Which Fly to Use?

Choosing the right fly to cast to trout can be daunting. Our fly selection guide will help you get started so you have what you need on the water.

So much goes into choosing fly fishing gear before you even hit the stream. Which line, rod, and reel? Not to mention leaders, and tippets and what to wear. Rest assured these are important, but at the end of the day a rod is just a stick and the line is whatever you tie it to. The fly is what catches the fish.

Though you may have heard at some point: “If you want to catch fish, use worms” there is a special magic in landing a trout, or any other fish, on a hook tied with feathers and fur. It is imitation of a food source, plain and simple It is the fly that is of most importance once you are wading in the river. Some (very-skilled) fly fisherman will tell you to consider the weather, moon cycle, river flows and more. These are important considerations for safety and planning your fishing trip, but in fly selection, as a beginning fly fisher, it distracts from more important factors.

Choosing the right fly is an intersection of science, art, and luck. The science involves understanding the insect lifecycle, including conditions and timing necessary. Learn about the basic fly types, and stages of the life cycle they imitate here.

The art involves selecting, or tying flies that will display the right characteristics to imitate the trout’s food source. The luck involves having your perfect cast, the right fly and river conditions all line up right where the trout wants to take the fly.

To ensure successful fly selection this guide will explore the following factors: planning ahead, observation, and common fly patterns that match insects and other trout food at various stages.

Planning Ahead

This first step is no surprise if you subscribe to the life motto of the 5 Ps. Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Check with local fly shops for productive patterns; better yet go into the shops and check out fly patterns that have been honed over time for the specific waters you are fishing. Shop employees are often more than willing to share with you effective techniques and patterns to be using (though they might be tight-lipped about where these patterns are best used).

When you have an idea of what patterns you will need for a river, get several in each size, and in various colors. Often when you are facing a picky trout, it can be a simple fix to change up the size or color of the fly you are casting.

Likewise, planning ahead involves learning about the various types of insects and their common time frames. For instance, if you are fishing in the spring in the Pacific Northwest, you are likely to come across hatches of March Browns.

Be Prepared

Our Essential Fly Boxes provide you with the right flies for Mayflies, Caddisflies and Stoneflies. Plus, the option to personalize your fly box will add extra appeal to your kit on the river and off.


Before making your first cast on the river, or even wading out into the water, take some time to observe what is happening. If you can get an elevated view point, you may be able to spot some trout while surveying the food sources.

Are there trout rising to the surface to take bugs? Great, think about tying on a fly that looks like what is hatching, or a nymph version. Look carefully at the rise though, trout may be taking bugs just below the surface. And if a hatch has just finished trout may be quietly gulping spent flies that are laying flat on the surface of the water.

Are any bugs swarming in a large cloud? This indicates they are mating, and trout may be taking spinners that have fallen to the surface, especially as the hatch begins to slow down.

Look under some rocks along the bank. Are there crawdads scampering away, or bait fish scurrying, or nymphs stuck on the rock? Signs of life are also signs of the food that is available in the water.

As you hone your fly fishing skills, you may use a sieve to collect bugs that are flowing through the water. You can get a fancy Entomology Kit . Or just use a pair of panty hose stretched across your net.

Common Fly Patterns

It can be difficult to pick the right fly, if you don’t have that fly in your kit.

As a general rule it is a good idea to have some of these most common and effective flies in your fly collection.

For dry flies this includes: Stimulator, Royal Wulff, Adams, and Parachute Hare’s Ear. When fish are taking bugs off the surface but you can’t tell which they are taking, or you are simply fishing blind to see if there are some trout these patterns are great at looking a little bit like a lot of different bugs.

For nymphs you should plan to have: Hares Ear, Pheasant Tail, Prince nymphs, Zug Bug, Girdle Bug, and Brassie.

For your wet fly selection try the Royal Coachman, Hares Ear, Dark & Light Hendrickson, and Dark & Light Cahill.

For streamers always have: Woolly Buggers, Muddler Minnows, Zonkers, and Mickey Finns.

Adding variants such as beadhead, rubber legs, flashback and alternative colors of the patterns discussed above can increase your likelihood of catching trout.

Remember when you turned over rocks before you began fishing? With the right collection of flies you can make a fly selection that mimics the size, and body style of the aquatic insects you are seeing.


The final step in honing your skill at selecting the right flies is to experiment. I know, not what you wanted to hear right? You wanted detailed recommendations for the water, time of day and season you are fishing? Don’t we all!

When in doubt, go with the recommendations of professionals who fish the water you’re on regularly. After that, approach the water with a tentative plan that you flesh out once you see the river(you did observe before you started fishing, right?). If you think there are trout holding in a run try several fly types and patterns before moving on. Then, after that run has rested come back to it and try some more patterns.

If there are not any obvious food sources, try some of the flies mentioned above to search for feeding trout. Take notes of what works and what doesn’t so you can have a reference for the next time you go out.