Choosing Flies for Beginners 101

Choosing Flies for Beginners 101

Some of this is from yesterday's correspondence with a new customer. Some changes were made for educational purposes.

Hi, I posted this question in the forum and I haven't gotten an answer (and I suspect why now that I read your website)...but I'll ask anyway.

As a new Tenkara fisherman (and a somewhat new fly fisherman), I've always been told to match the hatch. Apparently that's not necessarily the same in Tenkara, and I guess that you don't necessarily advocate that. I'm looking for a "starter kit" of Tenkara flies but I thought I'd need to get them more regionally in order to keep them similar to the local hatches. Is not matching the hatch a hard and fast rule? Are there any advantages of buying closer to home (other than supporting local merchant)?
Thanks in advance, K.

Hi K. Thanks for your query. That is a very interesting question and I have some interesting ideas in response.

A lot of folks find this a subjective topic with hundreds of different opinions, but I do not. Once you have spent time studying fish behavior including stream trout, as well as research into aquatic insects, worms, grubs and baitfish, you begin to see the reason for what I am going to suggest.

1. Generally speaking, when fish are feeding upon a specific size and coloration of insect, they may not find interest in anything else for the duration of the hatch. This is what you would call a "Match the Hatch" situation. I say may because I have tempted trout with flies other than the ones that are on the menu. So, another thing to remember is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing lures for fishing.

2. However, unless you have a very productive stream, most of the time when you go out, you will not be fishing over an insect hatch. Unless you are lucky or have kept close track of the hatch cycles on your specific stream, it might seem that you are looking at unproductive water. "Where are the fish?" In a decent stream, they will be there, you just need to know where to look.

So here we have another variable. Where are you fishing. In the mountains? Lowlands, ponds, giant lakes? And, when do you hit the stream? Early morning? Middle of the day? Once we know the answer to a few questions like this, we can really zero in on your fly kit needs. Mostly though, you don't need to worry about that. A few flies in a couple of sizes will get you by quite well.

3. Again generally, you will do fine with 4 types of flies: First, a floating one (actually I prefer one that fishes sitting down in the surface film, as opposed to right on the top of the water).

Second, something that fishes on the bottom sometimes hitting the rocks or silt.

Third, a fly that imitates an insect that is either swimming up to the surface or diving to the bottom during hatching and egg laying behavior. Or more often, just being carried along with the current.

And finally, a fly that imitates a bait-fish.

4. If you want my humble opinion about all of this, it's that you can easily get along just fine with one type of fly. One that does most of the work in 3, above. And that fly type is a subsurface soft hackle pattern.

I would give it a wool body, a hackle from the body or neck feathers of either a game bird like a partridge or grizzly domestic hen chicken. And finally, for the pièce de résistance, a Peacock herl collar right behind the hackle.

With this fly in 4 colors (like a Black, Medium Brown, Light Olive and Yellow or cream) and a couple of sizes (say #12 and #16), I could fish the flies in the surface film by applying a floatant, as a hatching insect or an insect being washed down stream, or as a tiny minnow trying to escape the jaws of death. I could fish it upstream, down, in fast water, or I could even fish it as a nymph in slower water.

You see the fact is that fish are mostly opportunists and don't usually limit themselves to just one food source. Also understand that fish that live in still water, or low and clear water require a whole different approach (and skill) than those in faster water. The later have little time to examine the offering than the slow pool dweller. The slow water trout have plenty of time to shut the door in your face, while the fast water swimmer only has seconds.

Now you can go either specific with your fly colors and sizes, or more general. However, if you are new to this, I would go with a mixed selection of my cheap-but-good imported flies, since you are going to loose them while you learn. If you find that you like the multipurpose rooster hackle style flies, like the Dr. Ishigaki types, or instead prefer the soft hackles, you can then be more selective in your choices.

Regarding where you buy flies. Anyone who is knowledgeable and understands these things can supply you with what you need. You don't need to go local, unless you want to try something unique. I also want to slide this little bit of wisdom in on you.

The most important piece of information that I can give you, is to plan on fishing for Bass or Sunfish in a pond or lake in advance of your trip. Then when you head for the mountain trout, you will have some experience under your belt. You will have enough to learn in moving water, without having to absorb it all at once.

I Hope that this information helps you. Feel free to write back with more questions. All the best to you, Jim


1 comment

  • William DeLanney

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge. As a beginner and thinking of using the tenkara approach this is a big help. I plan on fishing the Esopus Creek and also discovering small streams and ponds in the area. I live in Albany,NY Unfortunately my fishing will need to be from the bank or shoreline. Tenkara seems very “wabi sabi” to me and I like that.

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