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Fly Selection for Beginners


One of the most confusing aspects of the sport of fly fishing for beginners is deciding which fly to use. They have not yet developed the confidence that comes with experience gained by numerous trips to the same waters at the same time of the year. I recently read where a novice went into several different shops looking for some Blue winged olive mayfly patterns because he had been told that they were the hatch at this time of the year, he eventually became confused when each shop had different patterns to recommend, a dozen patterns for a single hatch is bound to be confusing. The truth be told all twelve would work, and probably all about the same. Many things will dictate success on the stream as much or more than the fly pattern, as Lee Wulff once said "the last thing you should change is your fly". That being said you at least have to be in the ball park with fly size and shape, the rest is up to leader, tippet and presentation. For the purpose of learning I always recommend fishing dry flies, these allow the angler to see not only where his casts are landing but also how they are drifting and hopefully how the fish react to them.

Fly selection can be a daunting task to the novice fly fisher

Fly selection can be a daunting task to the novice fly fisher

Observation is the number one tactic you will need when you're just starting out, always make sure to take a look around you when you first get to the stream. If the fish are rising look at the waters' surface and find out what they are eating. Getting a sample of the bugs that are on the surface and look at both the size and body colour, these are the key elements of matching the hatch. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is tying on your fly before even getting to the water, I don't care if you were there yesterday or if the guy at the store told you that a certain fly was a sure thing, always take a minute to look around and see what's going on before deciding on a fly.

Do your fly selection at the stream, not in the parking lot

Do your fly selection at the stream, not in the parking lot

Mayflies on the water look like little sailboats due to them holding their wings together and upright while floating downstream after hatching. These upright wings are the first thing that comes into the trout’s window of vision. Mayflies are a family of aquatic insects that range in fly size from very large, size 6, to very small, size 24 or smaller, due to this large size range and the multitude of colours they come in it can be a little overwhelming. If I had to pick a single pattern to imitate mayflies a parachute Adams would be my choice. The parachute in this style of fly refers to the hackle feather on the fly that is wrapped perpendicular to the shaft around an upright piece of material that represents the Mayfly wing. The "Adams" refers the gray body colour that the original pattern sported. This style of fly tied in various colours and sizes can successfully imitate most mayflies the fly fisher will encounter. This pattern has several things going for it, it almost always lands right side up, other patterns can and will land on their side or back. The upright post not only represents the wings of the mayfly but also helps the angler spot his fly more easily on the water, many patterns sport a white post made of yarn, calf tail or feather.

These patterns also float with their body flush in the surface film, giving the trout a good look at. Get yourself a few different sizes of parachute style mayfly patterns in different colours, Parachute Adams, Hares ear, Blue Winged Olive and Pale Morning Duns will get you off to a great start and you will probably be fishing these same patterns for years down the road along with the latest and greatest "craze" flies, Purple Haze, Klinkhammers, Quigleys' or whatever else pops out of some fly tyers brain.

Mayflies come in many sizes and colours

Mayflies look like little sailboats on the water and come in many sizes and colours

Caddisflies at rest hold their wings over their back like a pup tent. Caddisflies are an extremely abundant insect and can be found on most North American trout streams. These insects are more tolerant of poorer quality water conditions than mayflies. While they also come in a wide size and colour combination they are a little easier to imitate than mayflies because they are often quite active on the water surface, skittering and hopping about, therefore not giving the trout as long a look at your imitation. It is also not unusual to have more than on species on the water at the same time so the trout are seeing different sizes and body colours of insects. Caddis are more active under low light conditions so overcast days, mornings and evenings are prime times to fish caddis patterns.

The go to fly for caddis hatches is called the Elk Hair caddis and almost all dry caddis patterns available are a variation of it. It is tied with hackle palmered through its body to give it buoyancy and a down wing of Elk hair, thus the name. Variations use Deer hair or polypropylene yarn for a wing. As long as it is tied in a down wing style and is a buoyant material it will work. Stimulators are an "attractor" style fly that when used in the proper sizes and colours can also imitate caddisflies.

fish see the bottom of the fly

Remember it’s the bottom of the fly that the fish sees

Stoneflies are the third most common aquatic insect that are imitated by the fly fisher. They are however more important as a nymph because of their life cycle. While caddis and mayflies mature under water and remain in the water to hatch into adults the stonefly nymph, once mature, will crawl out on to land and hatch out of the water. This eliminates the vulnerable emerging stage that is so popular with feeding trout. Instead a dry fly pattern imitates when the female comes back to the stream to lay her eggs, which is done by dipping her egg sac into the water. This is when they become available as trout food. The Stimulator, which imitates caddis in smaller sizes, is a good pattern to use for Stoneflies, larger sizes, #6 - #10 in orange are a good choice for starting out. When the adult female Stonefly returns to the river to "lay" her eggs there is no mistaking them. Once described by a friend as looking like helicopters being flown by a drunken pilot! The female dips her egg sac, which is located on her butt, into the water to release her eggs, often landing hard and becoming trapped in the waters' surface, the commotion caused by the dipping of the eggs and the struggle of the trapped bugs is a dinner bell for the trout, which will hit theses flies very aggressively. All this commotion makes it easy for the novice to fish these flies, as a delicate and precise presentation is not required.

