One of the most confusing things about fly fishing is when to use which flies. If you are fortunate enough to have a mentor, that’s great. If not, my friend Ted put together what he learned from a lot of years fishing for trout in moving water.
In freestone streams that are fairly pollution free, he suggests using stoneflies from April to July beginning with dark patterns of black to brownish, then moving to brown yellow, olive and green as the seasons merge.
With Caddis flies, he suggests black to start, which imitates the Grannom, but carry imitations ranging from size 16 to 20, in colors ranging from brown, gray, ginger, tan and olive. One he forgot to mention is the apple-green caddis that emerges in early May on the Tulpehocken Creek, near Reading.
Ted simplified the mayflies by color, but fly fishermen should begin to learn some imitations and sizes to attract fish. He noticed most flies emerging in April and early May were red, brown or grey. By mid-May, he added tan, and ginger followed in July with cream and sulfur bodies. For the emerging sulfur flies in May, he either used an orange or yellow body.
In July until frost, he tied a size 20 black-bodied fly to imitate the Trico.
For the various mayflies, he describes the emergent date, when he noticed the first flies of that species on the water or above it.
Blue quills are still on the water now with Quill Gordons beginning April 25. He saw red quills and Hendrickson on May 1, followed on May 15 with March Browns. Ginger quills come around May 20 and sulfurs by May 25. Lead-wing coachman, green drakes and light Cahills can be seen around June 1, and the Tricorythodes he suggests emerging on July 20.
Some of these dates aren’t the same today. For whatever reason, Ted and I started seeing sulfur mayflies nearer to May 8 than May 20. We can also begin seeing trout rise to Tricorythodes on July 5.
If you’re new to flyfishing, believe it or not, fly shops are a great source of information. They know what aquatic insects are emerging and at what time of day you can encounter them on the streams. They also have a great selection of flies in the right sizes to catch fish. Spend a few dollars and they might even tell you where to find the most fish and the most flies. They are fly fishermen.
If you’ve never fly fished and think you might like it, ask at the fly shop. They will have guides available that can teach as well as guide.
Back in the early 1990s, when I decided to take fly fishing seriously, I decided to give it a whole year without using spinning or casting gear. I’m glad I did, because it took quite a few times on trout streams and bass ponds to learn enough skill to catch a fish regularly without someone telling me what to do.