Weather  MDC

Dry Fly

The authoritative definition of the dry fly comes from Vincent Marianaro's In the Ring of the Rise (1976)."We begin with the proposition that no matter how dry the fly is, it must touch the water and be exposed to the air at the same time. If this idea is carried out to its logical conclusion, all must agree that if the smallest portion is exposed tothe air no matter how deeply submerged the fly may be, it is still a legitimate form of the dry fly."; Thus, low-floating emergers and swamped spinners are "dry" when they touch air. In short, Marinaro conceded that "any fly, natural or artificial, touching the surface film, whether it be on the film, in the film, or mostly under the film" is a dry fly.

John Waller Hills dates the 1851 edition of G.P.R. Pulman's The Vade mecum of Fly-Fishing for Trout as the first published observation on the dry fly. He also adds that dry-fly fishing was probably practiced on the river Itchen in England during the 1840's. By 1865, the practice of the dry fly was prevalent on the southern Hampshire streams in England. In Ogden on Fly Fishing (1887), James Ogden establishes 1839 as the date that he invented the dry fly. Some forty years ago, when I introduced my floating flies...."

The modern dry fly may include patterns that "swim" in the surface - such as the so-called flynymphs "damp" patterns, emergers, and parachute patterns - as well as patterns that pentrate the water surface with the body or hook, such as the Swisher-Richards no-hackle patterns. A dry fly may be any pattern that is visible above the water surface, hence any pattern that extends above the water surface. Thus, spinners may be considered a dry pattern. The distinction between the dry fly and the wet fly is not as clear as it was during the last century. A "wet" fly may include the traditional wet fly as well as any pattern that is entirely submerged. With the advent of fishing the various stages of a particular insect, fly patterns and fly hooks have become more specific. Some patterns, in fact, may be fished as dry, emergers, and wet in a single cast or drift. At the end of a dry float, the pattern may be tugged beneath the surface to imitate a sunken nymph and then, on the retrieve, pulled close to the surface to imitate an emerger. Thus, the manner of presentation and line technique may define or determine the pattern type.

A few "flutter" patterns are technically dry; though they are "damp" or "moist" when scraped along the water surface. Usually, nymphs or larvae are specialized wet patterns, and floating emergers are dry patterns.  Generally, any patterns without a completerly submerged hook may be considered a dry fly. A completely submerged or saturated dry fly is a wet fly; a dry fly fished as a wet fly is a wet fly.

With numerous and notable exceptions, a dry fly may be:


Emerger Fly

Mayfly - Many mayfly nymphs often make several attempts to reach the surface before they succeed. During this time they propel themselves by the up-and-down motion of the abdomen and tails. They swim up toward the surface but then will cease their swimming motion and slowly fall back toward the bottom with abdomen and tails curled up. At this point they have negative buoyancy and may make many attempts to swim to the surface before succeeding.... After one of their tries to break the surface they do not sink, but hover just under the surface. The mayfly nymph is now in a perfect position to break the surface film and sometimes does so rather quickly.

During the hatch, some individual insects do not get through the film quickly. Some of the nymphs will hover one or two millimeters under the surface for long periods of time.... They lie very still, without even their gills working much of the time, giving the appearance of death. After a period of time, they will work their gills and legs rapidly and make one or more attempts to break through the surface tension. (Swisher and Richards, 1991)

Caddis - After cutting their way out of the cocoon on thebottom, some pupa will struggle out of the case, swim rapidly to the surface, and emerge quickly. Some individuals will lay on the stream substrate, legs curled back under their undulating godies in what we call the "tucked" position. They will lie in this position for various periods of time, which can be as short as a few seconds to as long as ten or more minutes.... Sooner or later they will extend their legs, swim up a little, and drift back down, repeating this action several times. Finally, they will dart into the current, swim rapidly to the surface, and emerge.

Many pupa swim on the surface to the shore and emerge on land, and some emerge just under the surface. Species emerging from water break the surface tension and pop outof the pupal shuck much like the mayfly does. There the similarity ends. Caddisflies quickly flip their wings two or three times and, almost immediately, fly off; they do not float for long periods of time as do the mayfly.

...cadddis pupae swim in almost exactly the opposite manner of mayfly nymphs. Rather than resembling the dolphin's form, their legs mimic a breast stroke or the oars of a scull. They swim almost entirely with their legs. The middle and forelegs pump back and forth rapidly. The hind legs usually trail back, under the abdomen. This is a striking visual characteristic. While swimming, the body becomes almost perfectly straight and rigid. The long antennae slope back over the top, or can be tucked back under the middle legs along the side of the body. (Swisher and Richards, 1991)

Stone Fly Emergence - The big difference between stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies as far as the fly fisher is concerned, is that stoneflies are crawlers, unlike caddis puape and mayfly nymphs, which swim. Stonefly nymphs possess little swimming ability. When dislodged from the stream substrate, they curl up legs ready to grab any object they are carried to by the current. they will sometimes move their legs back and forth rapidly, producing some forward motion. Since they are primarily crawlers, they traverse the bottom from the riffles and pools to the stream bank and up to dry land. Here they break the nymphal shuck; a dry (emerger) imitation is thus of no value during emergence. (Swisher and Richards, 1991)

Midge Emergence - The larva of most species live in cylindrical or conical cocoons but some are free-swimming and burrow in the silt or in stone or bark cases, much like caddis pupae.


