As we all know, proper gear and a good presentation help us to land more fish but the fly is often times the deciding factor as to who walks (or swims) away with a zero on the scoreboard. All too often that is the fisherman, but with a good fly selection you can capitalize on every situation and come away with more wins than losses. When I am at the tying bench and working on new patterns I try to focus on what I think are the key factors to an effective fly. Now depending on the style of fly, what type of water it will be used in, and what kind of fish it will be fished for, will vary that view point. One other thing that is vital to the success of all flies that you may tie and fish is that you have confidence in them. For example, if you go to a pond or river and think that you will catch fish with a certain fly that you have confidence in then you will probably catch fish.
Now there are two categories that I prefer to group all my flies into, attractors and realistic flies. The attractor patterns often times don't look just like a natural or even have the proper shape. What sets them apart is that they have what I like to call a trigger point which acts as a trigger to the fish and invokes them to strike. The realistic patterns are meant to look like the naturals in shape, color, size, and movement. With these flies you try to match whatever type of organism that the fish are feeding on.
When I am working on a realistic nymph pattern the main thing that I focus on is a really buggy look. I often look towards materials like dubbing (anything from Ice Dub to SF squirrel dub), peacock herl, partridge feathers, rubber legs, and many other things that may give the impression of life in the water. Another important thing is the color and size of your fly. You can't just go out into a trout river in the middle of a midge hatch and fish a big Atlantic salmon fly and expect to catch fish. So, it is always super important to know what type of bug you want to imitate that way you can match the colors accordingly. Another super important thing is the weight of the fly. I try to make my flies so that they drift in the same manner as a natural would. You never really see a bug go drifting through the current without bouncing and rolling around and so when I weight a nymph I make sure that it will bounce and roll just like the natural. If you can make your fly look and behave like a bug in the water, then you have an even better chance of catching a fish.
For my attractor flies I really don't do a whole lot different except maybe add a little "flare" or "trigger" to the fly to help entice the fish but other than that the flies and procedures in tying them are the same. Often this means a bright colored bead in orange, pink, green or some other crazy color and spots of color throughout the fly. These "hot spots" of color are usually placed at the back of the fly or right behind the head. The colors can vary but my favorites in all water colors and depths are fluorescent green, yellow, and pink. One thing that you do have to take into consideration is that the different colors will start to disappear at different levels in the water column. What this means is that if you are fishing in really deep water some colors may not show up as well in the water so it is good to know the limits to the hotspots on your fly. The materials that I use can be anything from dubbing to Uni-stretch to just plain old thread to make these areas. When putting a hot spot onto a fly it is important that you don't over do it. This can at times turn the fish away and make the day less productive.
To recap, when you tie a nymph always make good observation of your local bugs and try to use materials that will help your fly to imitate them better. With a well thought out fly you are sure to have success.
Streamers are probably my favorite type of fly to tie and fish. These flies can be such a blast because of their size and colors that are used to catch different types of fish. It is also a thrill to watch a large and aggressive fish come and totally nail your fly when fishing! With that said let's move onto the one of the most exciting fly categories.
Obviously, since it is a baitfish or swimming nymph that we try to imitate with a realistic streamer the fly has to swim properly. It isn't very often that you see a fish or insect just swimming straight through the water with little movement but instead they dart to and fro and make a great deal of erratic motions. As for both nymphs and baitfish these movements can be accomplished by using a variety of natural and synthetic materials. As I already mentioned, color and size are also important factors so I do plenty of research to make sure that my flies imitate the natural resources properly. The last thing that I look for is materials that will help the fly to hold their shape especially for my baitfish imitations. All game fish look for a good meal and if they see a skinny, twig shaped fly go swimming past them chances are they won't take the time to follow or eat it since they will loose more energy than they gain with that meal. Materials that are great for this include deer hair, buck tail, and adhesives such as Liquid Fusion and Softtex which will allow the fish to squish it down and chew on it all it wants without ruining the shape of the fly for later use. When tying nymphs, all of the same things apply as with drifting nymphs in the way of building the right shape for the fly. A lot of the flies that I use for nymph fishing and swimming nymph fishing are the same patterns just tied in different sizes and weights.
The attractor streamer is pretty much the same as a realistic streamer so I like to use all of the same materials and techniques as I do when tying a realistic streamer. The main thing to keep in mind is that these flies are meant to irritate the fish and provoke a strike so bright colors, big sizes, and lots of movement are usually in order. Something that I always try to remember is to be creative with attractor flies since they really don't have to look like any one thing in particular.
With these things in mind you are well on your way to building an effective and superb looking streamer pattern that will bring many fish to the net.
One thing that I like about tying dries is that it is a more delicate style of tying especially if you start to tie some of the classic dries and floating emergers.
When I start to tie a realistic dry fly pattern I try to think of what it is going to imitate since this can vary from a mouse down to a small midge. The size of your fly is often times the key factor to a successful day of dry fly fishing and so I always try to make my flies as accurate as possible to the natural. It is obvious that you can't go into a midge hatch and fish a mouse and think that you will do well. The color of your flies can play an important roll when fishing for wary fish like highly pressured trout where they will observe every detail of your fly. After I have taken those elements into consideration I look for good materials for the fly. Whether that means selecting the proper size hackle, choosing the best popper heads, or even picking the best hook I take plenty of care in my selection. Since a dry fly has to float, it is important that you choose something that will aid your fly in its job. The last thing that I do when tying a dry is to make sure that all of my proportions are correct. This can be achieved by looking in books, watching instructional videos, or even online at photos. I found that the later of these three can be extremely helpful when trying to find the correct color of the bugs that you are trying to imitate if you can't remember from past experiences on a specific body of water. With these few things you should be able to create a great imitation that will catch plenty of fish.
Now with my attractor dries I use the same rules for materials. As for size you don't have to worry as much because these flies are not meant to imitate the natural but to draw the fish to the surface and then to strike. Larger flies are often times the norm in this case. It's not likely that you will ever see a size twenty fly being used for an attractor. When picking out the color for my flies they tend to pull away from the natural colors and into the more fluorescent colors. On many flies like poppers the normal colors will be yellow, chartreuse, red, and I have even seen pink. The same also goes for many trout attractor dries like Royal Humpy, Royal Wulff and many others that have bright bodies in the same colors mentioned above. Even the wing post on some flies like the Royal Wolf can prove as an attractor with the bright white calf tail that is often used on them. The important thing to remember on these attractors is that you don't have to follow a specific style but instead you can improvise and try new color combinations just like you can with streamers and nymphs.
When using flies with these few principles and good presentation, you can be certain that you stand a good chance to catch fish. Now let's go fly fishing!