Knowing Your Flies, Part 1

Learning the Different Kinds of Flies is the First Step to Fly Fishing Success

Flies by Sean O’brien

Fly fishing hinges on using the right fly for the right place and time, and fly tiers have given fishermen the power to essentially bring an unlimited number of patterns, styles, colors, and sizes of lures with you anywhere, and change to adapt to current conditions.  That freedom of choice is a boon to anglers who know their flies, but for newbies it can be bewildering.  Before you can pick the right flies you need to know something about them – what they are, what they imitate and how they fish.

Breaking Down Basic Types of Flies

Before we delve into determining when to use which fly, let’s look at some of the different types of flies and the situations they’re used in. There are many variables that influence your choice of fly, including time of day, what you’re fishing for, the season, the temperature, the habitat of the fish you’re targeting and what insects or small prey those fish are feeding on.  In my opinion the most important factor is the available food sources in the area you’re fishing.  Knowing a fish’s diet in general is helpful, but knowing exactly what they’re feeding on right here, right now will allow you to pick the fly most likely to hook that monster.

There are two main types of flies – imitators, which imitate a living creature that can be found in nature, and attractors, which are eye-catching flies that trigger a response from the fish, but don’t imitate anything in particular.  Breaking it down even further, flies are typically categorized as either a dry fly, a nymph or a streamer, depending on whether or not they float on the surface, and whether or not they’re allowed to drift or fished with an active retrieve.

The dry fly imitates insects that commonly float on top of the water, and the fish strike from below.   Dry flies are usually selected to “match the hatch”, that is to mimic the insects that hatch from the nymph stage and change into insects that fly.  Others imitate terrestrial insects that fall into the water by accident, like grasshoppers.  These are some of the most user friendly flies because you can see the fish strike, giving you an instant and highly visible signal to set the hook.

The nymph is so named  because it imitates  larval insect that can be found under the water’s surface.  Nymphs are a kind of wet fly, meaning they’re fished beneath the water’s surface.  Nymphs are the perfect lure for trout, who feed underwater 80 percent of the time.  The flip side is that they’re generally tougher to fish, since you can’t see the fish striking the lure.  Usually a high-visibility strike indicator is attached to the line to help the angler detect a strike, but often a slight twitch will be the only warning when a fish hits the nymph.  Nevertheless, the nymph is often the bread and butter of experienced fly fishermen.   It’s a reliable fly that works on almost every species and in almost any water.

Last but not least is the streamer.  The streamer is another wet fly, but instead of an insect it imitates a baitfish or other large prey.  The technique for fishing a streamer is different from that used with the nymph and dry fly, which are allowed to drift in the current.  A streamer is actively manipulated by the angler to create enticing action and realistic movement.  First choose a spot, cast out, and the streamer slips beneath the surface.  You then begin stripping, or pulling in line, usually about 4 inches at a time.  The action creates movement that will attract the fish you are seeking. I personally think the streamer is the most fun out of all the kinds of flies, because you generally see huge strikes, and the very large size of the fly attracts the biggest, most aggressive fish.  There’s nothing like stripping in line and feeling a huge fish crush your streamer.

Next we will focus on some techniques to use with these three style of flies, to maximize your chances of hooking up.  As the summer begins, remember, you can’t catch em if you don’t go after ‘em.

Which fly is your favorite? Leave a comment.









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