Fly Pattern Categories
By Steven H. McGarthwaite

Billions and billions of fly patterns - how to keep them sorted by type or function? Every Fly Angler/Tier comes to that dilemma, sooner or later. If you save fly pattern recipes, how do you keep the recipes organized so you can have quick and easy access to the recipe? How do you organize your fly boxes that you are going to use on the stream or open water?

Many flies have the same name, but can be tied as a dry, wet, streamer, nymph, or terrestrial. Some flies have names that do not describe the fly pattern at all (There is a Salmon/Steelhead pattern that is called "Red Ant" that looks nothing like an Ant). What about Saltwater Patterns, where do they fit in, and just what makes a Salmon/Steelhead Pattern different from the other patterns previously mentioned? This is the problem I will try to make some sense of today. This is only my way of trying to keep things straight and organized.

I find fishing for the same fish, on the same water, with the same flies very boring. I have had great success at catching fish with flies that are designed for other waters, or fish. As examples, I use Saltwater and Salmon/Steelhead Patterns for freshwater fish such as Bass, and Pike. I turn Streamer Patterns into Salmon/Steelhead Patterns. I use Shrimp Patterns (saltwater) for crawfish flies; just about every fly angler, saltwater and freshwater has used Clouser Minnows. So what makes a fly saltwater or freshwater? Is it the hook used, or is it the water it is used on? There is a word that best describes this action is permutation (a major or fundamental change). Here is my attempt at sorting everything into an order that I can find what I need.

I have five categories of fly patterns each category has sub-categories.

Dry Flies (flies that are floated on top the water surface)

  • Typical Dry Fly Patterns (e.g. mayfly, caddis, and damsels).

  • Emerger Patterns (nymphs metamorphosis into airborne insect with majority of the fly floating on or above the water surface)

Wet Flies (flies that are in or just below the water surface)

  • Typical Wet Flies.

  • Emergers (nymphs metamorphosis into airborne insect with majority of the fly is floating beneath the water surface)

  • Snails (mollusk)

Nymphs (flies below the water surface or on water surface)

  • Subsurface Insect (Nymph & Pupa) in pre-emerger stage.

  • Scuds (freshwater shrimp).

  • Snails (mollusk).

Streamers (These flies can be Dry or Wet.)

  • Baitfish.

  • Rodents.

  • Leeches.

  • Swine (because of Jim Hatch, I had to add this sub-category).

  • Reptiles & Amphibians.

  • Crustacean (shrimp & crawfish).

  • Salmon/Steelhead (you tie it on a salmon hook, it is a salmon fly).

  • Saltwater (anything on a stainless hook, even if it is for Muskellunge).

Terrestrials (Land-based insects that only thru accident would end up in the water)

  • Floating.

  • Non-floating.

Where do the egg patterns go, or some specific fly pattern? You make up your system which will work for you. Mine may not be the best, but at least I know where to find my recipes. ~ Parnelli

Please check out the Fly Tying Section, on the Bulletin Board, here at FAOL too.

If you have any questions, tips, or techniques; send them to

Archive of Tying Tips

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ] © Notice