Get To Know The Bugs!

One of the aspects of fly fishing that has anglers scratching their heads is trying to better understand and identify the insects that play such a crucial role in a trout’s diet here in Colorado and throughout the west.  

As anglers we often hear the phrase “Match the hatch”, in reality budding anglers tend to experience information overload which often leads to frustration and they loose some of their new found passion and ask themselves “Man, there is so much to learn, how am I ever going to get my head around this and retain all of the nuances of fly fishing”?  We’ll the good news is we’ve all been there. One of the best attributes about fly fishing, and there are many, is you never stop learning, EVER!  

The best advice we can pass along is to keep it simple! All too often we over-think the process of fly identification and fly selection. No need to go into a master’s level course in entomology (I couldn’t teach one if I had to), better to concentrate on a more simplistic approach – SIZE, SHAPE, and COLOR when trying to “Match a hatch”

Simply put, if you have box of flies and no clue as to what to use, spend 5minutes or so doing nothing but taking in your surrounding environment. Do you see any insects? If so, what size shape and color are they?  Are you seeing fish rising?  You get the idea…Fly fishing success depends largely on our visual acuity.  You set the hook when you see a fish eat your dry fly, you set when your indicator goes upstream.  Take a similar approach when selecting your flies. In most cases, trout are constantly telling us what they are eating each day.  We just have to take the time to look at our surroundings and under a few rocks in the river now and again.

Below is what most considers the five most prolific insects groups that trout eat throughout the year:

Midges: A small two-winged insect group found virtually everywhere around water and marches. Midges are in the water 365 a year and play an important role in a trout’s diet, especially in the winter months. The most effective sizes are 18 – 24. Larger sizes 10 – 14’s for still water fishing.  Grey, red and black are always great color choices.



Mayflies: Easy to identify, Mayflies have a transparent wing post that looks like a sailboat. Most Mayfly patterns can be imitated with the same pattern just by using different sizes and colors. Common Mayflies throughout Colorado include: BWO's, PMD's, Drakes, Quills and Tricos.



Caddis: Very abundant in Colorado, Caddis can tolerate all types of water and are the most abundant stream-bottom insect in most of our rivers.




Stoneflies: Considered to be a primitive insect, Stoneflies are easily recognizable by their size, and are the largest of the aquatic insects. Their presence in a stream or still water is usually an indicator of good or excellent water quality.



Terrestrials: Terrestrials, or land -based insects, are another staple in diets of trout. Terrestrials include grasshoppers, crickets, ants, beetles, and just about any other bug that might get knocked down into water. 




On your next visit to the river, leave your fly rod in the car for a half hour or so. Spend some time just observing your environment.  You’ll be amazed at what you see and learn. And most importantly, trout don’t speak Latin, but they do speak size, shape and color.  You just have to feed them!