Choosing the proper fly for your time on the water is one of the most challenging aspects of fly fishing. You can have the nicest rod, reel, waders and every other accessory you might need to land fish, but continue to select the incorrect pattern. As a result, you land fewer fish than anglers who understand the hatches and feeding patterns.
While it takes an added amount of discipline, understanding the patterns available for anglers and the hatch chart for the body of water you’re fishing will pay off in the long run. Do your research and some experimenting! Both of these will be sure to drive up your fish numbers. It can feel overwhelming at first, but once you have a basic understanding of the types, you’ll feel much more confident.
Types of Flies for Fly Fishing
There are a few main types of flies that you’ll find, but each type has quite a few subcategories. Again, it can feel extremely overwhelming, but that sense of confusion will go away with the more experience you gain on the water.
Dry Flies – Watching a Trout “Sip”
Dry flies are a favorite for many anglers. Dry flies sit on the surface of the water and are created to represent an adult insect or other prey that fish will rise to the surface to eat. Watching fish leave the water to grab your fly is exhilarating. You never know when it’s exactly going to happen, but the anticipation never gets old.
You have quite a few dry fly patterns to choose from. Your selection should all depend on what is hatching on the water at that time of year and day. Most well-known rivers have hatch charts you can access online. Otherwise, you can visit or call a local fly shop and ask them what their recommendations might be.
1. Chubby Chernobyl
The Chubby Chernobyl is a classic in the world of dry flies. This pattern was created nearly three decades ago to represent hoppers, crickets and even stoneflies. These are often tied on hooks from size 8-14 so they’re a bit larger and fish seem to have a difficult time saying no.
These flies are great for trout! When you visit a body of water later in the summer, you’ll see terrestrial insects everywhere. Hoppers, ants and beetles often fall in the water and fish are quick to pounce on them when they have the chance.
These patterns can even work great as the top of a dry-dropper rig. You’ll find that they’re able to withstand a decent amount of weight and allow you fish with a bit larger nymph.
2. Elk Hair Caddis
Caddisflies are everywhere in almost the entire United States. You can find these flies on the surface of the water later in the evenings on thousands of miles of rivers across the country. These flies are tied on hooks ranging from size 16 to size 22. Since they’re a bit smaller, you’re going to need a more delicate presentation to be successful with them.
These flies are also great for trout. If the fish are looking at the surface, you’ll find that they’re going to take a stab at these as often as possible.
3. Griffiths Gnat
Gnat patterns are underrated flies. Similar to Caddisflies, gnats are all over the place. They spend the majority of time bothering and biting anglers, but fish are also not hesitant to eat them. You’ll find these flies tied in sizes 18-22 and they’re perfect for panfish as well as trout.
You’ll need to use some light tippet when throwing these patterns because fish can easily spook when they’re trying to eat one of these. They’re best fished alone since they’re not going to hold up a nymph pattern well.
How to Fish Dry Flies
Some anglers argue that dry flies are the easiest flies to use. While this is true in some cases, it’s not 100 percent accurate. To know if you should use dry flies, take a look at the surface of the water. If you see fish rising, you’ll know that they’re looking towards the surface and wanting to feed.
Cast near the rises and wait for fish to strike. Your fly will most likely get eaten within a few seconds of it hitting the water. If it doesn’t, cast through the seams or up along the banks. This is where many insects often fall into the water.
If you’d like to learn just a bit more about some different flies check out the articles below:
- Do you like to fly fish for steelhead? 17 Favorite Flies for Steelhead
- Are you just starting out with the fly fishing thing? Read: 21 Best Flies for the Beginner Fly Fisher
- Is a big burly Salmon what your chasing? How about: 15 Favorite Flies for Salmon Fishing
Nymphs – Going Deep to Find Fish
Nymph patterns are another necessary fly for anglers to understand. Nymphs have the most variety and confusing aspects about them. The most important thing to note, however, is that all nymph flies are tied to be fished under the surface. They’re created to represent insects in the early stage of their lives.
4. Pheasant Tail Nymph
Pheasant Tail Nymphs are by far one of the most productive fly patterns you could possibly use. They are a wonderful representation of a Blue Winged Olive. These flies often hatch early in the spring. As a result, fish know to look for them and love to eat them whenever they get the chance.
You’ll find these patterns in size 16-20. Know the depth of the water you’re fishing before you begin casting. You may have to use a split shot or sinking line to get to the necessary depths. These are one of the better dropper patterns you could use.
5. San Juan Worm
From the beginning of time, worms have been candy to fish. They can’t say no! Fly tiers have created an extremely accurate looking pattern with the San Juan and anglers need to use it. It’s great for those clear days when the fish are spooky. Let one of these dead drift through the river and it won’t take long for a fish to strike. Make sure you’re using an indicator!
