How do you choose which fly to fish? - Spey Pages
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post #1 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-08-2015, 02:09 PM Thread Starter
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How do you choose which fly to fish?

Hello all, I'm new to the forum and to Spey fishing. I do not possess a rod yet, however I'm learning all that I can while I save up for one.

I've been fly fishing for about 3 years and after spending the summer in the maritimes, I've developed a love for the traditional wet fly swing. I wish to target Great Lakes steelhead this fall and winter with the swing, first with my single handed rod and later with a proper switch or Spey rod when I can afford it. One of the first issues I'm dealing with (and struggled with in the maritimes) is fly selection. When fly fishing for trout with dry flies, streamers or nymphs, I'm either matching a hatch, or in the absence of a well defined hatch, I'm throwing food items that are familiar to a trout or so bizarre that it appeals to their curiosity, but 90% of the time I'm replicating a naturally occurring food item. The flies I see being used for the swing (wet flies, Spey flies, salmon flies etc..) don't really appear to imitate a particular food item (with some exceptions) or perhaps I'm not seeing the resemblance. So without a food item to replicate, how do you go about choosing a fly for a particular river, at a particular time, in particular conditions for a particular species of fish?

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post #2 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-08-2015, 02:27 PM
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I'm of the mind that the specifics of the fly doesn't really matter much. If the fish can see it and you can get it near a player you've done your part. I mostly select my fly based on water temperature and clarity. With poor clarity or cold water I'll start using flies with larger profiles. With warmer water and good clarity I'll gravitate towards smaller flies. There are colors I like, or have more confidence in but that confidence isn't based on much other than anecdotal personal experience. Of course I catch the lions share of my fish on black/blue/purple flies because I fish those colors most of the time. It's all a bit of a self fulfilling pattern.
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post #3 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-08-2015, 11:50 PM
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Sometimes big or small.
Flashy or drab.
Skating or sunk.
Depends on clarity, temp and type of fish and how long it's been in freshwater.
The fun part(and often frustrating) is figuring it out.
Most of all fish a fly YOU like because if you don't believe in it your in for tough times.

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post #4 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-09-2015, 09:36 AM
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Here is a nice video that might help at least in selecting fly color.

Some rivers it seems folks like big flies while on others it is small flies - as an example on the Klamath I rarely use any fly bigger than a size 6 but other rivers such as the North Umpqua I rarely use anything smaller than a size 4 unless I am skating
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post #5 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-09-2015, 10:30 AM
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Go with what looks fishy to you for the water you are about to fish .... you'll have confidence in it and you will fish it well.
In my opinion, that is far more important than size, colour or profile.
Soon after you will know your style and that will dictate how you tie a fly.
The swinging game is less about "matching the hatch" and more about targeting aggressive fish, so attraction is the key.

Visit the fly tying section here for some great reading about fly selection and tying ... some fantastic tyers here, all very willing to share and lend a hand

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post #6 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-09-2015, 02:46 PM
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I'm with Mike,

Go with what looks right (which will change over time).

If I don't think it looks fishy I won't fish it.

So I find a few patterns that look right and keep tying them on.
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post #7 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-10-2015, 09:01 AM
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Water visibility/clarity plays a big part for me and I agree with Mike that confidence is a big factor. There are a lot of anglers who would mention river bottom - whether it's is dark or light. Streams in WA run cold and clean and generally don't support algae/vegetation. Majority of river beds are free grave. There are exceptions but generally tend to remain clear and bright through the warm months. The stream beds here are much darker and now that it's been asked - Im wondering if this could/should also be considered when selecting a pattern.
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post #8 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-10-2015, 09:23 AM
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Excellent points Vic !!
Water levels, water temperature and water clarity all determine fly selection and confidence.

I like where this thread is going


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post #9 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-10-2015, 10:43 AM
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I am not sure that river bottom color would come into play unless the structure in some way impacts water clarity - such as algae blooms. after all, a fish is either near the bottom or mid level looking up so bottom color should have no impact on what they are seeing? Bottom color can affect water temperature which is another thing to be considered in fly selection
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post #10 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-10-2015, 08:37 PM
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Fly Selection

Not to oversimplify things but I have a summer and winter box. I have a ton of flies in each box but really have confidence in 3 or so patterns in summer and winter and 90% of the time I use one of the three patterns. I have a darker and lighter version. Depending on the conditions I pick the light or dark. If for some reason I switch to another pattern, I usually end up going back to my main patterns because i have confidence in them. When fishing streamers for trout anywhere I fish the same pattern in light and dark 90% of the time. If that doesn't seem to work I will throw a black wooly bugger on and then most likely switch back a little later. It's funny because I am the guy who has boxes and boxes of flies and only use a couple. I love to tie though so its not my fault. Now trout fishing on the other hand.... lots and lots of possibilities.
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post #11 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-10-2015, 10:12 PM
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1/0 skunk.... nearly always a 1/0 skunk

if a man fished a 1/0 skunk every fishing day of his life he would catch just as many fish as if he changed his fly all the time to meet what his brain tells him the conditions warrant.

