What is A Fishing Fly and How to Select the Right One

If you have landed here then your must be asking the question, what is a fishing fly?

fly fishing flies

Well, fly fishing flies are artificial lures tied together using various types of materials with the goal of imitating aquatic life of a fishes diet.

This form of artificial lure presentation requires skill, determination, and knowledge to catch fish. Fly fishing flies can be very effective when used correctly.

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Flies can imitate a multitude of species of food for fish. In fact there are flies that imitate every single form of aquatic life that relate to a fishes diet.

What Is a Fishing Fly?

They are imitation gnats, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, worms, larvae, eggs, minnows, and crayfish just to name a few. There are literally tens of thousands of flies that have been developed.

Each fly possesses a specific purpose and must be used with appropriate technique in order to catch fish. The following are three main categories of fishing flies.

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Recommended Fishing Flies

The flies listed below have been proven to work time and time again. These are my picks for three must have flies in your fly box.

Just in case you were curious as to what fishing flies I would recommend for beginners, Let me get right to that before I explain in detail about each type of fishing fly.

Fly #1 – Zebra Midge

The zebra midge comes in all shapes and sizes and also happens to be one of the most effective. This sub surface fly imitates larva. A solid choice if you are unsure what fly to use.

zebra midge fishing fly

Fly #2 – Pheasant Tail Nymph

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is another great option for sub surface fly fishing. The pheasant tail nymph can be fished in any season and in both moving water and still water applications. The pheasant tail offers a slightly larger presentation that the previously mentioned Zebra Midge.

pheasant tail nymph fishing fly

FLY #3 – Elk Hair Caddis

The Elk Hair Caddis may be the most popular fly of all time. Tied using hair form elk, which float quite well actually, these flies are the most fun to fish. Because this fly sits atop the surface, it allows the user to visually see the “take” from the fish. This gives instant satisfaction to the angler and keeps us wanting more!

Now that we got that out of the way, lets get into actual types of flies and how they are used. In the sections to follow I will break down the main types of fishing flies, how they should be used, and tips for using them.

What is a Streamer Fly

Streamer fishing flies are bigger than most flies by nature. They are designed to imitate the bigger forms of aquatic life.

Streamer fishing flies may imitate other bait fish such as minnows, crawdads, leaches as well as larger things like hellgrammites.

These fishing flies are fished with constant motion with intentions of getting a reactionary strike. The usual bulky profile presents a larger than normal meals for fish.

Streamers often times require larger fly fishing tackle in order to be productive. Larger fly rods of say 6 weight and up are usually best.

Floating line is acceptable when fly fishing shallow waters with streamers.

fly box with fishing flies

However, sinking line or sink tip will be required for getting streamers to deeper depths or when fished in fast currents.

Streamers can be retrieved in a few different ways.

After making your cast, try these three retrieval methods.

  • Strip – Strip retrieves or stripping, is the most commonly used retrieve for streamers. Stripping streamers is done by pulling the streamer in with small strips, gradually pulling the streamer back toward you.
  • Strip and Pause – This method builds off the first method mentioned above. While stripping our fly fishing streamer back toward us, we’re going to pause. This presents as an injured minnow, great for a hungry fish lurking nearby.
  • Dead Drifting – Dead drifting is a method of allowing the water to move your streamer. After casting your fly, allow the water to move it downstream. When your streamer reaches a 45 degree angle to the fisherman, we begin stripping the fly back to us.

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What is a Dry Fly

Dry fly fishing is a style of fishing that imitates flying insects rather than sub surface insects.

While streamers are fished below the surface, dry flies are fished on the surface.

Fishing dry flies is the art of lightly landing on the waters surface to imitate insects. Such insects may include mosquitoes, gnats, mayflies, and various other forms of flying insect.

Dry fly fishing is very exciting because the fish must come to the waters surface to strike them. Often times this will result in the fisherman visually seeing the strike and giving instant satisfaction.

Often times dry flies tend to be smaller than most fishing flies. I regularly fish dry flies that are size 20-24 and sometimes even 26.

flies in fly box

With these smaller size flies we are able to fish these flies on much smaller gear than the streamers previously mentioned.

Fly rods ranging form 000 wt all the way up to a 4 or 5 wt may be used.

Floating line is ideal for fishing fry flies as well as a smaller leader and tippet. Sinking line or the improperly sized fly fishing leader will not allow the fly to float.

Common Dry Flies Include

  • Hatch Flies – Flies that match a particular hatch currently happening in your immediate area. You will use these flies when you notice mayflies, blue winged olives, and gnats around the surface.
  • Terrestrials – These fishing flies will imitate your “bugs” like grasshoppers, crickets, and ants. These flies can be utilized any time you notice them around the waters edge.
  • Attractors – Attractor flies are not designed to imitate insects at all. In fact, they are not designed to look like anything. These fishing flies are composed of bright colors in order to peak a fishes curiosity.

The goal with these flies is to keep them floating as long as possible. There are powders and gels that help to repel water keeping your fly afloat longer.

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What is a Wet Fly

Wet flies make up the majority of a fishes diet in an aquatic ecosystem. These flies consist of the insect that live below the surface of the water.

Wet flies are designed to sink below the waters surface and sit just in front of the fish. It’s safe to say that sub surface insects make up abut 80 percent of a fishes diet.

The material used in tying wet flies absorb water allowing them to sink.

Wet flies do not need to be presented as graciously as dry flies do. This makes them an ideal fly for beginner fly fisherman.

Simply put, there is not a lot to it when fishing these flies, at least for beginners. Make your cast to the desired location and simply allow the current to do the rest. For now this will at least give you good casting practice.

You will have to keep a keen eye on your fly line as it will be your visual indicator of a strike.

Wet flies can be utilized with both floating and sinking line. Each of these lines has their purpose, it just depends where you are trying to place the fly.

Common Wet Flies

  • Pheasant Tail Nymph
  • Soft Hackle Hairs Ear
  • Stone Flies
  • Pale Morning Dun
  • Blue Winged Olive

Knots for Tying Flies

When tying on your fly you must make sure that you use the correct knot. Below is a list of knots that you can use for each fly. Click the links to see an interactive image.

These knots are just a few of the most popular knots in fly fishing. There are many many more knots and ultimately it will come down to learning a few of them a selecting the ones you trust.

Final Thoughts – What is a Fishing Fly

fishing flies inside of fly box

By now I hope you have a better understanding of fishing flies.

So what’s the next step? If you haven’t already you will need to pick yourself up some flies. There are so many flies to chose from it can be hard to know where to start.

After reading this article, do some research into the area your looking to fish. You may be surprised at the power of google.

Most importantly you have to get out there and fish. Fly fishing can be very challenging until you find a rhythm.