Practicing with a dry fly helps not only with fly selection but also presentation

Practicing with a dry fly helps not only with fly selection but also presentation

Terrestrials are land insects that somehow manage to get into the water and become trout food. They are never happy to be in the water and will struggle violently, which of course is a dinner bell for the trout. Ants and beetles are two favourite insects for both the angler and the trout, they are available for most of the year and they are abundant along most trout streams. Many patterns are available for both ants and beetles but the novice should look for patterns that has a Hi-Vis post or "hot spot" on them. Since these patterns are quite small, usually black or brown, and float low in the water they can be tough to see. Using a pattern with something on top for the angler to spot makes it much easier.

The one terrestrial that the angler won't need help spotting are grasshopper patterns. If you live in an area that has Hoppers it would be wise to always have some of these patterns on in late summer and fall. Many of the newer patterns out there for grasshoppers are constructed of foam and other synthetic materials that don't absorb water and will float all day long. Get a few with yellow bodies but also make sure and have some with tan bodies, I've probably caught twice as many trout on tan bodied hoppers as the bright yellow ones that fill many of the store fly bins, but if the natural has a yellow belly it's a good idea to match the body colour. The take on hoppers is usually very aggressive and even the novice angler won't have any trouble seeing the rise, as a friend once said "even a blind man looking the other direction would have seen that strike".

Dry fly success trout fishing

Dry fly success is a thrill for the novice angler

As with most aspects of fly fishing, experience is gained the more time spent on the water. Your casting, knot tying, reading the water and insect identification will all get better. Keep it simple at first then augment your fly boxes with more patterns as you go. So get out as often as possible and take time to assess the situation and you will find that soon everything will all come together and you will catching more and bigger trout.

