Three Main Types of Fly Fishing Flies

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It is called fly fishing because the method uses a small, light-weight artificial lure (called a fly) to catch fish. In addition, a fly rod, fly reel, and specialized weighed line is used. Choosing the correct fly is an important aspect of being a successful fly fisher. There are many varieties of flies that available. In this blog we will discuss the 3 main types of flies, the dry fly, nymph, and streamer.

Visit any fly shop and you will find an absurd number of flies. You really don’t need that many patterns to cover most situations. In addition to providing some basic information, we will provide a list of the 12 most popular flies. If you are just starting out, or if you trying to decide which ones you should have, these are the ones you don’t want to leave home without. In the future we will post more information on them and show you how to make them.

The Dry Fly

The dry fly was originally developed for trout fishing. As the name implies, dry fly fishing is a technique in which the fly floats on the surface of the water and does not get wet. One of the most popular dry fly patterns is known as The Parachute Adams, and dates back to the 1920s. Dry flys are exciting to use, as the fish will come up to the surface to eat the fly.

Dry flies come in many varieties and are created to “match the hatch”, so to speak. Matching the hatch is a term that is used to match an artificial fly as closely as possible to a real insect. Fish primarily feed underwater on insects in their early stages of existence. Insects emerge through various nymphal stages and hatch to adulthood, where they gain the ability to walk, fly, or sometimes swim. An entire topic can be devoted to this, but we leave that for another blog and simply state: Most local fly shops will have hatch charts showing what insects are hatching for any particular time of the year. Or you can visit the area you want to fish in and visually inspect the bugs you see on the water. This will include: Mayflies, caddis, stoneflies, and more. A dry fly can also look like an insect that is not typically found on the water, such as an ant, or grasshopper.

Dry flies that do not look like a specific type of insect, such as those with flashy colors, rubber legs is called an attractor. Some fish are opportunistic hunters, and if they see something that resembles something they have eaten before, they will eat it.

As exciting as this is there is a challenge. The downside to fishing with a dry fly is that statement made a few paragraphs above, fish primarily feed underwater. Estimates are that only 20% of the time to fish feed from the surface (your mileage may vary). Some fish are cautious, so much so, that if there is not a specific reason they won’t come to the surface to feed. This is also dependent on the location and how much pressure the fish are under.

Most popular dry flies:

  • Parachute Adams (size 10-20)
  • BWO Sparkle Dun (size 14-24)
  • PMD Sparkle Dun (size 10-22)
  • Low Rider CDC/Elk Caddis (size 12-18)
  • Chernobyl Ant (size 8-12)
  • Griffith’s Gnat (size 14-22)

The Nymph

One of the most productive flies that can be used is the nymph. As previously mentioned, trout spend approximately 20% of their time feeding on food that is on the surface. Consequently, the rest of the time they are feeding on food underwater, and that is how us this type of fly, underwater.

A nymph is one of the stages that an insect, such as the mayfly, caddis, or stonefly goes through. It is during this stage of the insects life that they are living under the surface of the water, along the stream beds and on the the bottom. They are an abundant source of food for trout. In this category the Zebra Midge or Pheasant Tail, like the Adams dry fly are the ones you can’t go wrong with.

Since you really can’t see your fly when fishing nymphs, many anglers use a strike indicator. A strike indicator is many times just a little piece of yarn that will allow you to see when I fish takes the fly. Typically, the strike indicator will either stop, slow down, start moving upstream, or make some other abnormal movement that will indicate that a fish as taken the fly. The issue here is the lag from the time the fish takes the fly, to the time you notice the indicator is not moving normally.

Most Popular Nymphs

  • Pheasant Tail (size 12-20)
  • Gold Bead Hare’s Ear (size 8-18)
  • Brown Sexy Stone (size 6-10)
  • Tunghead Zebra Midge (size 16-22)

As a note, I am adding a worm to this list. Every fly box I have contains a worm pattern, such as a Cannon’s Worm/San Juan Worm (red). Usually if nothing is biting and the water is a touch off color, I will try this fly before moving on. Sometimes it will result in a hit. It was also the first fly I learned to tie when I lived in Colorado. So it has a place near my heart.

The Streamer

The streamer can be one of the most fun flies to fish with, and as far as productivity goes, only second to the nymph. Trout seem to strike streamers explosively and aggressively. Many times appearing to eat the fly as fast and as hard a possible. When fishing with a streamer, it is typical (and advisable) to use a slightly heavier weight of tippet.

Streamers imitate foods such as leaches, minnows, and sculpins. All of which are larger underwater food sources. Because they are imitating larger food sources you fish these a little differently. Cast your line out to a select spot, and either strip or pull your fly line in short bursts, or long bursts. The concept is to get your streamer to looks alive due to the combined movement of the fly and the water. This pulsing movement is what attracts the fish, and if done correctly is nearly irresistible.

The list of streamers is short and the one you can’t go wrong with is the the Woolly Bugger. When trout start turning to bigger food they become less picky. Sometimes you need something that looks more like a bait fish than a Woolly Bugger so I grad a Freshwater Clouser.

Most Popular Streamers

  • Bead Head Woolly Bugger (size 6-12)
  • Olive Freshwater Clouser (size 6-8)

Final Thoughts

These three types of flies, as well as the listed popular ones, are the absolute backbone flies you will be using while out on the water. Notice that this article didn’t state what colors you would be using. That is because they will vary when and where you fish. Experience, or asking a lot of questions to the local fly shops or your guide will help you become familiar with the differences. Part of the joy is going out and spending time on the water, practicing. Before long it will be second nature.

Stay tuned, share this with your friends, and look for more articles in the future. Remember to always have fun and protect our environment. Tight Lines!

Capt. Joe

Capt. Joe is a USCG License Commercial Captain (Near Coastal) and Licensed Guide in the State of Tennessee. In addition, he is master craftsman and specializes in hand making split cane bamboo fly rods as well as graphite/composite fresh water, inshore salt water, and fly rods under the U.S. Trademark ZombieStickz®, offered through Creek Time Outfitters in the Greater Nashville area.

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