Fly Fishing Flies, How To Tell the Difference



Flies can be categorized as dries, nymphs and wets, and long flies (bucktails, streamers, etc.). The successful trout angler will carry selections of each, the exact imitations dependent upon time of year and waters being fished. But there are a handful of each fly style that nearly every fly fisher carries, regardless of the date or the venue. These are the tried and true survivors that time has not forgotten, and which fish still find fascinating.



Trout can be exasperatingly selective at times, and fed like hogs at the trough at other times. Even so, there are several dries that cut across the boundary line between these two feeding modes, offering the sage angler a way out when encountering unexpected conditions.

The Adams. First tied along the Boardman River in Michigan, the Adams is a very good imitation of the Gray Drakes (Siphlonorus spp.) and the Speckled Duns (Callibaetis spp.). But as it turns out, it close enough to many other species to work at least passably well in nearly any hatch, provided the size matches. In tiny sizes, it will also work for midges.

The Parachute Adams. This is the most widely used “dry” fly in the world. I say “dry” fly because it’s really an emerger. As such, in the correct size, it will work for mayflies, midges, and caddises. This is one fly not to be without.

The Royal Wulff. Lee’s hair-wing brainchild crossed with the Royal Coachman is one of those “buggy” looking flies that trout just find good to eat. It matches a small butterfly in New Zealand, but otherwise matches nothing specifically and everything generally. A great searching fly, it also works passably well in many hatches.

The Griffith’s Gnat. Nothing but a body and a palmered hackle (a miniature dry, Woolly Worm), this fly is the single best adult imitation for midges, period. Clipped on the bottom, it’s a great emerger, too. Don’t leave home without it.

The  Elk Hair Caddis. Al Troth’s marvelous little imitation works on caddises the world over. In tiny sizes it fools midge eating trout, and in larger sizes and appropriate colors mimics smaller stoneflies, aquatic moths, the Alder Fly, the Spruce Moth, and other down-wings.

The Humpy. Another strange-looking cross between a Crowe Beetle and a Wulff-style hair-wing fly, the Humpy is another of the “close enoughs” to match up with a wide variety of species, as well as being a great “all arounder.” Carry it in tiny sizes to ape midges, medium sizes for beetles, caddises, and a few mayflies, and on 3XL hooks to suggest stoneflies.


Nymphs and Wets.

There are subsurface equivalents to the “all around” dries that every fly angler ought to have on reserve. Not only on reserve, but in the forefront of the box as well.

The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear. This is the single most used nymph that nicely represents mayflies, caddises, midges, and stoneflies. In addition, it just looks so tasty that fish want it whenever they see it.

The Prince Nymph. Another of “those just got to have it” flies that works whenever and wherever it gets put into the water. The gold bead variety is especially good for deep, fast water dredging. Its peacock herl body really catches the trout’s eye.

San Juan Worm. Trout eat worms, and they love Juan—especially in spring creeks and tailwater fisheries. Not a fly to be neglected; it will make you a kid again.

Woolly Worm. A really old fly that still catches fish like it was a sprightly youth. It can be dead drifted or fished with action with equal success. It looks like a whole series of insects and other subaquatic food organisms. Carry it a wide variety of colors and sizes.

Soft Hackles. The flies in this design group all have a soft hackle. Some are dressed with a tail, others without. The soft hackle gives the fly extraordinary action in the subsurface currents or when twitched along in stillwater situations. There are a host of sizes and colors, but one of particular note is tied with a hare’s mask body, gold rib, and mottled grouse feather (a soft hackle Hare’s Ear).

Copper John. A cross between a South Platte Brassie and practically any mayfly nymph imitation, this fly works so well because it gets deep fast and shows the trout a great nymph shape.

Zebra Midge. Tiny but deadly. Of all the hundreds of tiny midge larvae imitations, this one rises like cream to the top of the heap. Its bicolor, striped body really has the larval look.


Long Flies

This group of elongate imitations matches everything from minnows, to leeches, to mice, and more. Typically they are retrieved with action to give them a distinct “”life-like” movement. These are the “big fish” flies that seriously disturb the larger-than-life gang.

Woolly Bugger. This Marabou streamer/Woolly Worm cross has so much life that fish simply cannot resist it. With this fly on the end of the line, the trout angler can take fish anywhere. It’s tied in every color under the sun and works in all of them.

Muddler Minnow. The first true “acoustic” minnow imitation, its bulky head creates displacement waves that draw fish in like the proverbial magnet; certainly a fly that shines. A Woolly Bugger with a Muddler head is a thing of beauty.

Lefty’s Deceiver. Though created for saltwater use, the Deceiver is a great fly for all fish. It can be tied in smaller sizes for trout and salmon with great success.

Clouser Deep Minnow. Bob hit it on the head with this one. It works because it gets right down there on the bottom and stirs them up. It too, can be dressed in a wide variety of colors to suggest everything from bright silvery minnows to dull, mottled sculpins.

Strip Flies. Another design group, rather that a single imitation, these long flies employ a wing made from a strip of tanned hide with the fur intact. They swim like the Woolly Bugger and are tied in a variety of colors, weights, and head styles. They all work like magic.

Mickey Finn Bucktail. A fly of such vintage and scope that it stretches back to near the day that long flies originated, and yet it still knocks ‘em dead. A great attractor imitation with a serious attitude.

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