The Main Types of Trout Flies

There are thousands of individual fly patterns designed just for catching trout and thousands more imitations created to catch different species of fish on a fly rod. All of these different types, sizes, colors and styles of flies can be an intimidating array of choices for any angler, whether novice or beginner. Thankfully, most anglers need not worry about carrying every fly pattern ever tied for catching trout. Most modern flies are versions of older, simpler patterns that have been slightly altered and enhanced but every once in a while a truly new and innovative design emerges.

There are really only three basic designs used in tying flies for trout and every fly fisherman should begin filling one fly box each with the following types of flies:


Nymphs are the immature stage of aquatic insects such as mayflies, caddis flies, midges, stoneflies, damsels and dragon flies and also can also include trout prey items such as freshwater shrimp, aquatic worms and even fish eggs. Trout do the vast majority of their feeding below the surface near the bottom and consequently nymph patterns and the flies that account for the vast majority of trout landed in rivers and lakes.

In the last twenty years or so bead headed nymph flies have proven to be extremely effective. These flies often have a brass or tungsten metal bead that gives the fly weight and flash. Some nymphs feature colored glass bead heads. Beadless nymphs are still extremely effective fish catchers, especially for wary trout.

Novice anglers should focus on building up a supply of basic, proven nymph patterns that imitate a wide variety of aquatic insects that attract trout wherever they are found. Examples of time tested flies include pheasant tails, hare’s ears and prince nymphs.

A well rounded nymph box would also include larger girdle bug type stoneflies, olive and green caddis larvae and tiny midge larvae. Scuds, San Juan Worms and eggs give fly fisherman additional opportunities. Keep in mind nymph fly fishing demands the use of floating strike indicators and often requires split shot used as additional weight to get your nymphs down to the bottom where they are most effective.

Dry Flies

Dry flies represent insects that have emerged from the bottom or that are trapped on the surface of the water. Trout will target surface food if there is enough of it to make the effort worthwhile. Dry flies can imitate adult forms of the aquatic insects mentioned in the nymph section above as well as terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers, ants and beetles. There are even flies used for catching large trout that imitate mice swimming and struggling on the water’s surface.

Good dry fly fishing is considered the holy grail of fly fishing for trout. The visual aspect of seeing trout rise to the surface to eat a fly is both exciting and rewarding. A good dry fly box would have an abundance of different patterns geared towards imitating specific insects and those flies that are called attractors. These attractor flies do not imitate any specific bug but have multiple features that generally represent a wide variety of food items. The Parachute Adams and Royal Wulff are the ultimate attractor flies for trout.

Streamer Flies

Trout, especially large predatory individuals, do not focus solely on insects when it comes to feeding. Often the big fish seek out larger prey items. These food sources include minnows, sculpins, crayfish, juvenile trout and occasionally even small mammals, snakes and birds. Streamer flies are tied to represent these big chunks of food.

Like nymphs, streamers often incorporate weighted beads and cones that give the fly additional flash, weight and action. Popular streamer patterns include Woolly Buggers in a range of sizes and colors. Many popular streamers like the Sculpzilla and Slumpbusters use long strips of rabbit fur that undulate in the water. Recently there has been a surge in the use of extremely large mega streamers that are  five to seven inches long and sometimes feature double hooks.

Streamer fishing is a much more active method of fishing than using dry flies or nymphs which use current to present the fly. Streamers are usually actively and quickly moved and swung through the current in the hopes of coercing a large trout into chasing and eating the fly. Heavy tippet and leaders are needed to absorb violent strikes.

Looking for a Fly Shop in Vail, CO?

With these three types of flies, trout anglers have just about every food source trout commonly eat covered. It’s best to start with basic flies that will continually catch fish. After the basics are in place, serious fly fishermen can work on expanding their fly collection. Many of us will eventually begin tying in order to create our own custom flies that meet an angler’s specific needs and preferences.

Use your local fly shop guys to help you find the flies you’ll need as conditions and hatches vary throughout the year. And if you happen to be in the area, come visit our fly shop in Vail, CO!

Make sure to check out Vail Valley’s Anglers huge fly inventory. If we don’t have it, we’ll find it and order it for you.

Brody Henderson, Guide and Content Writer