3 techniques for fly-fishing in Colorado | VailDaily.com

3 techniques for fly-fishing in Colorado

Ray Kyle
Stay Fly
Whatever technique you decide to deploy on the river, be ready to and able to change it up if the river dictates.
Special to the Daily

You’ve arrived at a great hole, you have your waders on, gear ready to go and now the only question is: “What technique of fly-fishing am I going to use today?”

There are three broad categories of techniques that I’m going to talk about in this article. Each of these techniques have their pros and cons, types of flies used and different scenarios that work best for them.

Dry Fly-Fishing

Dry fly-fishing is when an angler uses a floating fly to entice a fish to rise and eat the fly off the surface of the water. We are trying to imitate the natural adult stage in any given bug’s life cycle when we are dry fly-fishing. This technique is one of the oldest ways to fly-fish. It is also one of the most exciting and enjoyable. When a fish appears from nowhere to quickly devour a dry fly, the rush the angler gets is unforgettable.

I think that most people that fly-fish would love to fish a dry every day, year-round, however the summer is typically the best time to use this technique. Also, fishing a dry fly in extremely fast moving water can be very difficult because the fly needs to float and this can be tricky in turbulent waves.

Some classic dry fly patterns to include in your fly box would include the parachute adams, elk hair caddis, stimulator, pmx and a hopper pattern of choice. These are just a base to get started and are not the complete list of dries that I would recommend. Study a hatch chart and figure out what dries are hatching at any given time of the season.


Nymphing is the technique that, on average, catches the most fish. Biologists have figured out that a trout’s diet is primarily eaten below the surface. The fish are filling their bellies with small nymphs and larvae that swim around the river columns.

Nymphs come in all sizes and shapes, some are supposed to replicate large stoneflies, where others imitate tiny midge larva. They come weighted or unweighted, some have intricate woven bodies, whereas some are simply tied with a wire wrapped around the hook, and some have bead heads, others do not. It all depends on the day and what the fish might be eating.

Nymphing is most commonly done with an indicator (fancy fly-fishing lingo for bobber), a small split shot and up to three nymph flies. The more flies you have on the line, the more water you can cover with each cast. However with more flies, you are more likely to tangle the line and have to take a frustrating pause in your day to untangle the bird’s nest of line and hooks. Nymphing is a great technique to use almost year round when the fish are not visibly rising to adult flies.

The most common flies that should be in every fly-fishing person’s box are the pheasant tail nymph, hare’s ear, pat’s rubberlegs, rainbow warrior, rs2 and the zebra midge. This list of nymph flies could go on and on, however these are a great starting point.

Czech nymphing or Euro nymphing is a specialized technique also commonly known as high sticking. With Euro nymphing, the indicator is replaced with a piece of brightly colored tippet used as a sighter. Using the sighter and feel, you are able to detect slight bumps or takes from the fish hiding deep in the river. Euro nymphing is great technique for high water or technical water because we are able to control the drift of the flies much better than using a floating indicator, keeping the flies in the strike zone longer.

Streamer Fishing

Lastly, but certainly not least, is streamer fishing. Casting a giant fly that imitates a baitfish or sculpin to an aggressive fish is a guide’s favorite way to spend a day.

These large flies can bring out the big fish in the river. Streamer fishing is best from a boat, however, it can be accomplished while wade fishing. When fishing streamers from the boat, you want to cast the fly as close to the bank as possible, let it sink for a few seconds, and then give it a couple pulls or “strips” to add movement to the fly. Fish will chase, flash and take swipes at it. If you get a bump or strike on a streamer, then resist the urge to lift your rod, as you would any other technique, and do another strip to set the hook in the cheek of the fish.

Streamers come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The common rule of thumb: “dark flies on dark days and light flies on light days” is a great starting point.

Some of my favorite streamer flies are the sculpzilla, tequeely, the dirty hippy, autumn splendor and of course the classic woolly bugger. Streamers are extremely fun and a great way to target larger fish.

Whatever technique you deploy when, be ready to change it up if the river dictates. It’s exciting and sometimes challenging to learn and master different ways of catching fish on the fly rod, but the rewards can be well worth it. Get out there and have fun.

Ray Kyle is the shop supervisor and guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 and rkyle@vailvalley anglers.com.

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