Fly Selection

Now that we have gone over in detail the selection of flies in each box, we will dive into lessons that take the guesswork out of selecting flies so you’ll be ready to go the next time you hit the water. We’re giving you the greatest opportunity at success without making you spend your entire day shaping out rigs or wondering why the fly you tied on is not getting a single hit.


Now that we have gone over in detail the selection of flies in each box, we will dive into lessons that take the guesswork out of selecting flies so you’ll be ready to go the next time you hit the water. We’re giving you the greatest opportunity at success without making you spend your entire day shaping out rigs or wondering why the fly you tied on is not getting a single hit.

The Drifthook System has 4 rules for picking your fly selection for the day:

1. Seasonality
2. Action
3. Location
4. Color

Don’t worry; I don’t expect you to memorize this chart. As part of the DHFFS, we have included an easy download that you can print out to take with you or save on your phone for easy reference. This can be found in the downloads section of the Drifthook Members Portal.

Let’s first talk about Seasonality. Different orders of insects hatch at different times of the year, as you can see here:

A. Midges are year-round.
B. Mayflies typically start in March and tail off in November.
C. Caddis start up in May and end in October.
D. Stoneflies typically hatch May through August, but because stonefly patterns cover a large amount of species, some hatch in February through March.
E. Terrestrials are usually hatching and attracting during the middle of April through September.
F. Egg Patterns: During the spring months, Rainbow Trout spawn (lay eggs), so Brown Trout will chase Rainbow eggs. This typically starts in March and goes through early May. Then, when Browns spawn in the fall, Rainbows will hunt down the Browns spawning eggs. This happens in October and goes through mid-November.
G. Worms: These can be fished year-round, but are most successful in April and May during high water or runoff. Aquatic Worms congregate along the bottom of springs and creeks, and when the water rises, these worms end up in the water and Trout devour them.

Also on this chart, we indicate the typical times of the day that you will see most hatches. Each species prefers specific water and air temperatures for emergence. Their preference varies widely, but as a quick reference, each month and species gives typical hatch times throughout the year.

In early spring (March, April, May) fly hatches and activity happen during the warmest part of the day. As summer approaches in June, hatch times move to the evening. In July, the hatches move to dusk and overnight to dawn. When August approaches, look for hatches in early morning.

Fall follows these cycles but in reverse; in September, you will find more dusk hatches, and midday action in October. As temperatures change throughout the day so will the hatch times, so use this as a rough guide but be aware of the variability of seasonal hatches.
So how do we apply the Seasonality when we are going out fishing?  

For your best chance at success, before you hit the water, review your chart to see what patterns are in the current season and make sure that you are stocked up on those patterns. From a straight percentage game, you will catch the most fish in the order that we have laid out the boxes. Midges, followed by Mayflies, followed by Caddis and the rest. But before you tie on your fly also consider the Action rule.


When I’m discussion Action, I’m referring to what is going on the water—Are fish rising? Is there a hatch in the air? Is the water murky? All of these factors can play into which fly to choose.

When you get to your destination, take a moment to study the water and the overall environment that you are in. Then follow these easy steps to narrow down your fly selection.

A. If you see no fish rising, start out with a Nymph rig, found in your Nymph Frenzy Box or your Guide Nymph Box.

B. If you see no fish rising but you see a Hatch on the water, use your Nymph Frenzy Box, or combine your Nymph Frenzy Box with your Emerger Swing Box. We will go into detail on how to set up these rigs in the next lesson. Just keep this in mind when selecting your fly setup. If you purchased the PRO Guide Set, you can combine them in the same manner.  

C. If you do see fish rising, use your Emerger Swing Box, or combine your Dropper Rig Box with your Emerger Swing Box. You can also combine flies from your Dropper Rig Box with your PRO Emergers Box in the PRO Guide Set.

D. Is the water murky, or has there been recent runoff? If yes, this could be a great time to use the Worm Patterns in your Nymph Frenzy Box or PRO Emerger Box. It could also be a great time to try out streamers in your Streamer Surge Box.

We have also provided a quick checklist for you that you can find in the downloads section of the Drifthook Members Portal.

The next rule to consider is Location.

The type of water you are fishing will also help determine the best fly selection to use. You will hear about these four types of water when fly fishing:

1. Freestone: A river or creek that does not have a dam at the top of it, or a dam anywhere within a reasonable vicinity of where you are fishing.
2. Tailwater: A river or creek that is fed from a dam. These are typically amazing fishing locations because the water stays at a clear consistent temperature throughout the year.
3. Still Water: Lakes or ponds.
4. Deep Sea: Oceans or seas.

In the future, Drifthook will be releasing a Deep Sea Kit, but for now, we’ll focus on Freestone, Tailwater, and Still Water fishing locations.

Freestone waters fluctuate in clarity on any given day. These make for a wide variety of species and conditions to fish and are my personal favorites just because of this. We recommend following the 4 steps of the Action Rule (slides 12-15) when you arrive at a freestone location. You will be most successful by nymph fishing until you find rising trout. But when waters are high, and it becomes unsafe to wade fish, you might want to look for tailwaters.

Because freestone rivers can be large, this gives you the opportunity to rig up multiple flies that are in season to double or triple your chances at finding the perfect fly setup for the day.

In the next four lessons, we will go over specific fly setups that will work great on freestone rivers.Tailwaters are great fisheries because of their consistency. You can fish year-around because of the consistent flows and clarity of the water.

But because they are such great fisheries, the fish there are also are extremely pressured. They have most likely been tempted with every fly in the book. But this is where Drifthook members have the advantage.  

By using the selected flies in your Drifthook Fly Boxes, you are already preloaded with proven successful flies and sizes to hook into these pressured trout.

One important thing that we like to stress at Drifthook is this: The smaller the fly, the larger the fish. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually true; a smart trout will sit tight and feed off tiny species all day long, thereby getting fat without exerting much energy. The largest fish that I have ever caught on a tailwater was on a size #20 Gray RS2 that was so little I could barely feed the tippet through; from my perspective it looked like nothing more than a tiny hook.

After I landed that fish, I knew I was on to something. I then continued to decrease my fly size from what I was typically using at that time.  

The last body of water we will discuss is still water. Still waters can vary depending on region and altitude. If you are on a large body of water, you will most likely have an abundant source of insects inhabiting your surroundings. But if you are at high altitude with a short hatching season, your selection will be more limited.

Because this topic covers multiple boxes, we have dedicated a whole lesson to it in the advanced section of our Members Portal. Check it out after you have finished the intermediate section, to learn combinations and tactics for landing MONSTER TROUT.

The last rule to discuss is Color.

In nature, fly colors vary by season. In late fall, winter, and early spring, flies are typically darker in color. From mid-spring to mid-autumn, they tend to be lighter in color. I like to use the stoplight approach: Green, Yellow, Red. Green in spring, Yellow in summer, and Red in fall and winter.

I know this a lot of information to try and remember, but we’ve got you covered. Just go to the downloads section in the Members Portal for the Fly Selection Checklist that will help you pick the right assortment the next time you hit the water.

This is also a great tool; simply follow the flowchart to narrow down the best options for your situation. Remember, if you follow the 4 rules of fly selection, you will not get overwhelmed with trying to figure out the best combination for success on the water:

1. Seasonality
2. Action
3. Location
4. Color

Now let’s go into specific rig setups and fly combos that you can use when you’re on the water.