The types of flies to use when fly-fishing for trout
There are thousands of individual fly patterns designed just for catching trout and thousands more created to catch different species of fish. All of these different types, sizes, colors and styles of flies can be an intimidating array of choices for any angler, whether they be a novice or beginner.
Thankfully, most anglers need not worry about carrying every pattern ever tied for catching trout. Most modern flies are versions of older, simpler patterns that have been slightly altered and enhanced but every once in a while a truly new and innovative design emerges.
There are really only three basic designs used in tying flies for trout and every fly-fisherman should begin filling one fly box each with the following types of flies:
Nymphs are the immature stage of aquatic insects such as mayflies, caddis flies, midges, stoneflies, damsels and dragon flies and also can also include trout prey items such as freshwater shrimp, aquatic worms and even fish eggs. Trout do the majority of their feeding below the surface near the bottom and consequently nymph patterns account for the vast majority of netted trout.
In the last 20 years or so, bead-headed nymph flies have proven to be extremely effective. These flies often have a brass or tungsten metal bead that gives the fly weight and flash. Beadless nymphs are still extremely effective fish catchers, especially for wary trout.
Novice anglers should focus on building up a supply of basic, proven nymph patterns that imitate a wide variety of aquatic insects that attract trout wherever they are found. Must haves include pheasant tails, hare’s ears and prince nymphs. A well rounded nymph box would also include larger girdle bug type stoneflies, olive and green caddis larvae and tiny midge larvae. Scuds, San Juan Worms and eggs give fly-fisherman additional opportunities. Keep in mind nymph fly-fishing demands the use of floating strike indicators and often requires split shot used as additional weight to get your nymphs down the bottom where they are most effective.
Dry flies represent insects that have emerged from the bottom or that are trapped on the surface of the water. Trout will target surface food if there is enough of it to make the effort worthwhile. Dry flies can imitate adult forms of the aquatic insects as well as terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers, ants and beetles. There are even flies used for catching large trout that imitate mice swimming and struggling on the water’s surface.
Good dry fly-fishing is considered the holy grail of fly-fishing for trout. The visual aspect of seeing trout rise to the surface to eat a fly is both exciting and rewarding. A complete dry fly box would have an abundance of different patterns geared toward imitating specific insects and those flies that are called attractors. These attractor flies do not imitate any specific bug but have multiple features that generally represent a wide variety of food items. The Parachute Adams and Royal Wulff are the ultimate attractor flies for trout.
Trout, especially large predatory individuals, do not focus solely on insects when it comes to feeding. Often, the big fish seek out larger prey items. Minnows, sculpins, crayfish, juvenile trout and occasionally even small mammals, snakes and birds are all on the menu. Streamers are tied to represent these big chunks of food.
Streamers often incorporate weighted beads and cones that give the fly additional flash, weight and action. Popular streamer patterns include Woolly Buggers in a range of sizes and colors. Many streamers such as the Sculpzilla and Slumpbusters use long strips of rabbit fur that undulate in the water. Recently there has been a surge in the use of extremely large mega-streamers that are five to seven inches long and sometimes feature double hooks.
Streamer fishing is a much more active method of fishing than using dry flies or nymphs which use current to present the fly. Streamers are quickly moved and swung through the current, enticing a large trout into chasing and eating the fly. Heavy tippet and leaders are needed to absorb violent strikes.
With these three types of flies, trout anglers have just about every food source trout commonly eat covered. It’s best to start with basic flies. Serious fly fishermen can work on expanding their fly collection. Many of us will eventually begin tying in order to create their own custom flies that meet an angler’s specific needs and preferences. Check out Vail Valley’s Anglers huge fly inventory. If we don’t have it, then we’ll find it and order it for you.
Brody Henderson is a senior guide at Vail Valley Anglers and can be reached at 970-926-0900.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.