In the days gone by winged wet flies were extremely popular among fly fisherman. Yet today we rarely see winged wet fly patterns for sale in shops or talked about online. Even though they seem less popular today I still enjoy tying and fishing with some of the classic winged wet fly patterns, such as the Royal Coachman, Governor, Hare's Ear and Leadwing Coachman.
Swinging wet fly patterns are still very effective in different stream situation and can actually save the day at times. I remember back once on opening day (first Saturday in May in Wisconsin) when no one could buy a trout. I arrived around Noon on this cold opener hoping for the Hendricksons to hatch in the early afternoon. As I was gearing up other fishermen that were getting ready to leave told me the trout were not biting, not even for a worm. Not to be discouraged as I stood in the cold water in the first run below the parking area I decided to tie on a size #12 Royal Coachman with a white duck quill wing. As the majestic looking fly tumbled through the run out of the dark rust colored water a trout swirled and took my fly. The trout took off down the run with my reel screaming and two guys on the bank yelling at me "What are you using?" After releasing the feisty, sixteen-inch, beautifully spotted brown trout I showed the two guys my Royal Coachman wet fly and they just shook their heads in amazement.
To me, winged wet flies represent emerging mayflies and oviposting caddisflies or drowned mayflies, which are often referred to as stillborns. Although we will never know for sure what trout see winged wet flies as they do work and sometimes better than any other patterns.
The wing materials used to tie these patterns will vary between fly tiers. The most common materials used are duck or goose quills, calf tails, and turkey tail feathers. Some complain the stiffness of quill wings causes their leader to twist. Although I have not run into this problem if you slightly mash the quill wing so it looks like a trout has been chewing on it you should not have to worry about the leader twisting and your wet fly will still be just as effective. Substituting white calf tail for the quill wing will also work and makes an extremely durable wing. Although I don't think it sinks as fast as a quill wing do. I have also found some feathers near the rump of a partridge that make better wings than using turkey tail feathers. I now prefer partridge rump feathers for my hare's ear and March Brown wet fly patterns.
Hackle used on the winged wet fly patterns needs to be soft, webby hen feathers. I prefer Collins Farms hen capes or some India hen capes or possibly some starling. These softer hackles help the fly to sink faster. I only tie 2-3 wraps of hackle before tying on the wing material. If you want your wet fly to lay on the surface dab some dry fly dressing on the fly to help it stay on top of the film.