If you have ever opened a catalog on fly fishing and turned to the pages on flies, you will most likely come to the conclusion that trying to choose the right ones for your fishing trip is beyond overwhelming. Never fear! Here’s where I’ll make it simple for you. First off, you need to know what you will be fishing for.
Let’s say you know someone who has a small pond or there’s a lake that’s accessible and loaded with panfish (most of them are). Panfish include species such as Bluegills, Sunfish, and Crappie. These fish love to feed on insects on the surface of the water. Being prolific eaters, they can be caught by just about any bug imitation that floats. Start with an assortment of small poppers that are made out of small pieces of various colored painted wood with rubber legs and some feathers attached to small hooks. While not technically known as flies, they do catch panfish. Young beginner fly fishermen can get a feel for catching and playing a fish this way and have a lot of fun in the process. If the pond is stocked with bass, they also will hit a popper, and that will really add to the excitement.
When you think of fly fishing for the most part you think of fishing for trout. In Pennsylvania, my home state, there are over 85,000 miles of streams and rivers and over 4,000 lakes and ponds in which either stocked or native trout may be found. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the selection of trout flies can be overwhelming with numbers in the hundreds. But don’t despair; I’m going to make it real easy for you to get started with a handful that I have used over the years with great success.
For many of my earlier years of fly fishing, I tied my own flies. I was, for the most part, self taught by following books on the subject. It was a fun experience to be able to catch fish on one of your on creations. Today I am limited to tying just a few larger flies because of my nemesis, arthritis, but I still get a thrill out of catching a fish on one of my own. Now, here are my suggestions for your first collection.
Let’s start with the underwater flies. They fall into four main categories: nymphs, wet flies (or soft hackle as they are now known), egg and sucker spawn patterns, and streamers.
Nymph flies imitate the nymph or larva stage, or more simply put, the underwater stage of insects who lay their eggs in water. They represent the largest part of the trout’s diet since trout feed under the surface of the water 90% of the time. Nymphs come in a range of sizes depending on the insect they represent. They are tied on heavier hooks to help them sink faster. Here is a list of starter nymphs and egg patterns that I have had success with:
- Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear
- Pheasant Tail
- Prince Nymph
- Bead Head Zebra
- Gold Bead Head Prince Nymph
- Green Weenie
- Various colored egg and sucker spawn patterns
I recommend getting this assortment in sizes 14 to 18. One more suggestion when using nymphs; you can double your chances for catching fish by using two nymphs tied in tandem. See how Izaac says to do this.
For wet or soft hackle flies consider these:
- Olive Soft hackle
- Hare’s Ear Soft Hackle plus adding some Emergers (Dry Flies that float just below the surface).
Egg and Sucker Spawn patterns imitate just what their name implies, salmon type eggs and eggs of Suckers (a bottom feeding fish found in nearly all streams). They vary mostly by color and markings from orange to shades of pink and chartreuse. Some have red dots and are known as blood-dot patterns. Sizes go from 6 to 16.
There is a large variety of Streamers or flies that imitate minnows, but to make it simple you can start with just a few. The number one streamer that’s a “must have” is the Woolly Bugger that comes in Black, Brown, Olive, and White in sizes 6, 8, and 10. I like ones with either a cone or bead head for added weight. I even wrap several rounds of lead wire in the bodies when I tie them to make them swim even closer to the bottom of the stream. Wooly Buggers are also called leeches, as in a pattern called egg-sucking leech, since the black ones with their undulating marabou tails look just like that animal. I would also include the Muddler Minnow and the Grey Ghost in your first collection which are two more streamers that attract trout.
TOP WATER FLIES
Before offering my recommendations on your first collection of dry flies, allow me to create a scenario to illustrate their use.
It’s a beautiful crisp Spring morning with a light mist rising from the stream. You already have your fly rod strung and in hand but haven’t tied any fly to the tippet. As you cautiously approach the water, you immediately notice a ring in a flat area, then another close by the first, then another. Fish are rising to take insects off the surface of the water. You stand motionless to discern what bug they’re taking. It doesn’t take long to see several small mayflies in the air above the rings. You recognize the insect that is matched by a fly in your box called a Red Quill size 16. You tie it on to the 6X tippet and carefully pull enough line from your reel for a cast about 10 feet upstream of the rises. After two false casts, you make your cast. Your fly lands lightly on the water and drifts with the current without drag toward the rings. Suddenly there is a splash, the fly disappears, and your reflexes react just right to enable you to hook the striking trout. What a fantastic sensation that hypes your adrenalin as you play and land the fish. That’s what fishing dry flies is all about.
Here are the flies that I recommend for your initial collection:
STANDARD DRY FLIES (Sizes 10-18)
- Parachute Adams
- Blue Winged Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Light Cahill
- March Brown
- Quill Gordon
- Sulfur Parachute
- Yellow Stimulator
- Royal Coachman
- Tan Elk Hair Caddis
- Brown Elk Hair Caddis
TERRESTRIAL FLIES (Sizes 6-14)
- Foam Dave’s Hopper
- Hair and Foam Black & Red Ants
- Hair and Foam Black Beetles w/ high visibility white or orange markings
- Letort Cricket
The fly list above is by no means intended to be a complete collection. It is simply designed to get you started. You will be able to gain more insight by fishing with experienced friends who will gladly share not only their recommendations but their flies as well. Also, when you peruse fly fishing catalogs you will notice that they offer assortment packages. They not only include packages of certain types of flies by size, but also for different areas of the country. Finally, you will quickly learn not to buy just one or two of each fly but enough to make up for flies that are lost or damaged in the normal course of fishing.
Here is a video of Ted Wong tying thee of his favorite flies that he calls the”scrambled egg” pattern for catching Steelhead and Trout! I can attest to the effectiveness of this fly, having seen Ted land many steelhead and trout with it. I’ve enjoyed success with it too!