Fly Selection - A Beginner's Guide

3 years ago

Selecting a fly seems daunting for new anglers. The guide books list thousands of insects with long names and regional variables. You'd think the fish were pretty damned smart, obviously more intelligent than the average fly rod touting human being.

Luckily, the reality is in your favor. Use the following variables to match any hatch. 


Size – Match the size of visible insects within reason and you are well on your way to matching the hatch. Nymphs and emergers have some wiggle room and a close size is acceptable. Dry fly sizes require the most accuracy. 

Color – Observe the color of nymphs and larva by picking a few rocks from the stream bed. Observe flying adult insects and match the color of the natural with your fly. 

Abundance – In some cases, numerous bugs are present and deciding which to imitate is difficult. As a general rule, the fish focus on the most abundant insect available. 


Nymphs, Dries or Streamers? 

Your fishing success depends on making an educated fly choice. Choose dry flies when you see insects emerging, laying eggs and hovering over the water. Target the hatch with dry flies when the fish are visually feeding on or near the surface. 

Nymph fishing is highly effective as the majority of a trout's diet is obtained subsurface. Choose a nymph when no hatch is present and the fish are not visible. 

Streamer fishing is always a good option. Choose a streamer when you want to target larger, more aggressive fish. Choose a streamer when the water is off-color and visibility is low for the fish. 



Mayflies are a common food source found in river and lake environments. Numerous varieties are available to trout with colors ranging from bright yellow to dark brown. Hatches occur throughout the year, making the mayfly one of the most reliable freshwater food sources.

Nymphs – Pheasant tail, Hare's Ear, Micro May, Copper John

Emergers – Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail, Spotlight Emerger, Quigley Cripple

Adults – Adams, Parachute Adams, Sparkle Dun



Caddis are abundant in freshwater and often under-utilized by anglers. The grub looking larva provides a meaty meal for fish, the pupa are highly visible and the adults stay close the surface. All phases of the life cycle provide easy meals for trout. Caddis larva are available throughout the year. The pupa and adults are available from the spring through the fall.

Larva – Wire caddis, Deep sparkle pupa, Caddis poopah

Pupa/Emerger – Sparkle pupa, Bird's Nest

Adult – Elk hair caddis, Goddard's Caddis, Stimulator, Cutter's E/C Caddis



Stoneflies live in high oxygen zones. Riffles, pocketwater and swift runs make excellent stonefly habitat. The nymphs crawl to dry land where there shed the exoskelton and transform into the adult phase of the life cycle. The adults are clumsy fliers and frequently fall on the water during the mating and egg-laying process. 

Nymphs – Pat's Rubber Legs, Ouellete's Stonedaddy, Double bead stone

Adult – Stimulator, Madam X, Rogue Foam, Turantula,



Small but numerous, midges are everywhere. They provide an easy and consistent food source in tailwaters, lakes and rivers around the world. When other insects are not available, midges provide a consistent food source. 

Larva/Pupa – brassie, disco midge, chironomids

Adult – Griffith's Gnat, Matt's Midge,



Terrestrial insects are available during the summer months. They are typically dry fly offerings but submerged imitations are also effective. 

Grasshoppers and Crickets – Dave's hopper, Joe's hopper, Parachute hopper, Sweetgrass hopper

Ants – fur ant, hot spot ant, parachute ant

Beetles – Black foam beetle, loco beetle


Crayfish and Crustaceons 

Rich in calcium and calories, crustaceons are responsible for creating large fish. Crayfish are abundant in North America and freshwater shrimp (scuds) are abundant in cold, clean waters. 

Crayfish – Clouser's crayfish, Dead drift crayfish

Scuds – Ray charles scud, hot spot scud


Dragonflies and Damselflies 

These big bugs are important summer food sources in stillwater environments. The nymphs and adults provide excellent fishing opportunities around the world. They are also present in backwaters sloughs found in low gradient rivers.

Nymphs – marabou damsel, wooly bugger

Adults – foam dry damsel, foam dry dragon


Leeches, Sculpins and Baitfish 

Represented by thousands of different streamer patterns, these active food sources are targeted by large, aggressive fish. They are present in lake and river systems. 

Leeches – Marabou leech, Mohair Leech

Sculpins – Wooly Bugger, Matuka, Wool head sculpin

Baitfish – Home invader, double bunny, zonker, flash minnow, slump buster

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