Identify A Dry Fly – Hooks to Hackle

Identify A Dry Fly – Hooks to Hackle

Dry fly fishing is the iconic style of fly fishing that most everyone can relate to. It is the style that has been romanticized in movies and is typically is what people think of when someone talks about fly fishing. But how do you identify a dry fly when you are making your selection for the day?

As a general rule, dry flies have promenade wings, typically one hook shank length. The body is 55% to 75% of the hook shank. The hackle is one and a half times the hook gap, and the tail is approximately one hook shank in length.

How to Identify A Dry Fly for Fly Fishing

This type of fly is likely to be constructed of stiffer hackles such as elk hair and feathers to keep the fly upright on the water. They can also be built from non-organic materials such as foam.

For some, dry fly fishing is the only method to fly fish, and this is one of the original styles of fly fishing. Thus most of these folks will consider themselves "purists." Identifying the dry flies can be accessible after you learn a few basic concepts about them. Let's continue. 

Kaufman Stimulator Dry Fly Pattern for Fly Fishing

What Is A Dry Fly?

As a general rule, Dry fly patterns are meant to sit on the surface of the water in fly fishing. They imitate insects that are emerging to fly away or insects that have landed on the surface of the water.

There are times when the adults of dry flies are meant to seem like the larvae or nymphs of semi-aquatic insects, while other times they are engineered to look like damaged or trapped terrestrial insects (grasshopper, beetle, etc.).

Green Drake Fly Fishing Flies

Dry flies tend to disrupt the water less than wet flies, streamers, or nymphs because they are light enough not to break the surface tension of the water. The materials of dry flies are in contrast to wet fly bodies, and dry flies are constructed from a mix of thread, feathers, fur, and synthetic materials.

Anglers can also cover dry flies with a chemical flotant, which penetrates deep into the fibers of the fly and makes it more resistant to absorption, which helps the flies stay above water.

Trout Caught Dry Fly Fishing

What is Dry Fly Fishing?

Dry Fly Fishing is an angling technique that relies on a lightweight artificial pattern to float on the top of the water surface to attract and catch prey.

You'll need to use a line specific to fly fishing that is weighted to cast the fly, plus a fly rod and reel to do it. You'll need to use casting procedures that are very different from typical spinner fishing casting processes for the low weight. The flies resemble adult versions of such species as Mayflies, Caddis, Stoneflies, and Midges.

Salmon, trout, and steelhead are all considered cold water fish in North America. Bass, Carp, and Bluegill are regarded as warm-water fish. British anglers distinguish between game fishing for trout and salmon and fly fishing for other species, where water temperatures are more stable.

As a result, fly fishing techniques change depending on the environment (lakes and ponds, small streams, a large river, and open oceans.)

Flies are made by connecting various materials to a hook to imitate the live diet of gamefish. When not imitating insects, the technique may also resemble minnows and other naturally occurring edibles. More than 6.9 million people are believed to enjoy fly fishing as a pastime, as found in the 2019 Special Fishing Report by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.

In the first or second century BC, a brown trout angler from Macedonia tied feathers on his hooks to simulate the insect life he saw in the streams. Charles Cotton documented fly-tying technique in the second half of the 17th century in Izaak Walton's The Complete Angler. After that, various schools of fly-tying engaged in centuries of experimentation and debate.

Adams Dry Fly

More than 5,000 books about angling and fly-tying exist in English alone. Most fly tying is done for trout and salmon fishing, but as the sport progresses, you can now find specific fly patterns for almost any species of fish that you are targeting.

Fly-tiers aim to replicate three phases of insect life: larva, pupa, and adult. Dry flies are those that float on top of the water and symbolize the adult stage.

Built using floating materials, these flies seek to resemble insects that emerge from the stream or return to lay eggs or die after mating. These flies are meticulously fashioned to resemble a variety of trout stream insects.

What's the Difference Between Dry Flies And Wet Flies:

A wet fly or nymph is fished below the surface, while a dry fly is fished on the top of the water surface.

Location of a fly fishing flies in the water

Wet flies:

When fishing with wet flies, you'll be presenting them to fish below the surface of the water. A weighted component is often used in wet fly designs to help the fly sink to the bottom of the water column. "Bead head" is the name given to this component.

Prince Nymph

The bead acts as a weight, allowing the fly to sink more quickly in the water. The use of weighted flies or adding weight to your line is sometimes required when fishing deep or rapid water to deliver your flies at the correct depth. Shallow water may require the angler to use a wet fly with no bead to keep the fly in the feeding zone. Common and well-known wet fly or nymph designs include the following ones:

  • Prince Nymph
  • Zebra Midge
  • San Juan Worm
  • Pheasant Tail Nymph
  • RS2

Catch More with Great Nymphs Wet Flies from Drifthook Fly Fishing

Dry Flies:

For novice or beginner fishers, mastering the proper casting technique can be difficult when fishing with dry flies. It takes time for the fish to recognize a wet fly when it is initially introduced to them when fishing with wet flies. They are less likely to be startled by splashing or a poorly timed cast since the fish are deeper in the water. As a result, there is minimal room for error when using dry flies to catch fish actively feeding at the surface. Some common dry flies that are widely available are :

  • Blue Winged Olive
  • CDC Midge
  • Chernobyl Ant
  • Griffith's Gnat
  • Mayfly
  • Parachute Adams


Common Categories Of Dry Fly Flies for Fly Fishing:



These insects are closely related to mosquitoes and are often mistaken for them by those unfamiliar with them. There is no shortage of them in a river, and they may be found on the menu of trout. Midge looks like compared to a mosquito, yet they don't bite.

