The Names of Fishing Flies

The Names of Fishing Flies
Artificial flies are the crux of fly fishing. Choosing a fly that will attract a fish is a lifelong education for anglers. The time of year, ecological conditions, water temperature and lighting all have an effect on what insects a fish will feed on. Flies are made of a combination of animal feathers and hairs, thread, tinsel and other materials, put together to resemble a variety of insect species. The names used to describe these designs describe the name of the designer, the insect being imitated or the physical appearance of the fly.

Dry Flies

Dry flies imitate flying insects that typically fall or land on the surface of the water. Here they float with the current to resemble the real insects landing nearby. Dry flies are tied with wings and fur sticking out at a right angle to the hook shank, helping it float on the surface. Dry fly designs are found in abundance on fly-shop shelves, however, common flies that are useful in most fishing situations include the cahill, gray midge, flying ant, gray wulf, adams, black flying ant, and blue dun.

Wet Flies

Wet flies imitate insects found below the water's surface. These can be insects that have drowned after falling into the water or those that are rising to the waters surface to hatch. Wet fly wings on wet flies are tied so they extend to the back of the hook at a close angle to the shank. Because wet flies are often imitations of dry flies that have been submerged, many of their names are the same as their dry counterparts including the black gnat, blue dun and cahill. Other wet flies include the coachman, royal coachman, march brown and ginger quill.


Nymphs are a more specific categorization of wet flies. These are submerged insects in the larval or nymph stage of life and are beneath the surface of the water. Their bodies are tied without wings, some soft hairs, a tapered body shape and few, if any, tail fibers. Their close association with the wet fly category means many nymphs share their name with wet fly patterns. Adding nymph to a description of any fly helps to distinguish the stage of species you are looking for in a fly imitation. Some nymph names include march brown, ginger quill, yellow may, shrimp, stone fly, caddis and dark olive.


Streamers are typically larger flies, meant to imitate different species of baitfish. They are used to catch larger fish such as salmon or steelhead trout. The streamers are named based on their appearance. They are tied with long, bright feathers that reach backward past the barb of the hook. Long hooks are commonly used, adding to the streamer-like appearance. The streamer's decorative nature has led to a variety of flashy and creative names, including the black and gray ghost, mickey finn, black and white marabou, colonel fuller, black-nosed dace and perhaps the most popular streamer choice, the wooly bugger.

Article Written By Jim Jansen

Jim Jansen has been writing articles since 2005 and has been featured in publications such as "The River Watch," and also contributes to and LIVESTRONG.COM. He has a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing from Michigan State University. Jansen specializes in outdoor recreation and environmental topics.

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