Welcome to episode #6 in the Fly Fishing for Beginners blog and video series. To quickly recap what we’ve covered so far, in episode #1, I answered the question, “What is fly fishing,” as there are many misconceptions. In episode #2 we explored the fascinating history of fly fishing. In episode #3 we looked at the wide variety of fish that you can catch with fly fishing. In episode #4 we covered how to find places to go fly fishing in your local area. Episode #5 was about essential fly fishing gear. Episode #6 was how to set up some of that gear…more specifically, your backing, fly line, leader, and tippet. And in this 7th installment, you’ll learn about fly fishing fly types and fly categories, including dry flies, wet flies, streamer flies, poppers, and saltwater flies.
Types of Flies
There is some debate among fly fishermen about how many categories of flies there are. Many say three: dry flies, wet flies, and streamers, and others say five, which includes poppers and saltwater flies. However, poppers and saltwater flies can also fit into the primary three categories of dry flies, wet flies, and streams, which is what we’ll focus on here. Keep in mind though, that within these three primary categories, there are many different types of patterns and thousands of fly pattern variations. Don’t let that overwhelm you though, while there are indeed thousands of fly patterns to choose from, you can generally catch most any fish with just a few different ones. As I mentioned in a previous episode, you can make fly fishing as complicated or as simple as you’d like. The choice is yours.
Flies are created or “tied” from a variety of natural materials such as feathers and fur, as well as many kinds of synthetic materials. The types of flies you choose will depend on the species of fish you’re after, as well as the water conditions and the time of year, as most flies are designed to imitate the insects, baitfish, and other food items that those fish feed on where they live, which does vary during the different seasons of the year. On the other hand, there are also many fly patterns, known as attractor patterns that might not imitate a preferred food item at all, but rather, are designed to appeal to a fish’s sense of curiosity or aggression.
This is another element of fly fishing that makes it so exciting and challenging. Studying the food that fish eat and trying to match that food with flies, or coming up with wild and crazy attractor patterns that fish readily go after, is a never-ending source of fun and a means of growing in knowledge about the great outdoors. Learning what flies to effectively use for certain species of fish is way too big of a subject to cover in this video, so this is definitely a topic that you’ll have to study and experiment with on your own. But have no fear, there are countless books and tons of information on the internet that will help you. Chatting with fellow fishermen in your area will also point you in the right direction. As most fly fishermen find out, learning about what fish prefer to eat in different places and situations becomes a fascinating source of lifelong study.
Dry flies are designed to float on the surface of the water and generally are tied to imitate either emerging or adult insects such as midges, mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, damselflies, and even large insects such as grasshoppers. Poppers, which can imitate big bugs, frogs, and other larger critters can fit in this category as well, as they are indeed designed to float and be fished on the surface.
Many fly fishermen consider dry fly fishing the ultimate, as it does take a great deal of attention to detail as far as selecting the proper fly to “match the hatch” as well as accurate casting and a very skilled presentation. Prime dry fly fishing can also depend on the favorable weather conditions as well as being in the right place at the right time, such as when a good insect hatch materializes.
Wet flies are those that are fished under the surface of the water at varying depths, and even on the very bottom. They can be tied to imitate things like nymph and pupal stage aquatic insects, freshwater shrimp or “scuds,” worms, fish eggs, and crayfish. These types of flies can be dead drifted and allowed to sink naturally, they can be fished with a sinking tip line or with some split shot to get the fly down to the bottom fast, and they can also be fished under a strike indicator to control the exact depth of the presentation, which is a particularly effective tactic. Casting heavily weighted nymphs, micro jigs, and other wet flies, especially with a strike indicator, is usually not nearly as graceful as casting dry flies, but they can produce great results any time of year in any conditions.
Streamers are typically much larger than dry flies or wet flies and they are designed to imitate a wide variety of baitfish, crayfish, leeches, mice, and other such food items. Like wet flies, streamers can be fished at different depths from subsurface all the way to the bottom and they can be also be fished with varying speeds, from a dead drift, a slow retrieve, or a super-fast stripping retrieve. These are an especially good choice for large predatory fish and many saltwater flies are essentially big streamer patterns.
Again, while the dry fly, wet fly, and streamer are the three most basic categories, there are hundreds and even thousands of variations of them all, which will give you plenty of options to explore. Many fly fishermen enjoy making their own flies. Fly tying as it’s referred to, is a very enjoyable hobby, it can save you a ton of money, and it’s incredibly satisfying to catch fish on the tackle you crafted yourself. I was originally going to include a few episodes in this blog and video series on fly tying, but I decided to do a separate series on that topic in the near future, so stay tuned. In the next and final episode of this series we’ll cover basic fly casting, so stay tuned!
Check out the video below to see more…