Guide Tip: You can use these for trout as well as bass and panfish.
6. Prince Nymph
Anything with rubber legs is a great thing to use for trout. The Prince Nymph is multicolored and can be a representation of about any insect you could possibly want. It looks appealing to fish even if there isn’t anything that looks similar.
How to Fish with Nymph Patterns
Nymph patterns are best to use right before a hatch. Fish are more active in feeding but aren’t quite looking at the surface. As the insect starts to break from its protective casing, fish feed. You’ll find these most productive when you fish them through seams, pockets and even riffles.
Anywhere fish feed, they will eat nymphs. Always use an indicator! This will help you detect strikes. Cast above the location you’re trying to hit and raise the tip of your rod to ensure the nymph gets to the proper depth.
Streamer fishing is one of my favorites! It’s active and you work a lot of water, below are some great articles to learn more.
- How to Use Floating Fly Line Streamer Fishing
- How to Fly Fish for Steelhead in Small Streams
- How to Make a Sink Tip for Your Fly Line
Streamers – Swing Flies
Streamer patterns are widely known as the patterns that are most going to agitate fish and help you land some of the largest fish. They often imitate everything from minnows to leeches. If you want to fish some larger prey, the streamer patterns are your best bet. These flies will help you land almost all predatory fish.
7. Wooly Bugger
The Wooly Bugger is perhaps the most famous pattern in all of fly fishing. It’s been used to represent a wide variety of food that fish are willing to eat. Whether you see minnows or just a lone crayfish, the Wooly Bugger is going to work for you.
You’ll find these patterns somewhere between size 4 and 8. They’re a bit larger and come in a variety of colors. You can fish them through pools, eddies and even do some pocket fishing with them!
Guide Tip: You can target bass, pike, salmon, steelhead and trout with these flies. They’re very versatile.
8. Clouser Minnow
The Clouser Minnow is another one of those patterns that have been around for years. Obviously, they are a strong representation of minnows, but they can also look similar to some larger worms. You can purchase these with dumbbell eyes or without any weight depending on what and where you’re fishing.
The Clouser Minnow can be purchased in size 2-6. You can target bass, pike, trout, steelhead and even salmon. Fish these in a variety of ways! Whether you want to dead drift or strip, these flies are going to work and help you land fish!
Popper Flies – Make a Splash
Poppers are extremely fun to fish. There are days when it’s necessary to make quite a bit of commotion on the surface of the water and poppers are going to be your best friend! These flies require some extra effort from anglers, but it’s well worth your time. They’re a nice representation of frogs.
9. Boogle Bug Popper
The Boogle Bug Popper is an ideal popper to use for bass and even pike. The rubber legs on this fly make it difficult for the fish to resist. You’ll find these flies in size 6-12. You can purchase a fly with an inverted “head” to ensure it moves more water!
10. Cork Popper
The Cork Popper is one of the more basic popper patterns that you can find. Again, this is a great pattern to use if you find yourself targeting bass or some pike. These are a bit larger and move quite a bit of water!
How to Use Poppers Fly Fishing
Poppers are best fished early in the mornings or later in the evenings when fish are looking to the surface to feed. Cast them up near the banks or even near lily pad fields. They’re essentially an imitation of a frog so anywhere frogs swim, throw these flies.
Saltwater Flies – Big Might Be Better
Saltwater flies are created to specifically perform in the ocean! The ocean is hard on all types of fishing gear including flies. As a result, you need to not only use durable flies, but also fly patterns that match what the fish are wanting to eat.
11. Lefty’s Deceiver
This is a classic pattern that every fly angler needs to have in their saltwater box. You can find hundreds of color schemes and variations of this fly on the market. It’s a wonderful baitfish representation. Since you can find it in so many colors, you’re able to match it to whatever is swimming. It’s great for sea trout, mackerel, bonito, redfish and even tarpon.
12. Crustacean Creature Fly
The Crustacean Creature Fly is one that you’ll use if you’re targeting everything from crabs to shrimp. These are primary food sources for saltwater fish and this creature fly is a wonderful representation. Bluefish, tarpon, bonefish and redfish will all eat this fly.
How to Fish with Saltwater Flies
Fishing saltwater flies depends entirely on what you’re targeting and where you are fishing. However, most saltwater fish are predatory fish so they’re going to strike hard and fast. They don’t want to be too exposed to any larger fish that might want to eat them. Fish near structure and provide quite a bit of movement on your flies! This will result in some solid strikes.
My Favorite Type of Fly
I love to chase large fish. As a result, I find myself most often using streamer patterns. I try to fish rivers with large pools, eddies and pockets. Casting upstream and working my fly precisely through the slow-moving water and waiting for that strike to come is addicting. Fish strike these flies hard and I can’t stop going back for more!