I've always prided myself in my well-organized fly
boxes. For years I carried my 'trout' assortments,
my 'bluegill' assortments, my 'bass' assortments,
my 'crappie' assortments, and my 'steelhead' asssortments.
While I admit to some overlap, for the most part I used
the appropriate box when fishing for a particular
But is it really necessary to separate flies by fish species?
Not really. While certain fly patterns should be
dressed for specific fish species, it is more
appropriate to separate our flies by general type:
Nymphs and wet flies, streamers, large and small
dry flies (including traditional deer-hair poppers),
and one of our most important categories, in my
opinion, leeches and Woolly Buggers.
In order to fish the correct type fly patterns, the
angler must have a solid understanding of the life
style of each fish species and the aquatic foods
that seem to turn them on. Is the target species
primarily an insect eater, or does it feed more on
forage fish? Does it feed more on the surface, or
does it spend most of its time raiding the aquatic
pantry nearer the bottom of a lake or stream?
Some species are more similar in their dining habits
than others. Juvenile Bluegill and trout, for example,
are primarily insect eaters. As they grow larger, both
may turn more and more to forage fish to satisfy their
Bass and crappies are also similar in lifestyles.
From the time they are about three inches long,
they will begin to feed on small fish. While I have
caught four- and five-pound largemouth bass on size
12 scud patterns, the angler who fishes a #2 Woolly
Bugger will usually catch more bass. I've had two-inch
largemouths take a fly larger than they were.
Of the two major black bass species, the largemouth
is more a surface feeder than the smallmouth. The
smallmouth prefers to scratch out a living on the
bottom, searching mainly for crawdads. I generally
think of poppers when I fish for largemouth and
weighted crawdad patterns when I'm after smallmouth.
THE BEST NATURAL BAITS FOR FISH
Non fly fishermen must also be aware of the best "types"
of baits for their target fish. Most of the members of
the trout family are, in fact, garbage disposal units
in their dining habits. Most will eat everything you
throw at them.
Trout baits include angle worms, Velveeta cheese,
corn, marshmallows, salmon eggs, bread balls, maggots,
grasshoppers, crickets, mousies, mice, and dozens of
other natural and unnatural food items. Before I
converted strictly to flies, my favorite trout
bait was Velveeta cheese. With all of the processed
baits now on the market, I doubt that anyone uses
my "favorite" bait anymore.
But even though trout (particularly rainbow trout)
will take about everything they can swallow, they
still spend the bulk of their time eating natural
foods such as invertebrates, crustaceans, snails,
As with fly fishing, the baiter who best presents his
baits to fish, is the angler who will take fish under
tough conditions. Many worm fishermen will just let
their bait (commonly a large glob of worms) lie on
the bottom, waiting for some dumb fish to come along
and vacuum it up. They would usually do better if they
used just enough bait to cover their hook, and a bobber
to keep it off the bottom; often just inches beneath
The best time to fish on the bottom is early in the
morning, before the daily insect hatches begin to
occur. After the nymphs and larvae begin to emerge,
trout will move off the bottom, intercepting the bugs
as they swim towards the surface. The fish are far
more likely at this point to eat a worm-baited hook
that is dangling somewhere between the bottom of the
lake and the surface, than they are a bait that is
lying benignly on the bottom.
Bobbers and (small) worms can also be an effective
technique for small to medium sized bluegill. But
if you are looking for trophy-sized bream (fish
larger than 10-inches), you'd better switch to
some type of baitfish imitation, such as the Stayner
Ducktail, Muddler Minnow, or Black Nosed Dace.
CRAYFISH FOR LARGER FISH OF ANY SPECIES
Of all of the fishes baits, crayfish are potentially
the most effective. But they are also the most over-looked.
While bass fishermen are usually knowledgeable about
crayfish, most trout fishermen pretty much ignore them.
Or do they? Some of our popular leech and Woolly Bugger
patterns - like the Halloween Leech - are excellent
crayfish patterns when they are fished right down on
the bottom. While I tie several excellent crawdad
reproductions, it is usually my simple woolly bugger
type patterns in the appropriate colors that take the
most fish (bass or trout).
Instead of separating our fly patterns by fish species,
fly rodders should organize their flies by types. I
doubt that the most discriminating trout will be
offended if his pursuer is using what some anglers
would call a "bluegill fly."
I have a friend who is one of the best dry fly fishermen
in southwest Idaho. He has several boxes containing most
of the traditional dry flies: Adams', Light Cahills,
Blue Winged Olives, Royal Wulffs, etc. etc. One of
his favorite dry flies for our South Fork of the
Boise River (a true blue ribbon rainbow trout fishery)
is a pattern I sold him when I had my fly shop. It
was a black rubber bodied ant, hackled, bluegill fly.
I prefer this hackle version for bluegill instead of
the more common rubber legged variety.
When I first sold it to my friend, I did tell him it
was one of my favorite bluegill patterns. He didn't
admit he wasn't going to fish for bluegill. I knew
he was a trout purist...and he knew I knew he was a
trout purist...and I knew he knew I knew...Well you get
I'm not exactly sure what trout take it for (possibly
beetles). But I will guarantee...when my friend fishes
it...they take it. I suppose if somebody told the fish
they were eating a bluegill fly, they might be offended.
But, I'll bet they would still take it. ~ Marv
Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West,
The Successful Angler's Journal,
More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More
Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from
Marv. You can reach Marv by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 208-322-5760.