How do I Identify Fishing Flies?

How do I Identify Fishing Flies?
Fishing flies are designed and tied to imitate the natural food that a fish routinely eats. Fly fishing involves matching natural bait such as insects to tied flies. When choosing a fly, it is important to be able to properly identify the type of fly before progressing to specific fly patterns. Different types of flies will appear and act differently in the water. Identify fly types first when making a selection to tie on your line.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Dry fly
  • Wet fly
  • Nymph
  • Terrestrial
  • Streamer
Step 1
Determine the general category that a fly falls into. Decide if the fly is a dry, wet, nymph, streamer or terrestrial. Choose a dry or terrestrial to match insects typically on top of the water. Select a streamer to imitate a minnow and a wet fly to imitate a later stage of development in an emerging insect hatched underwater. Choose a nymph that imitates the larval stage of an insect underwater.
Step 2
Identify the stage of development that the insect you will be imitating is currently in. Natural insects often exhibit different colors during different stages of development, especially when transitioning from a larvae stage. Top water terrestrials can also appear differently based on the time of year.
Step 3
Select the size of the fly you will need to fish. Choose a specific type and size of insect on which you have determined fish are feeding. Compare the natural insect to a tied fly in a size range typically between 4 and 22.
Step 4
Compare the color of the fly to the natural insect or minnow. Choose a fly that closely imitates the main fly color as well as minute variations. Pay close attention to streaks of white, for example, that could set the fly apart from another similar one.

Tips & Warnings

Conduct research on the trout stream, for example, before beginning a fishing trip. This will help you determine what types of insects will be present at a specific time of year.
Contact local guide and outfitter services to find out what flies are currently proving effective and in what sizes.
Include several sizes of a fly pattern in your fly box when beginning a trip so that you can identify and fine tune the size of the fly that will work best.

Article Written By Keith Dooley

Keith Dooley has a degree in outdoor education and sports management. He has worked as an assistant athletic director, head coach and assistant coach in various sports including football, softball and golf. Dooley has worked for various websites in the past, contributing instructional articles on a wide variety of topics.

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