What is a fly? It’s the fly fishing term for bait or lure. The fly is what you tie on the end of your tippet that will hopefully attract and entice a fish to bite. Flies might imitate something the fish would normally feed on, or they might be something totally alien to the fish that just looks good enough to munch down on.
Flies can be purchased commercially or some people, who have the time and energy to do so, tie their own patterns. Although there are as many different patterns as there are stars in the night sky, flies can be broken down into two main categories, dry flies and wet flies. Dry flies are fished on top of the water and wet flies are fished below the surface.
The dry fly is probably the category most associated with the quintessential fly fisher. If you’ve ever seen a painting of someone out fly fishing in a serene mountain stream, look at the character’s hat. He most likely would have a dry fly or two stuck in the sweatband. A dry fly is intended to float on the surface of the water and is typically an imitation of some sort of insect. To help keep the fly afloat, fishermen typically use a small dab of chemical floatant on the fly. Commercially sold dry flies are typically named after the person who originally designed the pattern, like Adams or Hendrickson. Other names might come form what color they are, what they are designed to imitate, or what they are made from. For example: Blue Winged Olive (BWO), Black Ant, or Flashback Pheasant Tail. Regardless of the name, most fly fishermen choose what pattern they use based on their own observation of the waters. They take close account of what insects they see both in the air and on the water. From there they try to choose a fly to match the size and color of what they see.
Wet flies are just what the name implies, flies that typically resemble insects or other creatures that are under the water surface. Many imitate dead insects or insects that are hatching from tiny eggs and floating to the surface. Nymphs are wet flies that imitate the early life stages of mayflies, stone flies and other winged insects. Streamers are wet flies that imitate injured baitfish, leaches, worms, or crayfish. Egg patterns, scuds and larva imitations are also fished under the waters surface.
Terrestrial flies are intended to resemble non-aquatic insects that fall into the water by mistake. Grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and crickets are good examples. Terrestrials can fall into either the dry or wet fly category, depending upon how they are fished. Poppers are another odd duck fly. Poppers imitate frogs or other things that swim or pop along the surface.
That’s a quick explanation of the types of flies you might run into, but you might be asking what to use if you were fishing on a lake or river near Mankato. The best answer is to bring several options depending on what you are fishing for.
- Pan fish: Dry flies or wet flies. Pan fish will bite on almost anything small, whether it is fished on the surface or below the water line. Try something that resembles a mosquito or an ant for starters.
- Walleye and Northern Pike: Streamers that resemble baitfish or leaches work well.
- Bass: Streamers and Terrestrials. Bass also love to strike bright-colored poppers.
As previously discussed in Fly fishing 101: Leader, tippet and fly, it’s all about presentation – inconspicuously putting something in front of a fish and making it look good enough to eat. Flies come in all different shapes and sizes and choosing the most desirable fly is only part of the sport. From there you need to get the fly in front of the fish and make it totally irresistible. Good luck.