Fishing reports, text messages, and Instagram posts are starting to call out the hatches of Hendrickson’s, Blue Wing Olives, March Browns, and Grannoms. Catching the first fish of the year on a dry fly, begins the most romantic season of fly fishing. Selecting the correct fly, making an accurate presentation, and then watching a fish rise and take the fly is the pinnacle of fly fishing. There are anglers who only fish dry flies because the combination of problem solving and visual theater is so intoxicating. Consistent and persistent hatches begin in the Spring and carry on through the early fall. It’s a short period of time and it’s starting now. 

I have a lot to learn as a dry fly fisherman. The majority of what I’ve learned is from watching and talking to my friends Mark, Brian, and Stephen and the books I have read. Hatches occur in limited time windows and my time on the river during hatches is limited to around 100 hours. I’ve been lucky enough to catch ten fish in about an hour during a blue winged olive hatch and using terrestrials during a fortunate summer day. But my typical experience is catching one to three fish during a two hour window. There are fish rising all around me and I can barely catch one of them. I have no doubt I’ve spooked more fish that caught during hatches.  

In that limited time I have found a few things that help me avoid wasting it. Finding the fly that works during a hatch has been the biggest challenge and most time-consuming component. The first step to helping you find a fly that works is to know the local hatch charts. The second step is knowing the life cycles of the insects. Those items can be found easily with a web search. But picking the flies and being able to present them correctly takes that to another level. So, all that work can be put in and you find the winning recipe and then…you catch one fish and the fly falls apart with the first fish.

The teeth of trout are small, but they can be very sharp. Delicate flies with a palmered hackle are especially fragile. Parachutes and Catskill style dry flies utilize hackles from feathers to keep flies buoyant. The stem or rachis of a feather holds the barbs that form the hackles. Wrapping the feathers around the hook or a post of calf hair or a synthetic fiber exposes the thin rachis to the teeth of the fish. I have had several of these flies unravel after catching one or two fish. In the past I have used thread covered in a thin coating of head cement to secure these wraps and features, but I have more recently found that securing the wraps with a ultraviolet (UV) resin provides more durability for these flies.     

An angler can pick from a nearly endless selection of dry flies. There are floating nymphs, emergers, duns, comparaduns, sparkle duns, caddis, cripples, spinners, and many variations of hybridizations of each. Each angler, each time on the water, must pick one, maybe two flies at a time to present to the fish, with the hope it will fool the fish. Each fly is composed of different materials to create the appearance, function, and purpose it was intended to represent. Adhering those components to a hook does not always create something that is durable. 

As a starting point, I put together a table of common dry fly components and the characteristics of those pieces. Finding what works for you to catch fish is largely an individual journey. Hopefully this can help you start or continue your journey. But maybe this is my starting point and maybe each of you have different ideas or recommendations. I would love to hear them. Maybe next time I’m on the stream for a hatch, I’ll pick the fly you recommend.

Keep mending…          

Material ->
HackleCDCEP Fibers / AntronSnowshoe RabbitElk / Deer HairFoam
DurabilityLowLow – ModerateHighModerateModerate –  HighHigh
Floatation (per dose of desiccant)15 drifts10 drifts20 drifts10 drifts40 drifts70 drifts
AppearanceElegant, Classic, High RidingDelicate, Simulates movement, Sits in the FilmConsistent, Bright ColoringBuggy, HeartyRigid, SolidBulky, easily cut to shape
Common Fly TypesCatskill – Style Dun, Parachute, Elk Hair Caddis, StimulatorDun, Spinner, EmergerDun, Spinner, Post for ParachuteEmergerCaddis, Stimulator, Humpy, Spun FliesTerrestrials
DrawbacksFragile, ExpensiveSensitive to DesiccantsSyntheticShorter Fibers for Smaller FliesRotates on hooks, Hard to secure to hookRotates on hooks, Difficult to cast, wind resistant, can land hook up on water 
Fly FunctionLegs, tails, wings
Wings, legs, body
Wings, shucks, postsBody, wingsWings, body, tailsBody

5 Replies to “Picking a Fly That Works and Will Last”

  1. Hi Scott!
    Nice article. One thing I’d like to add is, size and silhouette is much more important than color, on bright or sunny days, the fish from an underwater, under the fly view, mostly just see a silhouette. Now on overcast days or low light conditions, color may come to be more important. A couple examples of this are light tan colored elk hair caddis patterns and white para posts, fish just view them as shaded silhouettes which is perfectly fine. Yes, the size of the fly and a good silhouette will fool way more fish than a color match. As far as a fly’s durability, how it’s tied plays into that more than what material it’s made from. Good secure wraps throughout the whole fly will make it last much longer than a poorly tied fly, also with a micro drop of head cement or super glue at the end in strategic places will go a long way.
    Very enjoyable to read, keep up the good work 👍🏻. Tight Lines ~ Scott

    1. Great points Scott! There is so much more to say on durability. I think I should follow up with more tips on that and your suggestions are key! Thanks for reading!

  2. There is so much to learn in this sport!
    Is soring the busiest time for hatching? Does that happen throughout the spring/fall seasons?
    There is an artistry along with the technology!
    It involves the whole being!

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