What Fly Should I Use – Part One

“So, what fly should I use?” … For those of us old enough to remember, this is indeed the $64,000 question. I field this question often; both via email and in person…while on the stream. Truth is I would love to be able to help and throw out a quick quip that would suffice…but it really isn’t that simple. Let’s take a minute or two and see if we can better understand or I can better explain this expensive quandary.

First…What kind of fly fisherman are you?

To get the chicken or the egg of what fly to use, one needs to identify what type of fly-guy you actually are; dry, nymph, streamer, or combo of one, two, or all. I am a streamer guy. I say this without hanging my head or bowing to any other type of fly-guy. Truth is that I am proud of the fact and work hard all year long improving and honing my craft. The rub comes when I am out on the stream, catching fish, and I am visited by a fellow fly-guy and asked-what fly are you using? I am more than likely casting a sinking or sink tip line that might descend anywhere from an inch to several inches per second. I am doing so because I have figured out that the fish of choice is at a certain depth and the only way to get my fly to said depth is to use one of the above mentioned lines. If my fellow fly compadre happens to be more of a dry-guy and has only floating line available to him…then you can see that telling him I am using a tan/white, size 8, bitch creek nymph …or an olive wooly in size 6…well, it just won’t be as productive to my new friend.

Often this is where things get a bit complicated. You can see why…I have to either coldly tell my new friend what I am using and move on or take the time to go into and discuss why one of the many flies on my fly patch works for me…but won’t work for you. I don’t mind having the discussion or helping as much as I can…but often it becomes confusing and does little to help another actually start to catch fish.
Group of fly fishing flysIf you are indeed a dry fly-guy or a true nymph-guy who uses strike indicators…then because of the above discussion, I probably can’t help you out a lot. A better question might actually be…”What color is working for you”? If we are in fact fishing for trout a big part of the puzzle for me, a streamer-guy, is the decoding of what color might actually work the best. As you can see from my fly patch…it is loaded with various colors, sizes and weights of woolies. There are some bitch-creek nymphs…once again in different colors and weights and then even a few cracklebacks for those times when the fish (usually trout) get fickle or in the case that a hatch pops off. If you trout fish often then you know that at times a slight color differentiation can make a big difference. I will go a step further and say this…my favorite fish to catch, the smallmouth, can often get ‘sensitive’ to color. Not near as often as trout…but a smallie will sometimes eat a fly that has subtle differences and if I am in a dry run I usually change up color just a bit…I won’t go into detail here today but I must say that while color is a factor, presentation becomes just as important…and at times more important (we will take up this discussion at a later date this spring).

Knowing what kind of fly-guy you are is important; now hear me out…I am not saying that you have to place yourself into one or any one category. In fact I take pride in knowing that I can catch fish at any water level and with all types of flies. It is the challenge of doing so, the un-locking of the puzzle, that keeps me coming back to this great sport. However, it is good for you as a fly-guy to better understand that there are different approaches and these different approaches require different technique and different equipment.

The next time you see a chap ‘tearing it up’…catching a lot of fish…take some time and look at the ‘how’ of what they are doing. Use one of my favorite bird hunting processes; STOP (S for stop, T for think, O for Observe and P for Plan). Ask yourself some of the before-mentioned questions…then ease on up and have a chat with your fellow fly-guy for a couple of tips. I would guess that they would be more than happy to help out…or at least point you in the right direction.

Come on back in the next few weeks as we continue this worthy discussion of what fly to use. Our next chat will tackle the idea behind presentation…how you get your fly in front of the species of fish you are looking to catch.

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