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Home Trout Foods Types of Trout Fly Patterns

Trout Fly Patterns


The Different Types of Trout Flies

Crayfish Fly




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     Many fly fishermen are avid collectors of fly patterns and carry multiple fly boxes to hold them all; therefore, the reason fly vests have so many pockets. While this is often not necessary on some the larger streams and rivers where hatches of a particular species of insect happen so regularly during the same month and even on the same day and same time of day each year that anglers often carry only a few fles, when fly fishing here in western North Carolina, it is helpful to have a wide ranging selection of flies because hatches here very erratic and thus are not nearly as predictable here as on some of the more famous trout streams of the U.S.. Also, it is important to be aware that trout do have small teeth which can be very hard on a fly. Thus, it is a good rule of thumb to carry at least three flies of any given pattern and size so that if you happen to find a pattern that is catching fish, your day won't end early because you have run out of flies.


     In fact, the types of flies that fly fishermen use can be divided into several different categories and each category has its appropriate time and place. However, as a general rule of thumb, dry flies are the most exciting pattern to fish with, nymphs tend to catch the most fish, and streamers tend to catch the largest fish. The reason that dry flies are so exciting to fish is that when you are fishing on the surface, you can see the fish rise and take the fly and then you have to set the hook very quickly or the fish will reject the fly. Nymphs on the other hand are the most productive category to fish with because trout obtain most of their food from the sub-surface drift as it requires less energy and presents less danger than rising to the surface.  Last, once a trout reaches maturity, it becomes difficult for them to obtain enough food from the drift and thus they turn to larger prey to satisfy their energy requirements. Therefore, streamers tend to attract the largest fish because they represent forage fish such as Sculpins and Dace and crustaceans such as Crayfish.


Nymphs -


Golden Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph

Golden Ribbed Hare's Ear



Nymph patterns are fished sub-surface on or near the bottom and are generally designed to represent May fly or Stone fly nymphs but there are also some good free-living and cased Caddis fly larva imitations and Hellgrammite patterns available as well. May fly nymph patterns are designed to imitate May fly nymphs that have become dislodged from the rocks and gravel on the stream bed or nymphs that are rising to the surface to hatch. Stone fly nymph patterns are designed to imitate Stone fly nymphs that have become dislodged from the rocks and gravel on the streambed. Hellgrammite patterns are designed to imitate Hellgrammites (known locally as “Grampers”) which are the larval stage of the Dobson fly and are very aggressive predators of other aquatic insects. Thus, they are very mobile in the current and have large and powerful mandibles that can deliver a painful bite but, despite their ferocity, they are a favorite food of both Trout and Smallmouth Bass.


Dry Flies -


Adams Dry Fly

Adams Wulff



Dry flies are fished on the surface and are generally designed to imitate either the adult Caddis flies or adolescent May flies. Mayfly imitations are further divided into two sub-categories called: Duns and Spinners. A Dun imitates an adolescent adult that has just hatched and crawled out onto the surface of the water to let its wings dry before flying to the streamside foliage to complete the next stage of its life. A Spinner imitates a mature adult female Mayfly that has returned to the water and laid its eggs and then died while over the water after having completed its lifecycle. Looking deeper into the May fly’s life, we see that they are born as eggs laid on the streambed which then hatch into nymphs. Nymphs inhabit the steam bead for one to four years depending on the species before hatching into adult duns. When the nymph is ready to hatch, it inflates its exoskeleton with air and rises to the surface where it suspends itself in the surface film. Then, it splits open is carapace and crawls out onto the surface of the water to let its wings dry. This stage is called a “Dun”. After its wings are dry, the insect flies away to the streamside foliage where it stays for about two weeks while it further matures. After fully maturing, the Dun molts and emerges as a sexually mature adult. This sexually mature stage is called a “Spinner”.


