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4 Most Common Fly Fishing Hatches

If it were only as easy as opening the fly box, picking any old fly and catching a boatload of fish! We wish. Instead, fly fishers must learn what the fish are biting which means they need to be able to figure out the hatch that is currently happening as the hatch changes with the season. Fly fishing the different insect hatches are some of the best dry fly fishing times to be had for trout. I am lucky to live near the Bow River in Calgary so I can keep an eye out for when the mayfly and other hatches begin. Fishing the hatch earlier on in its progression is best. The longer that the hatch has been going on, the less feeding the fish will be doing. 

Having a brief understanding of the different types of insects will mean landing a substantial number of fish in the net versus just winging it and only catching a few or none! We’re going to focus on trout in this blog post. The 4 most common river and stream insects are the mayfly, caddisfly, midges and stonefly. The one most talked about and fished is the mayfly. 


Mayflies are first on our list. 

The different life cycles of the mayfly are as follows: 

  • Nymph 
  • Emerger 
  • Dun 
  • Spinner 

The trout will eat the nymphs all season long, but they only have access to the spinners when they are first hatched and when they come back to the river to lay their eggs. Like the crazy ex-boyfriend or girlfriend that always comes back... 

When you are down at the water, grab a fly that is flying around and see what size and color it is, so you can match your fly to it. You always want to be using the same fly as the natural flies that are hitting the water. Fish will rarely bite anything else. Spinners are quite large in size, which means your fly hook will be easier for the fish to spot as not a real fly. At this point, you are hoping the fish are aggressive and if you chose the right time of day when the hatch is happening, they will be. 

The best time to be fishing the different insect hatches are at dusk going into dark and at night. When most fly fishers are packing up for the day, that is when you want to be getting there. The main hatches happen usually 1 hour or so before dark.  

North American anglers will come across two different green drake mayflies: the Eastern Green Drake and the Western Green Drake. Eastern Green Drakes usually emerge during the first or second week of June, but this time frame can vary with the weather and elevation. The hatch timing is also different on different rivers. 


Caddisflies are next on our list.  

The different life cycles of the caddis are as follows: 

  • Nymph 
  • Pupae 
  • Emerger 
  • Winged Adult 

The caddis fly can live upwards of a month or more before returning to the water to lay their eggs and die. Therefore, when you see large groups of caddisflies around the water, they might not be hatching or laying eggs. You will have to look closely to see if they are touching the water or not. If they are not touching the water, then the fish can’t get to them. 


Stoneflies are next on our list. 

The different life cycles of the stonefly are as follows: 

  • Nymph 
  • Emerging
  • Adult stonefly 

Stoneflies are different then caddisflies and mayflies as they do not hatch on top of the water. Stoneflies will crawl on the rocks until they reach the side of the bank, which is where they transform into adults and fly away. It isn’t until they return to the water to lay their eggs that the fish have the opportunity to eat them.  


Midges are the last fly on our list. 

The different life cycles of the midges are as follows: 

  • Nymph/ Larvae wormlike insect  
  • Pupae 
  • Emerger 
  • Adult midge 

Similar to the other 3 flies, the midges also come back to the water to lay their eggs. Sometimes the midges get stuck in groups when laying their eggs. The fish love when this happens, the bigger the meal the better! Sort of like turkey dinner for all of us! 

It is up to the fisherman to figure out what stage of the hatch and which hatch is happening.  

Are the fish feeding on nymphs right now? If they are then you best be using a nymph pattern hook.  

If the flies are in their emerger stage which means the fly is breaking out of its larvae and the fish are biting, then this is when you will want to use an emerger pattern hook.  

Are the fish eating flies off the top of the water? Then you best be using a spinner pattern. 

This won’t be as simple as it sounds, you may have to change hooks until you figure out what the fish are biting. Especially if there is more than one type of hatch going on.  

Now that we have talked about the life stages of the most common types of flies, we need to dive into which fly hooks to use to catch these trout. 

If anyone tells you that size doesn't matter, they are wrong... Fish also care about size, more so than the color of your fly. Matching your fly size to the size of the natural flies is key. Again, snag one out of the air or off the water and match the size of your hook to it. You can also turn over some rocks near or slightly in the water to see what type of nymphs to use. 

Depending on the stage of the hatch, these are some flies we recommend using: 

Nymph Patterns: Twenty Incher, Copper JohnPrince Nymph and Jigged Tungsten Drake 

Emerger Patterns: SRM Emerger, Para-Hackle Emerger and Mayfly Emerger

Cripple Patterns: Fluttering Cripple and Last Chance Cripple

Dun Patterns: Blue Quill, Light Cahill and Olive Dun

Spinner Patterns: Green Drake Spinner, Rusty Spinner, and Clear Wing Spinner. 


When it comes to the leader, I recommend using a 9-foot leader and the lightest tippet possible for the fly on the end of the line. 


Hopefully after reading this, you will have a better understanding of the different types of hatches and how to go about catching those monster trout. Keep tuned into our Zinger Fishing blog for more information on fishing tips, great places to fish and most importantly, the tackle to help you get more fish in your net.