"Never be afraid to show love" Frank Moore
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post #12 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-10-2015, 11:06 PM
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Welcome first.

Second, it takes skill years and years of it! Total BS just joking.

My opinion is that it all boils down to confidence in the fly you are fishing. It would also depend on where and when.

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post #13 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-11-2015, 02:33 PM
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What everyone is trying to tell you is that the fly pattern doesn't matter. Egads, you might think that is crazy talk. Yes, if you're fishing for trout, but for steelhead or Atlantic Salmon, not crazy talk at all because these fish aren't selectively feeding (heck their stomachs are atrophied on their spawning runs so anything they eat, is just passed through), and nobody knows why they take a fly (more properly a lure made of feathers and fur fished with a fly rod), lure, spinner, or bait. We just know they do at times.

So pick a pattern or two (maybe three) that you like the looks of, get it or tie it in a range of sizes (say #1/0-#6), and fish it on every line from floating to type 8 sink tips (or even T-14, T-17, or T-20 if your rod can handle it) in all sorts of water conditions from low and clear, to high with some color, from water temps in the 55-60 degree F area to water temps in the mid-to-upper 30's. And don't get discouraged when you don't start hooking them right away. Even the best, most experienced steelhead and Atlantic Salmon fishermen often go days (sometimes weeks or months) without a hook-up.
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post #14 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-11-2015, 03:41 PM
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Above all

Don't believe anything a nymph fisher tells you! They will swear up & down that a #12 red copper john is the hot ticket today, while yesterday they would take nothing but a green copper john. To kind of verify what all these guys are saying, go back down through the posts and check all the "likes" on each comment. How often have you seen or heard "life is too short to xxx" whatever? Same applies here. Some people like to fish classic full dress patterns, of their own making, on a long line & wouldn't think of resorting to sink tips. Others like to throw garbage on Skagit setups. We are not in this game to count trophies or stock the freezer. It's all about maximizing the experience. Just fish, & enjoy your time on the river.
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post #15 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-11-2015, 05:32 PM
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I think that the general trend of the advise here is pretty consistent: don't get too hung up on fly selection, worry more about finding aggressive fish, fish with confidence, etc. I would generally agree with all this, generally. I don't subscribe to the hard line "fly pattern doesn't matter at all" however. I do think that fly pattern *can* play a role in triggering an interest or strike, or spooking a fish, sometimes anyways. If you're fortunate enough to be able to fish for fresh, aggressive fish in optimal water conditions then pretty much anything goes; in other conditions I think it's wise to consider the challenges you're addressing to hopefully entice a potential player to grab.

Picking a giant intruder in times of low clear water, and skittish fish holed up probably would make a difference... it would likely spook a lot of fish. Of course, you never know, one of them might take an interest regardless and attack it... I would put a little time into putting yourself in the mindset of the fish that you're searching for, different day, different fish, different strategy. Water temp, color, pressure, etc all play a role in their temperment, even the kind of water can play a big factor imo. I will say that generally the more spooky, or vulnerable a fish may be feeling the smaller and more drab I tend to make my offerings. High water, low vis, cold temps, I usually go big, and flashy, with LOTS and LOTS of movement, and fish it slower and closer to shore. Of course if that doesn't work, I often try the opposite! Usually that works no better, but sometimes it does... maybe it was the different fly, or different presentation, or maybe it was just different.

I do think that something that looks, and behaves, like something that is alive tends to work better than something that does not. Of course my lack of confidence in "stale looking flies" limits how much time I've devoted to fishing them...

Problem with making any hard fast rules one way or another is that steelhead aren't quite that predictable. They have a tendency to do unexpected things, sometimes in unexpected places. Part of the mystery and the joy of chasing them is that there are few rules that need be strictly adhered to, and that there will always be surprises.

Do put some thought into what you're offering them, and how.
Do be certain in your selection, fish it with the utmost of confidence and be prepared for a grab at ANY time your fly is in the water and keep it there as much as possible.
Do try new things, and new waters.
Do pay attention to details.
Don't worry too much about any of this, and be sure to have a really good time with the process... the fish will come when they come, and it can be long time in between them. Or it could be the very next cast. Either way, it's a wonderful way to pass countless hours in beautiful places.
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