Toggle menu

Three Main Types of Flies for Flyfishing

Fly Fishing Flies – The Main Categories

There are many aspects to fly fishing and choosing which fly or flies to use on any given day and body of water is certainly one of the more important decisions you will make. Considering that there are dozens and dozens of trout fishing flies from which to choose we will break them down into their two main categories, dry flies and wet flies, the latter of which includes two subcategories – nymphs and streamers.

The Classic Dry Fly


A dry fly is designed to float on the surface of the water. Dry flies come in different varieties, those that:

  • Mimic one of the several different insects that have hatched from the nymph stage. These insects are those that fly in the air above and near the water, or stream bank, from which they hatched. When a hatch is on, fly fishermen/women try to “match the hatch” with a dry fly that looks like those they see flying around. Species of these types of insects include caddis, mayflies, stoneflies, etc.. 
  • Mimic a terrestrial type of insect like grasshoppers, beetles and ants. These also float atop the water.
  • Don’t really resemble or mimic any specific type of insect but are constructed with bright and flashy colors and unique patterns. Because trout are opportunistic feeders, these types of flies are called attractors (e.g., Royal Coachman) and can attract fish if it floats overhead looking somewhat like an insect they may have consumed before.


 Advantages of Dry Fly Fishing

 Most importantly, dry fly fishing is downright exciting, almost addicting. When you cast the fly, it lands atop the water and floats or drifts along and you get to watch it the entire time, waiting with muscles tense and ready to respond should you see a fish rise to take your fly. It tests your concentration, your reflexes, and offers the challenge of whether you can successfully “hook” the fish when you see it surface to suck in your fly. If your response is too slow the fish will detect that the fly is not the tasty kind they enjoy and will spit it out almost immediately. When that happens, and it will, you just reposition for another cast and hope for a better performance with the next strike to your fly.

 Disadvantages of Dry Fly Fishing

It is known that trout feed under the surface of the water about 80% of the time. Statically speaking, fly fishing with dry flies may not be the most productive pattern to use, and especially under certain circumstances. If a river or a lake has had a lot of pressure from heavy fishing, the trout may be more cautious to rise to the surface to take a fly and may only surface when there is a hatch occurring. But under the right circumstances dry fly fishing can be productive and remains a favorite among many anglers because of the thrilling visual stimulation it provides as you see the fish take your fly and the challenge it presents as compared to wet fly fishing.

 The Classic Wet Fly – Nymph

As previously mentioned, trout primarily feed under the surface of the water and that is exactly how you fish with nymphs, under the water surface. As such, a nymph is usually the most productive fly with which to fish for trout. A nymph is an immature form of the winged insect (e.g., caddis, mayflies, stoneflies) having undergone gradual metamorphosis, but still lacking wings and living under the surface of the water in rivers, streams and lakes. They are found in abundance which explains why the fish primarily feed on these types of insects.


Unlike the dry fly, fishing with a nymph wet fly requires a different technique. Unable to visibly see the fish take the nymph as it floats under water, the angler must rely on the feel of the fish taking the fly or by using what is called a strike indicator. Because a fish more slurps than strikes a nymph it can be a difficult task to feel it happen. A strike indicator is made of a material that floats on the surface of the water and is tied to the leader well above the fly. When a fish takes the fly the strike indicator will either stop moving on the water surface, slow down its movement, move upstream, dip momentarily under the surface, or some other different action. Whether feeling for the fish to take the fly or watching for the strike indicator movement, there is a lag time from when the fish takes the fly until you feel it or see the indicator movement. With practice you will catch on as you learn the strike indicator movement patterns and increase your sensitivity to feeling the fish take your fly.

The Classic Wet Fly – Streamer

Streamers are typically larger in size than nymph patterns and tend to imitate foods such as leaches, minnows, sculpins, and other types of larger underwater fish foods. When a fish strikes a streamer, it tends to be of a more aggressive nature as the fish is chasing after a bigger meal that is trying to elude the fish. Streamers are often used to try and catch bigger fish and when using a streamer, a heavier weight tippet is recommended.


Fishing with a streamer also require a different technique. You cast your fly out into the lake or river and begin stripping, or pulling, your fly line in with short or longer pulls and of varying speeds. The design of streamers combined with the stripping or pulling in of the line makes the fly look alive and a meal on the run for hungry fish. There are other techniques that are used when fishing streamers, but the cast and stripping of the line is the basic method used by most anglers and will certainly yield success.

So Now What . . . .

The categories of flies that are mentioned in this article are fundamental to fly fishing. The particulars of which fly to use, when and where to use different flies, and how to best use them will become more and more familiar as you take the time to practice, learn what you can about the art of fly fishing, and most importantly make time to get out on the water and fish.
Whether you are an experienced angler or just starting out, fly fishing is a sport that can take you on an adventure into some of the most beautiful outdoor scenery on the planet. It will also provide you with some wonderful and enduring memories. So, get out and go make some memories with family and friends. has an assortment of quality hand tied flies that are tried and proven for trout fishing as recommended by experts. Check them out.