Common Dry Fly Patterns that Represent Midges:

  • Griffiths Gnat
  • Parachute Midges

Midge Lifecycle

Are Midges a Dry Fly?

Some common questions asked to us here at Drifthook fly fishing include groups of patterns and if they are dry flies.  What you need to remember is:

In Fly Fishing, Midges are considered a category of fly patterns that can be a nymph, emerger, or dry fly pattern depending on the lifecycle stage that the design is representing.

You can find all three stages of this pattern in our fly fishing flies kits here.



It's no secret that mayflies are one of the most well-designed insects in fly fishing. An easy way to identify a mayfly is to look for a fly with two wings that sit vertically and straight up like sails and have three distinct tails.

Common Dry Fly Patterns that Represent Mayflies:

  • Trico Dun
  • Parachute Adams
  • PMD

Mayfly Lifecycle

Is Mayfly is a dry fly?

Yes, a Mayfly can be a dry fly. In Fly Fishing, Mayflies are considered a category of fly patterns that can be a nymph, emerger, or dry fly pattern, depending on the lifecycle stage that the design is representing.

Trico Dun

Is A Trico A Dry Fly?

Yes, a Trico can be a dry fly. Trico is a subcategory of mayflies. In Fly Fishing, a Trico is a subcategory of mayflies patterns that can be a nymph, emerger, or dry fly pattern depending on the lifecycle stage that the pattern is representing.

Caddis Fly


Caddisflies are found in most areas with non pulled waters, and they are susceptible to pollution. When compared to a mayfly, a caddis has more of a moth-like appearance.

Common Dry Fly Patterns that Represent Caddis:

  • Goddard Caddis
  • Elk Hair Caddis
  • Hot Wing Caddis

Large Adult Stonefly


Stoneflies are easy to identify on the water as they are typically longer and more slender than mayflies and caddis. Their wings are directly on top of their bodies, and they have long antennas. Typically in orange and black, yellow.

Common Dry Fly Patterns that Represent Stoneflies:

  • Kaufmann Stimulator
  • Chubby Chernobyl

Large Trout

7 Tips to improve your Dry Fly Fishing for Trout

Trout dwell in cold waters, frequently in riffles and deep pools, and are commonly found amid submerged items. However, they have been widely spread to other places. Its diet includes insects, annelids, and small fish. Trout lay their eggs in a gravel nest dug out by the female on a stream bed between fall and spring.

There are several ways you may improve your dry fly fishing:

  1. The tippet material should be chosen carefully: When fishing with dry flies, using the improper tippet or leader material might lead to poor presentation of your fly. Because it will lay on the surface tension and be extremely visible to the fish if your tippet is excessively thick, stiff, or buoyant, it will cause them to overlook your drift.

  2. Keep an eye on the trout's eating habits: The rise patterns of fish that aren't showing any signs of a hatch but are still rising might offer you hints about the insects they're eating. The rise is the splash that the fish creates when it crests the surface, and fish coming up fast from deeper water to smash flies on the surface are typically indicated by significant, splashy rises.

  3. Smaller Flies for picky trout: Dry fly beginners generally pick a large bushy design because they have difficulty seeing smaller patterns. It is best to use a smaller fly when fish are finicky or locked on to specific types, colors, or sizes of files in a particular location.

  4. Finish out your drift before recasting: Watching any of the finest fly fishers in competition, you'll notice that they seldom pull back a bad cast if they have one after your first cast. Let it settle and float through the feeding zone. Then at the end of the swing, they will pick up for another cast.

  5. If your fly keeps sinking, use a floatant: If your dry fly continues to sink, you have a couple of options. The first would be to dry out your fly by false casting to shake off excess water a few times. The second would be to add an appropriate floating. Several floats do not work on all sorts of dry flies, for example. As long as you warm up the silicone gel floatant first and carefully rub it into the fibers, you may use it for hackled designs like Gehrke's Gink or Fulling Mill Dry Sauce. However, they will clog fly designs built with finer materials, such as CDC feathers, causing them to sink.

  6. In between castings, make sure your fly is completely dried off: You want your dry fly to float on the surface (unless you're fishing an emerger pattern, which is intended to float just below the surface tension). It is possible to dry your fly in several different methods.

  7. Use a lighter rod to help with your presentation: Simplifying and lightening your rod and line will sometimes result in a better presentation. Your presentation will be more delicate with lighter lines, such as #5 or perhaps #4, as these rods tend to be a bit softer.

Catch More with Drifthook Fly Fishing Flies

About the Author

Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water, side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.

By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.

1 comment

Katrice Thurber

Katrice Thurber

Hello administrator, You always provide great insights.

Hello administrator, You always provide great insights.

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