Are you new to fly fishing? If so, you may be like some of my friends who ask “what flies should I use?”

Fly box |

I enjoy teaching people things. Maybe that’s why I volunteer for fly fishing related activities. I like to make things simple so people can enjoy the activity.

When you are new to fly fishing, it can be overwhelming. Lots of questions:

  • What POLE should I use? (first of all, we use RODS)
  • Why do I have to match line to a rod?
  • What is leader and why is it tapered?
  • What knot should I use? (Check out my Fly Fishing Knots post)
  • Am I doing it right? (Are you having fun? Then YES)

And finally,

  • How many flies should I have?

Well, that depends. I always hate that answer, but it is the truth.

Where do you think you’ll be fishing? Don’t know. Do you like to fish rivers or lakes? Don’t know. Will you fish a lot or a few times each year? Don’t know. Will you be fishing for trout? To make things simple, that answer will be YES! Do you want to fish dry flies or nymphs? What’s that? We’ll stick with dry flies for now.

If you’re like me, I got into fly fishing to catch fish. I think everyone does. After 45 years, I still enjoy catching fish. But fly fishing is also how I get my ZEN. I relax. I appreciate the beauty of the outdoors. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

And the topic of this blog is What Flies Should I Use? Better get back to that…

So, let me answer that question. After I teach you a few things!

Parachute Adams

Parachute Adams |

You can make fly fishing as simple or as difficult as you want. Are you in the simple camp? OK. Fish a size 14 Parachute Adams everyday, all year long. Will you catch fish? Probably. Why? Who cares, fish that fly and I guarantee you will catch a few fish. It doesn’t necessarily match a specific bug. We call that “impressionistic.” Want to catch more? Then you will need to learn a few things. 

Still keeping it simple, you’ll need to go out and fish. While you are there, be observant. Are there any bugs flying around? Do you see any fish rising on the surface? In simplest terms, pay attention to the following attributes in order:

  • Size – Is it small or big? When shopping for flies at your local fly shop, bigger numbers mean smaller flies. A size 8 may be 3/4″ of an inch where a size 18 will be is around 1/4″ of an inch. That’s a big difference!
  • Profile – Is the real bug flat, tall, slim, or fat. Matching the profile is easy to do.
  • Color – This can be the least important, but there are times the fish do key on specific colors. Why? Don’t have any idea.

If you can match those 3 attributes, you will catch many more fish.

You’ve learned something! So, what flies should I use? OK, here is my simple fly list for rivers:

PMD Sparkle Dun

Sparkle Dun PMD |

Elk Hair Caddis

Elk Hair Caddis|

Clark’s Golden Stone

Clark's Golden Stone |

 Beetle Bailey

Beetle Bailey |

These flies are the basics. Buy 2 each of the flies listed and you have one dozen flies. Congratulations, you are on your way!

I’ve purposely stayed away from flies smaller than size 16. When you start out, it may be difficult to find your fly on the water. That’s normal. Keep practicing and you will learn to pick it up with your eyes. Read my blog entry entitled Make your fly fishing leader last longer to pick up a few leader tips. If you keep fishing the same length leader, you will train your eyes where to look for your fly.

Interested in learning more? Fly fishers talk about specific hatches like the Salmonfly, Caddis, or PMDs. Learning about hatches will help determine what flies to use. Need more flies? Go to your local fly shop and ask them what flies to use on the specific body of water you plan to fish. Buy 1/2 dozen or one dozen flies. Not only will you be adding to your fly collection, hopefully you will have flies that others have caught fish with.

Have you caught the “bug” yet? Get ready to buy several fly boxes and hundreds of flies. Yup, that’s right. Sometimes the flies in your box catch fish, sometimes they don’t. Maybe a different fly is the “hot” fly this week. Better get a couple! Stop at your local fly shop and ask what’s working. You might have some, otherwise it’s an opportunity to fill the box.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a basic entomology lesson. That’s right, here you go learning again.

There are three basic flies we imitate. Here they are with a simple description:

  • Caddis – look for tent shaped wings
  • Mayfly – look for upright wings
  • Stonefly – look for flat wings

That was simple, wasn’t it? More entomology in a future blog. Until then, practice your observation skills and stop at the fly shop nearest you for a couple of flies.

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  1. great thoughts! Some of my Wild Women of the Water would enjoy this. Can I forward it on to them? Thanks!

    1. Wade,

      Thanks for the comment…nymphs…yup, a whole different topic. I just chose to concentrate on dry flies first. Will add nymphs later.

      But here are a couple if you can’t wait. Number 1 would be size 16 Pheasant Tail nymph. Always a good choice. Then there is the Prince nymph. so many to choose from…


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