, you can predict the day’s temperature by finding the average of your winter night and daytime temperature. 


Wet flies do not require a lot of skills to use. They are your best priority when starting out. Otherwise, adept anglers can use both the two types of flies depending on the seasons, type of fish and prevailing weather conditions in their fishing spots.