Caddis fly imitations, on the other hand, are many people’s favorite dry fly pattern and they imitate an adult Caddis fly that is returning to the water to lay its eggs. Looking a little deeper into the life cycle of the Caddis fly we see that Caddis flies are born as eggs laid on the streambed that then hatch into larva of two different types depending on species. After hatching, some larvae build a cocoon out of small gravel or sticks and leaves (known locally as “rock bait” and “stick bait” respectively) while other species will live as free roaming larva. When the larva is ready to hatch, it either builds itself a cocoon or encloses itself within its pre-existing cocoon, and, like a caterpillar, it metamorphoses into and adult. Once the metamorphosis is complete, the adult exits the cocoon, very quickly rises to the surface, and then exits the water as a sexually mature adult.


Wet Flies -


Adams Wet Fly

Adams Wet Fly



Wet fly patterns are fished sub-surface in the top or middle of the water column and are designed to imitate adult may flies that have either drowned while floating on the surface of the stream waiting for their wings to dry or died while flying over the water after laying their eggs. They differ from dry flies in that they are made from soft hackle material instead of stiff hackle material and their wings are swept to the rear instead of standing upright.


Larvae -


Serendipity fly




Larvae fly patterns are designed to imitate Caddis Fly larvae and are tied to imitate both free living and cased species.



Emergers -

Caddis Emerger

Caddis Emerger




Emerger patterns are fished in the surface film and are designed to represent a Mayfly nymph that has risen to the surface and is suspended in the surface film while it splits its carapace to emerge as a Dun.


Terrestrials -


Flying Ant

Flying Ant



Terrestrials are a sub-category of dry flies and thus they are fished on the surface like a dry fly. Terrestrial fly patterns are designed to imitate insects that live on the ground or in the trees along the side of a stream and have accidentally fallen into the water or been blown into the water by the wind. Thus, terrestrial patterns such as beetles, ants, and inchworms, ect. make excellent search patterns for the late spring through late fall months.


Streamers -


Black Nosed Dace Fly

Black Nosed Dace



Streamer patterns are fished sub-surface near the middle or bottom of the water column and are designed to imitate small baitfish that live in the stream such as Trout, Dace, and Sculpins. Some good patterns are the Royal Coachman, the Royal Wulff, the Black Nosed Dace, the Gray Ghost, The Brook Trout, The Brown Trout, the Rainbow Trout, and the Mickey Finn among others.


Attractors -

Royal Coachman Fy

Royal Coachman



Attractor patterns are brightly colored dry, wet, and streamer patterns that don’t resemble any actual insects or forage fish but still draw strikes nonetheless. However, scientist, fly tiers, and experienced fly fishermen all generally agree that there are some combinations of colors that automatically trigger the strike instinct in fish. For instance, trout are  often triggered by the colors red, yellow, and green and a combination of red and white, yellow and white, and green and white while Smallmouth Bass are often triggered by the colors green and chartreuse. Thus, attractor patterns are often useful for locating fish when there is no hatch coming off and/or the fish are not actively feeding. Also, attractor streamer patterns are often useful in turbid water because they are easier for the fish to see.


Imitators -


Light Cahill Fly

Light Cahill



Imitator patterns are what most people envision when they think of trout flies. They can be either dries, wets, or streamers and are tied to closely resemble actual species of aquatic insects, crustaceans, and forage fish. Thus, use imitators when fish are rising to insect hatches, when fish are finicky and refuse attractor patterns, and in calm, clear, water where fish have plenty of time to look at your fly before choosing to inhale it.



***Doc Trout's Tips: It has been my experience that Dry Flies are the most fun to fish with, Streamers catch the largest fish, and Nymphs are my least favorite way to fly fish. Also, for some you, it may be helpful to be aware that you fly fish with dry flies the same way you would drift a floating lure on a spinning rod, you fly fish with nymphs the same way you drift live bait with bobber on a spinning rod, and you fly fish with streamers the same way you would fish with a small Rooster Tail on a spinning rod.




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