Flies are tied in the sizes, colors and patterns that best match local terrestrial and aquatic insects, baitfish, or other prey attractive to the type of fish you're trying to catch. In other words, you "match the hatch." Flies used in fly fishing imitate both the immature and adult stages of insects, as well as baitfish, leeches and worms. Most flies fit into these six categories:

fly fishing dry flies

Dry Flies

Dry flies and other surface flies represent adult aquatic insects as they emerge from the water. They also represent other food sources that have fallen into the water like grasshoppers or mice. Dry flies are good for trout, panfish and bass. And there’s nothing more exciting than watching a fish rise up and take your fly on the surface.

(See chart below for classic dry fly patterns)

fly fishing nymphs flies


Nymphs are imitations of young insects in their larval form that live in the water. Fished on or near the bottom of lakes and rivers, nymphs are very effective for trout, panfish, salmon and steelhead.

(See chart below for classic nymph patterns)

fly fishing streamers flies


Streamers imitate baitfish, leeches and crayfish, which are all primary food sources for fish. Streamers are fished throughout the water column in both rivers and lakes. Virtually every species of fish can be caught with a streamer.

(Check out our Fishing with Streamers page for more information)

fly fishing wet flies

Wet Flies

Wet flies imitate aquatic insects as they swim to the surface. They are very effective when used for trout, panfish, bass, salmon and steelhead.

fly fishing salmon flies

Salmon Flies

Salmon flies are designed for both Pacific and Atlantic salmon as well as for steelhead. These flies often don’t imitate anything specific in nature but are meant to trigger an aggressive response.

fly fishing saltwater flies

Saltwater Flies

Saltwater flies represent the many food sources found in the ocean. From baitfish to crab and even shrimp, these patterns can catch everything from bonefish to tarpon.

Need help choosing a fly? Check the Color Coding System.

Content courtesy of simplysuperfly.com.

Geography Matters

Do you live in the East and fish mostly streams and rivers, do you fish lakes and ponds for panfish and bass, or do you fish primarily for saltwater fish? Each type of fish and fishing calls for its own fly selection, although in some instances there is crossover, with flies for one type of water working successfully on other waters.

In general, mayflies, stoneflies, caddis, damselflies and dragonflies constitute the major aquatic insects of interest to trout, bass and panfish. But because these are the major aquatics upon which these fish may feed, you don't necessarily need a wide assortment of each in both nymph and adult patterns.

In the East, for example, dragonflies and damselflies usually are not of primary importance to trout, so carrying a complete assortment of these patterns is a poor choice. But go to the Rocky Mountains or far-Western lakes, and damselflies become a food staple for cruising trout and bass. Concentrate on carrying the basic flies you need for the waters that you fish regularly.

The Home-Field Advantage

If you are a beginning fly fisherman or traveling to an area where you have never fished, you might think that you are at a disadvantage in discovering the important local hatches. Check with a local fly shop and follow the suggestions given. Most reputable fly shops know the latest about local hatches and can provide valuable information about hatch-matching patterns. There are times when a favorite local pattern may produce better than a well-known fly. Don't hesitate to try them.

The Basic Box

This chart shows fly patterns that will serve you well for all of your freshwater fishing - from bass to trout and panfish. You may have trouble "matching the hatch" sometimes because, about 10 percent of the time, freshwater fish focus on one abundant water-born insect and become so choosy that they will take only a close imitation; but these flies can catch most fish most of the time.