Types of Fly Fishing Flies (An Angler’s Guide)

Here are the best types of flies for fly fishing, to fit any situation on the water!

In this article I’ll be covering basic types of fly fishing flies and fly fishing flies identification. With so many different names of fly fishing flies, it can be difficult sorting them all out.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be fly fishing for many years, and when a new angler asked me the other day about types of fly fishing flies, I realized how complicated all of this must sound.

So in this article I’ll be discussing the basic types of fishing flies, so you can find your feet in the fly fishing world. I want to show you that the different types of flies for fishing aren’t as complicated or intimidating as it may sound.

To make it easy, I’ve limited the types of fly fishing flies to basic fishing scenarios that you’ll probably encounter, like fishing for bass or trout, and we’ll look at subsurface and on-the-surface flies.

Let’s first look at subsurface flies, where you’ll find most fish species feed most of the time. We’ll begin with the most common types of fishing flies in the subsurface category.

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A set of wet flies for trout in a fly boxWet Fly

A wet fly is usually a traditional pattern with a classic dressing or a soft hackle.

Very often you find wet fly versions of popular dry flies, and instead of the very stiff cock hackle, for wet flies that hackle has been substituted with hen hackle. It’s a lot softer, so it allows the fly to sink, and it also gives the fly a lot of movement.

A fly angler is smiling on wet fly fishing

Although these types of wet flies aren’t as popular as they used to be, they’re still very effective. Trout didn’t reach a point where they think, we’re not eating traditional wet flies anymore. No, these types of trout flies still work just as effectively as they used to.

What I love about these types of flies for trout fishing is that you can used them on a wide variety of fly lines, from a floating to a full sinking fly line.

Fly Fishing Streamers - Box Full of FliesStreamers

Streamers are a large group of flies that are designed to swim around and have a lot of movement. They range from small Micro Buggers to really large Sex Dungeons and types of wet flies like that.

They can imitate fish, leeches, and frogs, and they can be patterns that simply aggravate fish. Probably one of the best and most well-known streamers of all time is the classic Woolly Bugger.

a box of fly fishing nymph flies for troutNymphs

Nymphs imitate aquatic insects in their larval stage. The insects that nymph flies imitate range from mayflies, caddis, stoneflies, damselflies, and dragonflies, all of these prolific insects.

Most of these larvae live on the bottom of a river or lake, so you’ll find that a lot of these types of nymph flies are weighted either with tungsten or copper, with brass bodies. That’s just to get the fly down to where the fish are feeding.

fish a run using euro nymphing technique

In rivers I fish nymphs on a Euro nymphing rig, or I attach a small nymph behind a dry fly in a dry dropper rig. Both of these techniques work incredibly well on rivers.

fly fishing emerger fliesEmergers

When the insect larvae progresses to the adult phase, we call this phase the emerger phase. That’s because it emerges from the bottom to the surface. In this phase, the appearance, the size of fly fishing flies, and where we fish the flies differ from a nymph or a dry fly.

The fly is much lighter in weight, so we generally don’t add a lot of weight to it, or no weight at all. It also has a little bit more movement than other types of trout flies.

Because the insects are so vulnerable in the emerger phase, trout can really hammer them. This is when using emerger patterns is an absolute must.

I love fishing an emerger in a dry dropper rig. You’ll have a dry fly — an adult caddis or adult mayfly — and behind it the emerger version of that fly.

A lot of times you’ll find that the trout would rather eat the emerger, and all that you’re doing is using the dry fly as a sighter or an indicator.

I also use emergers in dual nymph rigs. The bottom fly will have a very heavy nymph, like a 3 or 3.5 tungsten beaded nymph, and about 50 or 60 cm above that will be an emerger, because that emerger will fish higher up in the water column.

So, that was a very brief discussion of what happens below the surface, but now let’s turn our attention to what’s happening on top of the surface, because this is where fly fishing is most fun.

best flies in a boxDry Flies

There are literally thousands of different types of dry flies out there, and they mostly imitate adult insects that sit on top of the water’s surface. Insects like stoneflies, craneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies are just some of these various types of flies for trout fishing.

It’s the combination of the materials used and, more importantly, how these materials are tied to the fly that makes them float.

It’s also a good idea to have some powder and liquid floatant to keep treating your flies to make sure that they float throughout the entire day.

Some of my favorite types of dry flies out there are the Parachute Adams, the Klinkhammer (which can also be used or seen as an emerger), the Tabanas, the CDC and Elk, and the good old Humpy.

A set of terrestrial flies in a fly box for fly fishingTerrestrials

Technically, terrestrial floating patterns are dry flies, but I wanted to create a separate section for them because I want to emphasize how important they are in the world of different types of fly fishing flies.

Terrestrials are super important. Terrestrial insects that you need to imitate are beetles, ants, and most importantly, hoppers.

These fall onto the water in summer months. They’re blown off the vegetation by wind, and the fish sit near the banks and wait for these terrestrials to fall into the water.

This gives you a clue about how and when to fish them. Fish terrestrial patterns up close against the bank, and accelerate that forward cast slightly to create a plonk and a nice ripple as the fly lands. This is what usually activates the fish.

Terrestrial patterns are also very buoyant, because of the materials that are used in them and how they’re tied in. So, they offer a great option in dry dropper or hopper dropper rigs.

If you want to fish slightly heavier beaded nymphs, like a 4 mm beaded nymph, it can’t be floated by a small Parachute Adams. The Adams will keep going down. So what you then do is use a very buoyant hopper pattern, and that will sort you out.

a different kinds of poppersPoppers

There’s nothing more exhilarating than popping next to a weed bed or over a channel and then seeing a big bass appear out of nowhere, open that bucket, and smash that popper. In my book, it doesn’t get better than that.

Poppers can be tied using tightly packed deer hair and foam. They’re designed to push water and create bubbles and a lot of noise.

There are many different popper styles or names of poppers. The ones that I really like are the Crease Fly, the Double Barrel Popper, and the Dahlberg Diver.

All of these fly fishing flies types have different actions or ways of retrieving them, and all three of them are exceptional flies.

One thing that I wanted to mention, and something that I’ve learned over the years, is how important hooks are on poppers.

popper at the surface

There are two main things that you need to look for. The first is a very sharp point, because as the fish comes and hits that fly, it doesn’t always make 100% contact.

So, you need an incredibly sharp point to find the smallest piece of purchase and penetrate quickly, because the fish eat so fast.

The other one is that the hook needs to have a wide gap, so that the gap isn’t obstructed by any of the popper material.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a ton of different kinds of flies for fly fishing out there, and I’ve only covered the absolute surface of fly fishing flies identification. It’s such an interesting topic.

This article is meant to give you a running start as you begin your journey in fly fishing. If you have any questions about patterns that I haven’t covered, please leave the questions in the comment section down below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Please check out our Youtube channel for the video about types of fly fishing flies, and turn on notifications. Then we can let you know as soon as we release any future videos about fly fishing flies types.

Until next time, cheers.

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Disclaimer: IntoFlyFishing.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please see our Privacy Page for more information.

Pierre is a fly fishing guide and professional photographer who has guided and hosted trips for top fly fishing outfitters. Since being introduced to fly fishing over 21 years ago, he has travelled, fished and guided across the globe. He has extensive knowledge on specific gear and tackle selection for various salt- and freshwater species. Some of his writing work includes blogposts for Alphonse Fishing Company and African Waters.

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