Nymph Fly


Like many words shared by science and fly fishing, the work nymph has two meanings: one technical, as used by entomologists, and another more general as used by anglers. To entomologists, nymph refers to the immature stage of any insect with incomplete metamorphosis. That means those insects with three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Among aquatic insects, the orders Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies), Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) and Hemiptera (water boatmen and back swimmers) are the principal groups. The immature stage of insect orders with complete metamorphosis is technically called larva. These insects undergo four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The main orders of aquatic insects with complete metamorphosis are Trichoptera (caddisfles), Megaloptera (alderflies and hellgrammites).Coleoptera (beetles), and Diptera (true flies, including mosquitoes, blackflies, and midges).

Most fly fishers use the word nymph to refer to the immature underwater stage of any aquatic insect. They also use the term to describe fly patterns that are fished underwater and imitate the nymphal or larval stages of aquatic insects. Because the word has multiple meanings, it is easy to get confused. Just remember that nymph and larva both refer to the immature stage of insects,and nymph patterns are designed to imitate them. [Nymph-Fishing Rivers and Streams, Rick Hafele,2006]

Recommended Nymphing Techniques

Fish Location Water Conditions Hot Spot Techniques
Near bottom 5-15 ft - Slow Pools: large to medium rivers Countdown method
Near bottom 4-8 ft - Medium-fast Runs: large to medium rivers Shot and indicator/Brooks method
Near bottom 1-4 ft - Medium-fast Runs/riffles/tailouts Shot and indicator/Hinged leader/Leisenring lift
Near bottom 2-6 ft - Medium Pocket water in runs/riffles Shot and indicator/High Sticking
Near bottom 1-4 ft - Slow-medium Flats: medium to large rivers - pools: small streams Shot and indicator/Sawyer method/Leisenring lift
Mid-depth - 2-3 feet deep 5-15 ft - Pools Pools Hinged Leader/Shot and indicator
Mid-depth - 2-3 feet deep 2-4 ft - Flats Flats Shot and indicator/Hinged leader/Leisenring lift
Mid-depth - 2-3 feet deep 4-8 ft. - Medium-fast Runs Shot and indicator/Hinged leader/Leisenring lift
Mid-depth - 2-3 feet deep 14 ft - Medium-fast Riffles/runs Shot and indicator/Hewitt method/Leisenring lift
Near surface - film to about 1 foot deep 5-10 ft - Slow Pools/flats Wet-fly swing/Leisingring lift/Skues method
Near surface - film to about .1 foot deep 2-6 ft - Medium Flats/runs Wet-fly swing/Skues method/Leisenring lift/Hewitt method
Near surface - film to about 1 foot deep 1-4 ft - Fast Runs/riffles Wet-fly swing/Skues method/Leisenring lift/Hewitt method


Wet Fly

Wet fly terminology can be confusing to say the least; many would argue the wet fly to be an artificial representation of an invertebrate's aquatic larvae/pupae stage, confused yet? I am. If you placed a wet fly and a nymph side-by-side you'd wonder how they could be construed as being the same thing. The simple answer is that the traditional wet fly was the predecessor to the modern nymph and cemented its effectiveness before we started thinking about abdomens, thoraxes and wing pads etc. They are impressionistic flies that remain firmly in place due to their continuing effectiveness and may show us how anatomically correct imitations are not all there're cracked up to be.

Anna K The primary difference between the wet and the nymph lies in that the wet will rarely be weighted, and as such will not be designed to act anywhere but just in or underneath the surface film, whereupon it represents the ascending/hatching fly (emerger). Wet flies are tied with soft, webby, mobile, hackles to ensure their ability to sink easily and range from nothing more than a short slim body with a sparse hackle, to full-length bodies and prominent quill slip wings. The degree of wets available is staggering - more so than nymphs - and can be confusing, in every category of game fishing from salmon to trout, river to lake and north to south there are different styles of wet fly that have stemmed from different schools of thought over hundreds of years. But don't pay any attention to that, like all things they can be simplified (and they will).

Wet flies are those that are fished below the surface. In the past he term referred to an adutl version of a fly that did not make it to the surface or died and sank below the surface.

Taken from a blog by Ben Spinks @ Sexy Loops



Streamers or bucktails are designed to simulate various kinds of minnows or baitfish, with the exception of those dressed as attractors-type patterns. Possibbly the most sought-after staple in the diet of any game fish is another fish. Credit for this style of fly imitation cannot be given to any specific person. Minnow imitations were being used in Britain in the early 1800s, with no documented recognition given in fly-fishing literature, as it was not recognized as a form of fly-fishing. Early settlers brought the knowledge with them in this country and primitive bucktails were tied to catch smallmouth bass as early as the 1870s. They were being offered commercially in the early 1890s.

Zoo Around 1902, fly tier Herbert L. Welch, from Maine, began tying some of our first streamer patterns. His investigative undertaking was perceptive for the time. He possibly fashioned some of the first long-shank hooks, more befitting the design of this fly.

