How to Identify Fly-Fishing Flies

Learn to quickly identify different types of fishin flies.
Learn to quickly identify different types of fishin flies.
The flies used in fly fishing come in literally thousands of color, shape and size combinations. They also differ in that they are used in fishing for different species, from small pan fish on farm ponds to trout in the Rocky Mountains and even large tarpon in the ocean flats. It is helpful for fishermen to have identification methods.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Step 1

Identify dry flies (these are usually associated with traditional fly fishing and are designed to float on the surface of the water) by their trademark fine hackle and long tail. Hackle is a feather that has been wrapped around the shank of a hook, usually near the eye. This process splays out the individual feather fibers to both float the fly and create a "buggy" look. The tail is usually made from feather fibers and extends past the top of the bend of the hook, also assisting in floating the fly.

Step 2

Identify wet flies by looking for longer, less dense, and less fine hackle, or no hackle at all. Wet flies, as their name implies, are designed to be fished under the surface of the water. They traditionally have a longer wing that runs roughly parallel with the shank of the hook rather than the short, perpendicular-to-the-shank wings made of hackle on dry flies.

Step 3

Identify the fly category known as nymphs by their attempt to imitate the larval or nymph stage of aquatic insects. They generally do not have any hackle and are also characterized by segmented bodies and a larger area near the eye of the hook that is designed to look like a wing case.

Step 4

Identify streamers (the flies that mimic small bait fish, leeches and the largest of aquatic insects) by their size. They are usually large, sleek flies. They can also sometimes resemble lures and are intended to be used in a manner similar to the way a spin fisherman fishes a lure, imparting some action to it.

Step 5

Saltwater flies are the most outlandish and colorful. Decorative large feathers and marabou plumes in hot pink, lime green, or yellow are very common on these flies. They are meant to imitate darting bait fish and other small sea creatures that trigger the predatory instinct in saltwater fish. They often have eyes and are sometimes tied upside down, with the body material on the underside of the shank of the hook.

Anthony Smith has been writing for written over 800 articles for Demand Studios, and also writes for "The College Baseball Newsletter". He attended the University of New Mexico, and has over 25 years of experience in the business world.
fly box image by Brett Bouwer from

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