I’ve been thinking…how many fly patterns do I really need to successfully fish rivers? Kind of a crazy question coming from a fly tyer, isn’t it?

Plate of flies | www.johnkreft.com

I didn’t say flies…fly patterns. The style of dry flies found in your fly box.

Is there a difference? Absolutely! You can never have enough flies!!!

But think about the dry flies you use to catch fish. Any similarity in them? There are in mine.

Is the wing prepared with hackle or deer hair? Is the wing a parachute style or traditional – with hackle wrapped around the hook? These aspects change the profile of your flies as they float on the surface and tantalize fish.

How many times will you buy a new fly at your local fly shop? Or tie a new fly because it looks like it will catch fish?

Guilty as charged.

When I began tying, I couldn’t learn to tie enough flies. I was trying to find flies that caught fish and didn’t really pay attention to the style of fly I created. Here were a few sources I used:

  • I searched fly tying books for the latest and greatest and buggiest flies. I would pour over the step-by-step instructions and tie most of the flies listed.
  • Remember getting catalogs in the mail from the bigger fly shops? I searched the new flies to see which ones I needed in my fly box. That led to purchasing more books with the new flies in them.
  • How about fly fishing magazines? I subscribed to several and couldn’t wait to check out the featured flies in their pages.
  • And then there were fly tying classes at my local fly shop. I needed to learn more fish-catching flies. With fewer fly shops (sad, but true), it’s more difficult to find fly tying classes locally. But now we have the Internet which is full of YouTube videos. Those videos are great, but don’t provide the feedback received from a face-to-face instruction.

But over the years, I’m fishing fewer fly patterns. Think about profile. I think that’s the real point I’m trying to make.

And I still have a lot of flies.

I thought each new fly would guarantee I’d catch more fish. After all, isn’t that’s why there are so many fly tying books? And check out the flies in your local fly shop. How many fly boxes would you need if you purchased two of every fly?

But how many fly patterns are really enough? What profile are you trying to imitate?

As an aside, perhaps I shouldn’t publish this post as my wife will now know I don’t need all the fly tying materials stacking up in the corner. I vowed (to myself only) that I would make every effort to keep a clean fly tying desk (check out my post Back to Fly Tying). I said that back in November. And to some extent I’ve kept my promise.

But it’s been a VERY busy winter with all my fly fishing volunteer activities:

Oh yeah, and creating a post each week for you to read!

So I would tie a few flies here and there, but not put the materials away…which leads to stacking.

But I’m getting off track…

So what fly patterns would I really need? I’m going to focus on the major dry flies today.


Here is a picture of a real mayfly.

Metolius Green Drake|www.johnkreft.com

Notice the upright wing, which is the main way to identify a mayfly. Again, think profile.

Let’s start with the Sparkle Dun I’d fish in slow to medium water.

Sparkle Dun PMD | www.johnkreft.com

Then there are the parachute flies. Here is the classic Parachute Adams I’d fish in faster water. The parachute hackle helps tremendously in floating the fly.

Parachute Adams | www.johnkreft.com

Lastly, here is a classic style of fly that honestly I don’t seem to use much these days…I think it’s because of the river I fish. I’d use this style if I fished faster water. It’s a standard Adams. This style keeps the body away from the surface film creating a different profile. I’d fish this fly in faster water because the hackle helps float the fly.

Adams - Original | www.johnkreft.com

Lastly, I use the RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple. I use it a lot. It imitates the mayfly wings stuck in the surface film. Check out the link to see a picture of this.

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple - PMD | www.johnkreft.com

Just change size and color of these style of flies to match the size and color of any mayfly hatch. 


How about stoneflies? You know, the big boys – salmonflies and golden stones?

Here’s what they look like.

Salmonfly adult|www.johnkreft.com

Notice how the wings extend flat over their back? That is a distinguishing aspect of the stonefly.

I’d start with the Kaufmann’s Stimulator.

Kaufmann's Salmonfly Stimulator|www.johnkreft.com

Or a Chubby Chernobyl. See more examples in the Chubby Chernobyl Fly Patterns post.

Chubby Chernobyl | www.johnkreft.com

These patterns imitate the long wing of the stonefly, either in a rest position flat atop their body, or fluttering in an attempt to fly of the water. By changing hook size and color, you can imitate any stonefly.


There are a plethora of caddis flies hatching most of the year.

Here is an example of a caddis fly.

Caddis | www.johnkreft.com

Their tent-shaped wing is how you’d identify a caddis.

Let’s start with the most popular and obvious imitation – an Elk Hair Caddis.

Elk Hair Caddis|www.johnkreft.com

Or an Iris Caddis to imitate an emerging caddis on the surface.

Iris Caddis | www.johnkreft.com

There are many more caddis patterns, but I wouldn’t be without these fly patterns. By changing the size and color of these flies, you’ll be able to imitate the profile of a wide variety of caddis hatching throughout the year.  

Are there other flies to imitate mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis? Absolutely! That is one of the wonderful aspects of fly tying. You can be as creative as you want.

So remember my original question? How many fly patterns are enough?

I’ll answer that after I return from my local fly shop and buy another fly box!

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  1. I am always going through my fly boxes trying to reduce the number of boxes I carry. I agree we need far fewer flies than we carry.
    Why is it I frequently don’t have the one I need?

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