what's a medium size fly?

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This topic contains 21 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Scotty MacFly 2 years, 1 month ago.

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    Scotty MacFly

    Some people say that size 16 is small for a fly, and they are entitled to their opinion. I fish mostly flies from #12 to #20. I consider these flies medium size. There are some folks who fish 32’s. To me a 32 is micro small.

    This may be all about peoples opinions, but if you were asking for info on fishy fish creek, and the person you were asking said to use small flies, would you have an idea of what sizes they mean?

    Now, I do understand that a fly being used for musky fishing is a large fly, but I want to keep it to just trout flies.

    So what do you consider large, medium and small flies for trout?



    You’re right. Its a bit like asking how long is a piece of rope.
    But I’ll bite: I think of 8 to 2 as large, 16 to 10 as medium, and 18 and smaller aa small. But I fish almost exclusively brook trout in non-stocked, lightly fished waters, and I kind of think species and angling pressure probably has an impact on this.
    I’m very interested to hear what others think. Good question, Scotty



    You’re asking about a creek? Very simple in my case. #12 is large. #14-16 is med, and 18 and below is small. I never use small flies on creeks.

    This is for fairly fast moving freestone creeks with lots of pocket water.

    I hardly ever fish anything different than these waters. A river would just be a bigger version of the creek. I never fish calm water, except still water during runoff. Then I might go to an #18, but that is rare.



    My spring creeks are mostly calm stretches with the occasional riffle. The fish are seldom larger than 12 inches. My flies are almost all 16-20, with a few 14s in the fly box just in case I want to stun a trout that is ignoring everything I throw at him. But picking up a rock is usually easier than tying on a fly so they are rarely used.

    I consider 16-20 to be ‘small’. 22-32 are ‘impossible to see’. And larger than 16 is just to compensate for any other shortcomings.



    Scotty MacFly

    WOW! Great responses so far.

    Brent, that is exactly what I was looking for in an answer. You pretty much covered the spectrum, thank you.

    Creek, you threw in a curve ball my friend. You took the sizes that you only use and broke them up into three sections. Fishing the same style of waters as you, faster pocket water, I too use the larger size in the faster water to help the fish locate the fly quicker, like a #14. A #12 is rarely used by me until later in the summer. #14 & #16 are my favorites, they’ll work anywhere. #18 to #20, mostly #18’s I will use when fish are spooky and water is low. Worse case scenario, #20 & #22. I can’t see anything smaller unless it has a parachute.

    Brett, your water is different than ours. So I can see the use of smaller flies for calmer water.

    It’s amazing that for each type of water dictates what size we use.

    So if the rule was what Brent said, and Brett invited me to fish with him, and I asked what size flies to bring and he said “small”, because in his area small is #16 – #20, I hope I don’t misunderstand and bring a box of #22-#26, because in my world, that would be small.
    But then again, breaking it up like Creek, that could throw someone off as well.
    I guess I’m looking at the wrong thing. I should be asking, “what type of water is Fishy Fish Creek? Then I could have a better idea what size flies I will need.

    Just FYI, Fishy Fish Creek is a fictional creek in my mind. I go there a lot.


    Dark Waters

    I fish mostly freestones, and lately, dry ones. It’s not often to see a lot of flow the past couple years.

    Last year, I fished 3 and 4wts almost exclusively. I almost always use size 16 – 18 flies because they seem to work the best. Sometimes I will go to a 20, or even rarer, a 22. I have flies 14 and larger but rarely ever use them for trout. I use them for stillwater/bass/bluegills mostly.

    I like Brent’s reply on size, and Brett’s reply for humor, and I agree too.


    I’ll bite on this one!

    For dries I consider #10’s to be large, 14-18 medium, and 20 and smaller to be small.
    Depending on what’s hatching I may tie on a #10-14 hopper/stonefly type pattern, but 80% of the time I’m using 14’s and 16’s. I mainly fish rivers that are fast flowing but not very large, maybe 30-50 feet wide at the most.
    I consider anything smaller than a #6 to be small for a streamer, and anything longer than 6″ to be large, regardless of hook size.


    I purposefully didn’t include size 12’s in there, once I started to think about it I just couldn’t decide whether or not they’re large or medium. I don’t really use them except for drakes and stones, which are large, but I don’t really think of a #12 Adams or royal coachman as being large. I guess pattern and hook length has something to do with it, for me at least. But then again I spend my days in the shop surrounded by flies, and I’m sure that shapes my opinion somewhat.




    It depends on where you’re fishing. On the Frying Pan a #12 is huge and would only be used for the green drake hatch. Dries there do go down to #20-24. Yet, I still catch plenty of fish there on #14-16.

    I need to see the fly right away, because the drift may only be a couple of feet long. A bigger fly presented perfectly will out perform a smaller fly presented poorly.


    Scotty MacFly

    The one thing I do want to do this year is fish with the smaller flies, sizes #20 – #24. I don’t want a bright parachute, in fact I don’t want to see it. I want to work on looking past my fly line and keep an eye open for the little splash. Maybe not even look for that and go for the feel. With all the fish I caught while not paying attention, this time I want to focus on what I’m doing, with accurate casts, good presentation, but do it blind. Should be an interesting challenge. I figure if the fish spits the fly out before I react, good for the fish. If not, well, it should have.



    No way to see if you’re getting a drag free drift if you can’t see the fly Scotty. One of the things that must be learned over time is to make quick adjustments to keep the fly drag free. Impossible if you can’t see the fly.

    That’s why I don’t use small flies. I can’t see them anymore. The difference between a good dry fly fisherman and a bad one is the good one knows how to keep the fly drag free. You can use the perfect fly for the conditions and if you let it drag you won’t catch much if anything. Use a fly that’s the wrong color and size and float it by a trout drag free and more times than not it will take the fly. I’ve witnessed it too many times to not know it’s true.


