What is a fly?
When it comes to fishing with an artificial fly, the term doesn't just apply to a representation of a flying insect – references to worms and caterpillars were already included as far back as the 16th century. In the ensuing centuries, representations of nymphs, leeches, baitfish, frogs, and fish eggs evolved for fly fishing use. For all intents and purposes, artificial flies are essentially lures made of natural or synthetic materials, fashioned onto a hook, and designed to resemble something a fish would eat. It is too light to be cast any significant distance without the help of a fly line, and it does not contain any scent or taste attractants. Fish are fooled into biting the fly purely based on its appearance and movement.
The invention of the dry fly in the 1800s revolutionized fly fishing. Using a stiff feathered hackle wrapped around the front of the hook added buoyancy and promoted a continuous drift on the water's surface. Dry flies designed to float and mimic aquatic insects were created, making it possible to present them to rising fish. Today, popular dry fly patterns still include the Adams, Blue Winged Olive, Blue Quill, Sulpher, Grey Drake, March Brown, Light Cahill, Hex Dun, Hex Spinner, and Rusty Spinner, many of which were developed in the 1920s and '30s. The Elk Hair Caddis is a relative newcomer that gained popularity in the 1970s.
Fly fishing nymphs for trout originated in England and then spread worldwide. Frank Sawyer, a River Keeper on the English chalk stream Avon, is credited with inventing the Pheasant Tail nymph to imitate small Baetis insects. Nymph fishing flies are designed to represent larvae that are either dislodged from the bottom or moving upward to reveal wings. The "sink and draw" method for fishing nymphs was developed on Sawyer's River Avon. Nymphs are an effective and popular choice for fly fishing, with slim, streamlined patterns in demand. Other popular nymph flies include the Gold Ribbed Hair's Ear, Prince Nymph, Copper John, Zebra Midge, and stoneflies.
Streamer fly fishing is versatile and effective. Streamers tied to imitate baitfish and crashed against river banks can induce strikes from territorial fish. Streamers can also be drifted and stripped in various ways to mimic panicked forage or injured/dead baitfish. Bucktail streamers and marabou give large streamers irresistible movement, while the Clouser Minnow is a popular and effective option for catching different species of fish.
Wet flies mimic the natural movements of aquatic insects and can also imitate larger creatures found in streams and rivers. Soft-hackled flies are highly effective in catching trout and grayling as they swim more naturally in the water. These flies give the impression of legs, wings, and shucks of various insects such as mayfly emergers, duns, spinners, gnats, midges, and other nymphs. Trout focus on emerging, crippled, and drowned insects. Wet fly fishing takes advantage of all three.
The egg pattern fly is highly effective during spawning seasons in spring and fall. These patterns imitate nutrient-rich eggs that fish find easy to prey on. The power of fly fishing egg patterns is found in impressionism and simplicity, and for this reason, the Clown Egg Fly pattern and Estaz Egg Fly are both proven producers. Egg fly patterns for trout follow the colors of the spawning fish; brown trout eggs are typically golden yellow, while rainbow trout eggs tend to have an orangish or reddish hue. Egg fly patterns for steelhead come in various colors. Keeping the egg fly on a dead drift near the bottom is preferred. Single egg fly or egg cluster fly patterns like the Sucker Spawn Egg Fly and the Scrambled Egg Fly both work. A Crystal Meth Egg Fly pattern is popular for steelhead in Great Lakes tributaries.
Bead head flies are effective for catching trout because the weight of the bead sinks the fly quickly to the bottom. This is especially useful for fishing nymph flies, egg flies, and streamers. The shiny beads also mimic the appearance of minnows and nymphs, while the weight of the bead makes streamers imitate live baitfish.