Six flies: all you need for small streams.

Six flies is all you need for small stream fishing. However, there must be a million of flies you could choose from, and most fly fishers have vests bursting with boxes and boxes of them. However, ask any angler which flies they use regularly, they will probably name six flies or less. Those six will differ between anglers, due to personal preference, and local insect life, but it will be no more than six. They’ll also tell you that sometimes (<2%) , they need something special: hence the extra boxes.

Box of 6 Flies

This post is aimed at answering a question posed to me by one of the attendees at a recent introductory course. They wanted to know more about fly selection.  How many flies did they need ? Which ones ? When to use them?

How many flies?

Six flies is all you need for small stream fishing. However, there must be a million of flies you could choose from, and most fly fishers have vests bursting with boxes and boxes of them. However, ask any angler which flies they use regularly, they will probably name six flies or less. Those six will differ between anglers, due to personal preference, and local insect life, but it will be no more than six. They’ll also tell you that sometimes (<2%) , they need something special: hence the extra boxes.

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Which six?

The six you need will vary depending on which water you fish and the food that is available there.  The six I selected are ideal for our small streams in Victoria Australia, and they cover the majority of common insects found in trout streams.  They are not the only possible selection, just my current favourites; I could easily swap each one for another fly, and still cover most situations.

Size and Colour

Trout in small streams trout are ambush predators, they sit in a slow current where they can watch what drifts towards them on the current.  If something takes their fancy, they will swing out and suck it in as it goes past.  Trout brains aren’t too complicated, they make a food/not food decision, which they base on the size, colour and behaviour of the passing morsel.  If the trout brain says food, it will take the fly, and we have a good chance of hooking it.

Now all we need to know now is what are the trout eating, when are they eating it, and which fly matches size and colour. (How to make the fly behave correctly is a big topic that deserves its own post.)

What do trout eat?

In small streams, trout are opportunistic feeders and mostly eat insects that live in, or fall on, the water. Some float, some sink, some swim.  The following insects form the major part of a trout’s diet in and around the streams of Victoria.

  • Mayflies – adults and larvae (Emphemeroptera),
  • Caddis flies – adults and Larvae (Trichoptera),
  • Beetles (Coleoptera)
  • Termites (Isoptera Termitoidae)
  • Grasshoppers (Orthoptera)

Mayflies and Caddis are available all year round, especially the larvae (often called nymphs) that live under rocks in the stream bed.  Some estimates suggest that these nymphs form 70-80% of a trout’s diet.  At certain times of the year, the larvae undergo a mass metamorphosis, leaving the water to become flying adults to mate and continue the cycle of life.  During this mass metamorphosis (often called a hatch), the trout become keyed into these insects and will eat them to the exclusion of all others.

Grasshoppers  live in grasslands and paddocks and in the summer months, are in abundance. It is not uncommon for the trout to sit under overhanging grassy banks  waiting for the plop of a hapless fallen hopper to signal meal time.

Termites usually appear on mass on thundery evenings, with swarms of them flying low overhead.  You will see many trout devouring these nutritious morsels, if you wait by a slow pool on a humid evening.

Beetles inhabit the forests and pastures surrounding our streams, and appear in numbers in Summer, especially in December.  Many fall accidentally in the stream, to be come a meal for a waiting trout.

When?

The table below outlines which months the various insects are on the menu for our finny friends.

Month Insects (sub-surface) Insects (surface)
September N c, m
October N b, C, M
November b, N b, C, M
December B, n B, C, h, M, T
January B, n B, C, H, M, T
February b, n b, C, H, M, t
March  N b, C, M
April N b, c, M
May  N c, m
June  N

Letter legend (lower case = insect available, upper case = insect abundant) 

Letter Insect Class
n, N Nymphs (caddis and mayfly)
b, B Beetles
c, C Caddis moths(adult)
h, H Hoppers (grass)
m, M Mayfly (adults)
t, T Termites

The following table lists some common flies that match these insects, some of which appear in the slideshow images:

Insect Flies (Wet) Flies (Dry)
Beetle Brown nymph, Wet beetle, Black and Peacock Humpy, Royal Wulff, Stimulator, Foam Beetle
Caddis Hare and Copper, Stick Caddis, Brown nymph Deer/Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Yellow Sally.
Hopper N/A Foam Hopper, Dave’s Hopper, Knobby Hopper, Stimulator, Madame X.
Mayfly Brown nymph, Black Nymph, Olive Nymph, Copper John, Soft hackle flies (var), Wee Wet flies (var) Shaving Brush, Grey Wulff, Adams, Orange Spinner, Black Spinner, Klinkhamer, Parachute Emerger, Monkey Bum, March Brown.
Termite Brown Nymph, Black Nymph Black Ant, Termite, Parachute Spinner (black, brown, grey),

Conclusion:

Mostly you need to match size and colour. Most things trout eat are small and brown or small and black.

The six flies I recommend for our local streams are :

  • a brown nymph,
  • a bead head brown nymph,
  • a Royal Wulff,
  • a Stimulator,
  • a parachute black spinner, and
  • a small deer hair caddis.

With these flies I can be confident I’ll be able to fool any feeding trout on my favourite small streams. As for the other 999,995 flies we all need, you can work that out on your own!

Feel free to leave your six favourite flies in the comments section.

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Author: twigandstream

Fly fishing Guide and Casting Coach.

6 thoughts on “Six flies: all you need for small streams.”

  1. Spot on read. Whilst I feel there is a certain ‘safety blanket’ element to carrying boxes and boxes of flies, it is true that I resort to the same selection of six flies time and time again.

    They include :

    Stimulator
    Chartreuse Wulff
    Fatal Attractor
    Para Adams
    Rubber Leg Copper John
    Pheasant Tail Nymph

    This will certainly change mid-summer and at both ends of trout season to suit river conditions, but I could probably get away with leaving 98.7% of my flies at home. Of course, then I’d NEED them for sure. 😉

    Like

      1. The Fatal Attractor is a Wulff / Stimulator / Elk Hair Caddis mutant. It’s got a bit of everything, it’s super easy to tie, floats like cork and stands out in rough water against glare.

        You’ll see it here :

        Like

  2. Very well rounded post. You didn’t just focus on those six patterns you use, but elaborated on why you chose them. This definitely makes me think about sitting with all my boxes and deciding which six patterns I use most…

    Like

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