    I don’t go smaller than 18 unless it’s on stillwater where seeing the fly and getting a good drift aren’t an issue.
    There’s something humbling about seeing a cutthroat rise to a fly and refuse it at the last second, it’s one of the things I enjoy the most about trout fishing. To be quite honest I think I enjoy the rise the most.
    I had one day last summer that seemed as though I couldn’t do anything right. I got countless rises, missed every opportunity by either messing up my drift, or trying to set the hook too early. I think I was just overwhelmed by my surroundings and way too excited. It was a phenomenal day, I must have had 30+ rises, and even though I didn’t land a single one, it was one of my most memorable days. It was treacherous terrain to wade and hike through, and some of the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen. It was a very humbling and special day.
    I also spent an hour swinging streamers to a very stubborn and large bull that refused everything I drifted in front of its nose.

    Sorry I know it’s a little off topic, but it all just came back to me when I was typing.



    Scotty MacFly

    OK, I understand what you’re both saying, and I agree with you two to some degree. You must have a drag free drift or you’re just wasting time, I agree. But who’s to say with the right positioning, and keeping as much line off the water it can’t be done. Faster pocket water would not work. Casting over a fast current into soft water, no. But think about riffles. You don’t think it’s possible to stand at the end of a area of riffles, casting short 15ft. to 20ft. casts, maybe even shorter, that it can’t be done?

    Call me a fool, but I have two words for both of you……….challenge accepted.

    I’m going off on this logic, that with all the people I have introduced fly fishing to, they all said the same thing, ” I can’t see the fly.” And yet, they still caught fish. Even though it was a size 14, it takes practice to locate your fly the first few times. They couldn’t see the fly, and didn’t know what a take looked like, but when the fish took the fly and turned, they felt it and set the hook. Lost a bunch of fish, but caught some as well. Even I have casted a fly in a bubble highway and lost track of my fly and caught fish, and I bet you have as well. So if it can happen by accident, why not on purpose? I can use a sighter, to, I’m going to say “possibly” watch for my line being pulled, so I can hopefully adjust for any drag. It’s not like I’m going to fish with my eyes closed. But it’s a challenge I’m up for.

    I’m not saying it “can” be done, and I’m not saying it “can’t”. What I do know is it’ll be fun trying, and isn’t that what it’s all about, having fun? At least for a while anyway.

    Tell you what, if it doesn’t work, I won’t say. If it does, I still won’t say. Ha ha!

    Good night friends, I’m going fishing in the morning.



    We all have different reasons to fly fish Scotty. I have many, but catching fish is way down the list for me. You can even fish at night time and not be able to see anything. It works and I have a friend who only fishes in the dark.All he cares about is catching big trout. How he does it doesn’t matter. That’s not my style.

    Some of the reasons I fly fish high mountain creeks and in general.

    Trout mostly live in beautiful settings. I love being where they live.

    Casting. I love to cast a fly rod. It may be why I love dry flies and hate nymphing. I’m sure it’s much more than that, but it’s high on the list.

    Putting the fly exactly where i’m looking. No matter what kind of cast I have to invent to get it there. I have to do it on the first try. A failure means a spooked fish.

    Drag free drift. This can be one of the trickiest parts of dry fly fishing. It’s easy if you make a short cast and hold the line off the water. What about much more line out over multiple currents? The variables are endless. It’s always a challenge to get perfect.

    Scotty, it’s not catching fish that’s the challenge. It’s how you do it. It’s rewarding to do it with skill exactly like you want to. Luck should never be the goal. Fish can be caught endless ways. Even when everything is done wrong. If you’re not in control of the fly 100% of the time. You’re depending on a certain amount of luck. Even a nymph fisherman needs to watch the leader.

    Of course you’re free to fish anyway you want. We all make our own challenges. Although it’s better not to boast about the results.


    Scotty MacFly

    You speak Gospel Creek.

    I just got back from the Poudre, and it was rough. Creek, it’s not about catching fish, I agree, but sometimes I like to go out of the box and get an entirely different box.

    Now if I may comment on what you just said, “it’s not catching fish that’s the challenge, it’s how you do it. Rewarding with skill, not with luck.” Well, today I proved that every thing you just said is 100% true. Yes, I caught fish on a fly I couldn’t see and it was just dumb luck. Not many fish as well, I caught two. I looked for eddies, and still water, and even fished around foam. At first it was challenging, just watching the end of my line and having an idea where the fly was, but not knowing for sure. Then I’d see a splash, and there it is. But when I fished seams and needed to mend the line, it was very tough mending and not knowing where the fly is and if I just disturbed it. After awhile, I got boring relying on I guess luck and stressful as well. So……. I put a size #14 Delaware Adams, and casted in front of a patch of foam between the foam and the faster flow. It floated ever so nicely and wouldn’t you know it, a 19 inch rainbow came half way out of the river and I was able to bring it in.

    Yeah, skill is so much better. I like seeing the fly. And even if I didn’t catch any fish, it was great being on the river, and there was nobody else in my eyesight. The eagles were flying with their young, butterflies are out and about, the buds are starting to open up on the trees. It was a good day, a real good day.

    Now, the Poudre is already as high as it normally gets in mid July. And it’s a tea color in the shallows, but brown out farther out. I think run off in it’s full force will be here sooner than normal. It wasn’t like this last year.

    Yeah Creek, you and PMH were right. But hey, I took the challenge, did catch two on a small fly I couldn’t see, but not much fun. I learned when you do fish with skill it’s easier to be positive and believe a fish will take. Just throwing a fly in an area that rightly should hold a fish, and not being able to see the fly, so you can’t adjust to the circumstances, is just not sport. I like sport.

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