Game Fishing Flies: Artificial Flies

Artificial Flies

Some definitions — How to describe an artificial fly? Broadly speaking, there are three sorts : specific imitations of known insects, generalized impressions of small aquatic life, and ‘fancy’ flies which resemble nothing known to man or fish.

Flies fall into two main categories of use: wet and dry. A wet fly is designed to fish below the surface. A dry fly floats on the water.

In practice, however, there is some overlapping of function. The wet-fly fisher often finds it useful to fish his fly in the surface-film. Dry flies are sometimes fished awash and to describe them as ‘dry’ in these conditions is a fine quibble. The wise angler fishes his fly the way that catches fish.


Of recent years anglers have elaborated methods of fishing which employ artificials made to resemble the natural fly in its immature state. These particular creations are fished near the bottom, and are called nymphs. In fact they are wet flies in all but name — perhaps they are called otherwise out of deference to chalk-stream pundits whose traditions are against wet-fly fishing. Certainly fish could detect little difference between many wet flies (which are not allowed on most chalk streams) and nymphs (which are); the distinction is purely artificial. When fishing such waters, however, it is wise to conform with tradition and local opinion.

The parts of a simple winged trout fly are as follows : wing, hackle, body, and tail. A simple hackled trout fly is merely: hackle, body, and tail. Most artificial impressions of insects are modelled from these basic constructions.

Oddly enough, the most complex flies resemble nothing in nature. They are compositions in colour, texture, and form intended to exploit the skill of the fly-dresser creating them. Most traditional salmon flies and many of the ‘fancier’ sea-trout flies come into this group. These beautiful creations have caught fish for generations, but simpler flies catch just as many if given the chance.

The Wet Fly

Wet flies have a long and rich tradition of usage, and some of them have remained almost unchanged since the time of Walton and Cotton. Most wet flies are designed to suggest the underwater development of various river flies, or, in other words, to resemble the natural nymph,

They can be constructed to the winged or to the hackled pattern, the former being slightly more difficult to assemble. For practical fishing, in good water, there is little to choose between winged and hackled flies as regards killing

Winged wet flies are dressed with the wing raked aft to facilitate entry and passage through the water. A well-constructed wet fly often has a wing dressed almost flat along the body. Flies with wings cocked up at a steep angle should be avoided. Hackles on winged flies should be soft and sparse and the fibres should be long enough to reach the point of the hook.

Wingless flies usually have a good deal more hackle. Generally, the soft hen hackles are employed, but the steelier cock hackles are sometimes used for special purposes. A thickly hackled fly is often used as a top-dropper when the angler wishes to see a substantial outline against the sky.

Some general rules : select sparsely dressed flies with hackles of good colour; if they are winged, see that the angle of the wing is right and that it extends to the bend of the hook; the fly should have its parts in proportion to each other.

The Dry Fly

Dry flies too may be hackled or winged, but most modern anglers tend to favour the hackled pattern. Hackled dry flies are constructed to the simple hackle, body, tail formula.

The hackles of dry flies should be stiff and shining — selected from the necks of elderly cockerels. This enables the fly to ‘sit’ on its hackle points, so to speak, without penetrating the surface film

Winged dry flies can be tied in several ways, of which the chief are up-winged, forward-winged, and spent. These are intended to imitate the insect at various stages of its life-cycle.

Dry flies vary greatly in quality according to the materials used. A good dry fly, if dropped on to a hard flat surface, should bounce appreciably.


Nymphs are still a matter for much experiment by anglers. Two main forms have evolved; namely, those with body and thorax and a sparse hackle, and those with merely a body. The latter is the simplest sort of artificial possible, and often the most effective.

Nymphs are often fished deep, since the natural nymphs live under and between the stones. Weight is given to them as a rule by wrapping the hook-shank with wire or lead foil.

Plastic and other ‘manufactured’ nymphs should be regarded with distrust. If shape, colour, and weight are correct they should catch fish, but many are too light and they have an inferior texture for the purpose required.

Intermediate Forms

There are some artificials which are intermediate between wet and dry, and which, although technically ‘wet’, are designed to fish on the surface. Typical of these is the chironomid, an impression of one of the many sorts of midge larvae which are found in still water. These creatures cling to the surface-film and breathe through small tubes like a submarine’s snorkel.


Among ‘flies’ which resemble nothing on earth must certainly be included salmon flies, many sea-trout flies, many lake-trout flies, and a wide and startling assortment of Terrors, Demons, Matukas, and other colourful offerings.

Some lures, however, may suggest such specific creatures as, for example, the elvers. Lures often do well in rivers which have a summer elver run. More often, however, lures are used in estuaries where they may suggest the migrating elver, the sand-eel, and the young of colourful marine fishes such as the Wrasse.

Lures must be adequately hooked. Two or even three single hooks in tandem are not too many if the lure extends to 5-7.5 cm (2-3 ins), as is common. Lures dressed on a single hook are almost useless in the writer’s experience, since fish pluck at the trailing feathers and go away wiser.

They are dressed from soft plumage from fowl and duck, with brighter items added for more positive effect. Peacock, jay, and dyed swan fibres are typical lure materials.

18. July 2011 by admin
Categories: Fish, Game Fishing | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Game Fishing Flies: Artificial Flies


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