Previous Fishing Articles
(1) It’s OK to Be Little Bitty
(2) Exploring Tundra Waters
(3) The Jewel at First Ice
(4) Fly Fishing Bucket List
(5) Guided or DIY?
(6) Pond Power
(7) Caddisflies
(8) In the Good Old Summertime
(9) A Southern Escape
(10) Springtime in Alberta - Can Thrill You to the Bone
(11) Sunny Day Rainbows
(12) New "Fishing" Year Resolutions
(13) Five Fine Places to Find Trout
(14) Catfishing Revisited
(15) Discover Squamish, an Outdoor Playground
(16) Falling for Cutthroat
(17) New Water and Old Friends
(18) My McLeod
(19) Temperature and Trout
(20) On the Road Again
(21) Tips That Will Make You a More Successful Fly-Fisherman
(22) 5 Ways to Catch Your Trout
(23) The Difference Maker - Reading Trout Stream Waters
(24) Rollin’ on the River
(25) Windy Day Pike
(26) Cures for Cabin Fever
(27) Snowbirding with a Fishing Rod
(28) Alberta’s Spring Creek Browns - Blessings and Curses
(29) A day on our foothill streams
(30) Fly Fishing Crowded Waters
(31) Fly Leaders
(32) In the Zone
(33) Learners Permit
(34) Flies of Summer
(35) Selecting the Right Boat
(36) The Italian Job
(37) Making a difference
(38) Pass the Salt
(39) Hopper Time - Fly-fishing’s Second Season
(40) Pike on the Fly - Fishing New Waters
(41) Fall brings the big walleye out
(42) Hoppertunity Time
(43) Becoming a Better Dry Fly Angler
(44) Make Your Own Fishing Adventure
(45) Early Season Fly Fishing
(46) Walleye Logic
(47) Fly Fishing in the Desert
(48) Grammy’s Fish
(49) Top 10 Trout Lures
(50) All I Want for Christmas – Neil Waugh's Yule Tide Fishing Gifts Wish List
(51) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator
(52) What to expect when fishing the West Coast
(53) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing
(54) There’s No Place Like Home
(55) A Golden Opportunity
(56) The Observational Trout Fisherman
(57) Un-matching the Hatch
(58) Alberta Super Bugs
(59) Glass is Back
(60) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca
(61) Speed Kills
(62) Entering the Twilight Zone
(63) Old Man River
(64) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River
(65) Small stream BT fishing
(66) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started
(67) In The Walleye Zone
(68) Zoo Trout
(69) Fly Selection for Beginners
(70) Fly Fisher's Christmas
(71) New Waters
(72) Big Bad Burbot
(73) Looking Back
(74) Out of Africa
(75) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams
(76) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish
(77) The Browns of Autumn
(78) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons
(79) Walleye Town
(80) River Fun - One Bite At A Time
(81) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers
(82) Going With The Flow
(83) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman
(84) Swinging The Fences
(85) A View From The Aerie
(86) Dixieland Delight
(87) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts
(88) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon
(89) Montana's Cool Missouri
(90) Pretty Is As Pretty Does
(91) Toothy Critters
(92) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake
(93) Top Ten Flies
(94) Northern Exposure
(95) Home Water Lessons
(96) Chicken Of The Sea
(97) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish
(98) Deep In The Heart Of Texas
(99) Keep It Up!
(100) River Fishing for Fall Walleye
(101) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the 2013 flood
(102) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity
(103) Hawg Holes
(104) Saltwater Salmon
(105) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing
(106) Down a Lazy River - A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan
(107) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead
(110) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver
(111) Canada's "Other" Salmon
(112) Fall Walleye
(113) Wet Flies
(114) Versatility the Key to Success
(115) Grayling of the Boreal
(116) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish
(117) Size Matters
(118) Fly Fishing Small Streams
(119) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time
(120) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel
(121) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas
(122) The Point Of It All
(123) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day
(124) Fall Fly Fishing
(125) Personal Pontoon Boats 101
(126) Big River, Big Fish
(127) Bottom Bonanza
(128) Fishing Small Flies
(129) So Many Choices, So Little Time
(130) Four Seasons of the Bow
(131) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot
(133) Trout Hunting New Zealand style
(134) Don’t Leave Home Without Them – 10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box
(135) Edge Walleye
(137) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge
(138) Four Corners – Four Waters
(139) Chasing Pothole Trout
(140) Springtime Stoneflies
(141) The Torrents of Spring
(142) Drift Boat Fly Fishing
(143) Bust Them With Bait
(144) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book
(145) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months
(146) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout
(147) Terrestrials
(148) Fly In For Fishing Fun
(149) Rocky Mountain High
(150) Reading the clues
(151) Where the Trout Are The art of locating feeding trout in rivers and streams.
(152) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin
(153) Fly Fishing 101
(154) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod
(155) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay
(156) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder
(157) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead
(158) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital
(159) Eliminating the Spook Factor
(160) Trust Your Electronics
(161) The Most Important Hatch of the Year
(162) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout
(163) Finding Success for Ice Trout
(164) Walleye can be Humbling
(165) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed
(166) Winter Flyfishing
(167) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Fishing Gem
(168) Hot Fall Pike Action
(169) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down
(170) Reading Trout Stream Waters
(171) Frequently Asked Questions
(172) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout
(173) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice
(174) Deep Water Perch
(175) Post Spawn Brookies
(176) A Fisher's Life
(177) The River's Last Stand
(178) The Big Ones Come out at Night
(179) Coho on the Coast
(180) Chasing and Catching Halibut
(181) Summer in the Mountains
(182) Peak Walleye Season
(183) Slow and Steady Wins the Race
(184) Last Ice Rainbows
(185) The Burbot Event
(186) Tackle Matching
(187) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light
(188) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location
(189) The Lure of Brook Trout
(190) The Shallow Water Hunt is On
(191) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now
(192) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies
(193) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan
(194) The Vesatile Plug
(195) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout
(196) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures
(197) Good Fishing at Last Ice
(198) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations
(199) Daily Fish Migrations
(200) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn
(201) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star
(202) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing
(203) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing
(204) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser
(205) The Fun in Ultra Light
(206) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines
(207) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure
(208) Never Stop Learning
(209) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot
(210) Jigging through the Ice
(211) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline
(212) Rainbows on Ice
(213) The Season of Ice Begins
(214) Red Hot Fall Pike Action
(215) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman
(216) Facts On Cats
(217) West Coast Adventure
(218) June Walleye Frenzy
(219) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories
(220) First Fish of the Year Pothole Rainbows and Browns
(221) Northern Exposure
(222) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish
(223) Early Season Pike On The Fly
(224) Man Overboard
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