Carrie Gertrude Stevens, from Madison, Maine, should share the limelight with Herbert Welch. She was the wife of Wallace Stevens, who was a fishing guide. Carrie Stevens was one of the more prolific fly tiers of her time. Many of her designs live on today as a tribute to her talents and patterns. Her Gray Ghost has become famous the world over.....

Because of the varied hook shank lengths that streamers can be tied on, one must realize that there are not real proportions standards that he or she can follow. During the glory days of the streamer in the 1940s and 1950s, most fly tiers tried to duplicate the standards set by Carrie Stevens. Were you to view a selection of her flies today you would note that she mounted the wings at the ten and two o'clock positions and they run parallel to the hook shank, instead of on top. This allows the wings to project about 20 degrees above the body. This came to be known as the "Rangeley Style."With feather wings, this obscures most of the body when looking at the fly from the side.

Some have objected to calling a streamer a fly. Their interpretation is, a streamer is a "streamer" and not a fly at all. It was only during the 1960s, when still-water fly-fishing came into vogue in Britain, that a streamer fly was even accepted into their arsenal of flies, and then only for still-water. To some, the use of the streamer is not fly-fishing. Luckily, many fly fisherman appear to be moving past this type of thinking.

The word "streamer" originaly applied to feather-wing patterns. The use of hair or bucktail for the wings is a variation that took place on a broader scale in the 1930s. To this day there are those who will not agree that a bucktail streamer is a streamer.  By not understanding what a true streamer design consist of, some novice anglers have made misclassifications. To some, the Woolly Bugger represents their interpretation of a streamer. The long tail on this type of fly is just that, an extended tail on a wet fly. With the passage of time, more and more fly fishermen are beginning to realize the importance of streamers. Some novice fly fishermen don't take the time to develop the skills needed to be successful with this fly design....

Some fly fishermen who specialize in the use of streamer flies consider them to be the total answer to seducing large fish. ... For those fly fishermen who can think of more than just trout, these flies are very productive on bass and other game fish. As some say, "Big flies, big fish."

Dave Whitlock suggest that a beginner streamer fly fisher have the following streamers in his/her fly box. The best alround size is 8, but sizes 10 and 12 should also be in the arsenal. If after larger trout, sizes 4 through 1/0 should also be considered.



Scud - The common name scud has a Scandinavian origin and refers to the movement of these animals. In Norwegian, skudda means to push. This was adopted in English as scud and came to mean to move or run swiftly. Anyone who tries to catch one of these organisms swimming in a pan of water will understand how well this common name applies. Sideswimmer refers to the way that they swim. The scientific name for this order comes from two Greek words: amphi, meaning of both kinds and pod, meaning foot. This name refers to the two kinds of appendages on the bottom of the body, as seen in side view. Long walking legs protrude down on approximately the front half of the body, while much shorter and simpler swimming appendages protrude down on the rear half of the body.

In many of the fly fishing waters, scuds are an important high-protein food source for trout. Yet most anglers focus on more "normal" foods, such midges, mayflies, and damselflies. Perhaps that's because scuds are hard to classify. They are not an aquatic insect, nor are they a terrestrial. In fact they are not an insect at all.

Most of the species of scuds that are likely to be collected in surface waters belong to three families: Hyallelidae, Grammaridae, and Crangonyctidae. The most important family to he fisherman is the Grammaridae.

Sow Bug - Aquatic sow bugs, which are also called Isopoda, are one of the subphylum Crustacea. There are about 130 species of freshwater isopods in North America. This represents onlyabout 5% of the total number of species, because most isopods are marine or terrestrials. Practically all of the species of aquatic sow bugs that live freely in surface waters throughout most of the continent are in one family, Asellidae. There are three other families with a few species, but these are seldom encountered because they have very specialized lifestyles or narrowly restricted distributions.

Crayfish - Crayfish live in streams, rivers, swamps, ponds, and other freshwater habitats. Most crayfish are strictly aquatic but some live in semi-aquatic environments. The semi-aquatic crayfish burrow into the soil to get to water (so that they can breathe).

This crustacean has a hard exoskeleton that protects and supports the body. The crayfish has 8 jointed walking legs, a segmented body, 2 pairs of sensory antennae, and compound eyes. It has 2 large pincers or claws called chelipeds. If a crayfish loses a leg, the leg will regenerate (regrow). The head and thorax are fused, forming the cephalothorax. Using gills, a crayfish breathes oxygen that is dissolved in water. Juvenile crawfish are light tan, but adults are deep red. Their color also depends on diet. As a crayfish grows, it often molts (loses its old shell and grows a new one). It eats the old shell.

Crawfish in North America range from 2 to 6 inches (5-15 cm) long; Australian crawfish are larger.

Crayfish occur in a wide variety of shallow freshwater, and some live in swamps and wetlands. They are benthic and, at least in daylight hours, usually remain hidden in burrows or under stones and debris.


Terrestrial Fly


Miscellaneous Flies

Other types of flies not covered above - worms, leeches, etc. This would include glo balls flesh flies and other such types.