Fly Selection and Tying |Tips for Imitating Natural Bugs with Impressionistic Flies

Fly Selection and Tying |Tips for Imitating Natural Bugs with Impressionistic Flies

Fly Selection on the River

Golden Stonefly and stimulator fly selection
Fly selection: match the hatch.  This stimulator is a little too big, but shape and color are right on


I was Fishing the Piney River last week with a fun family of clients.  We did well on small dry flies, but I wasn’t convinced that the fish really wanted what we were feeding them.  I looked up and saw something that looked like a small hummingbird.  Suddenly, the mom jumped up.  An inch-long bug had flown clumsily into her face.  The initial shock quickly turned to “cool!” when she learned that we could fish with a pretty good imitation of the golden stoneflies we were starting to see.  She was a little disappointed by the yellow stimulator I pulled out of my fly box.  That was when I explained that fly patterns that gave a good “impression” of the naturals often outfished the ultra-realistic patterns, which were better at capturing a fly fisher’s attention than a trout’s.  An elk hair wing gives the impression of that stonefly fluttering its wings in the water.  The long hackle up front looks like points of bug legs trying to breaststroke out of there.  In moving water, with a second or two to look at it, those trout don’t have enough time to observe the finer points of your fly.

How to Choose a Fly

Fly fishing is a game of percentages.  The jerk on one end of the line typically influences whether there’ll be a jerk on the other end, but sometimes fish won’t cooperate for even the “fishiest” angler.  For a fly selection that will give you the best opportunities, look at the naturals.  Really step back and look, because even if you fished that stretch two days ago, there could be a totally different predominant hatch.  Turn a couple of rocks, use a seine net, keep your head on a swivel for fliers, and (occasionally) just get lucky and get hit in the face with a big fly.

fly selection golden stonefly
Golden Stonefly: match size, shape/profile, and color more than detail

Find the most abundant critter, not the biggest or juciest.  Start with the big three: SIZE, SHAPE, and COLOR.  When you turn around and fish it, adjust the fourth leg of the stool: DEPTH.  As long as you’re paying attention to what’s actually in the river, you might as well fish two parts of the fly’s life cycle (adult and an emerger or spinner, nymph and an emerger).  Just tie about twenty inches of tippet onto the bend of the hook.  Use that same clinch knot you tied onto the eye of the fly.  Then tie your emerger on and see where the trout are eating.

Favorite Impressions

fly selection impressionistic flies
No bug and anybug

Try some of these flies that look more “buggy” than realistic (from left to right in the picture):

Rubber leg crystal stimulator–stoneflies (mostly)

Purple parachute Adams–a twist on a classic mayfly pattern

Fly Formerly Known as Prince–flashy, funky stonefly, based on the classic prince nymph pattern

Chernobyl Ant–who knows what this is?  Leggy, buggy, delicious.

Royal PMX–what insect is “royal” colored, anyway?  If I didn’t fish these regularly, I still wouldn’t trust them.

It’s time to nail down your 2024 fly fishing trip with Minturn Anglers.

About the Author

Justin Nolan

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