Why ID’ing Insects When Trout Fly Fishing DOESN’T MATTER!

We all know the stories. Heck we were taught to fly fish right alongside them. A bespectacled trout chaser of yesteryear minutely examines an insect luckily caught in hand streamside. They note the flaxen rump, not straw or golden or even just yellow, but FLAXEN. Two tails, not three, are noted along with a dozen other tiny details. The flybox opens to expose row upon row of fly choices that to the lay flyfisher ALL look identical to the insect in hand. Not our expert though. A finger travels along the row slowly, back, then back again. Brows furrow and a mustache twitches… time passes. The finger stops. A fly is chosen. Not A fly, but THE fly.

Does the story above sound familiar to you? Have you been there? Staring at an insect, then in the flybox, then at the insect, then back to box as if that EXACT insect fly will magically appear… all the while NOT fishing. I have. Whether or not our friend (who somehow looks a lot like Teddy Roosevelt given the description) goes on to actually catch a fish isn’t relevant here. Of course in the story they always do. They have a banner day right alongside fellow fly fishers (read as ‘former friends’) who enjoyed refusal after refusal because they missed that ONE little detail, that ONE special thing about that specific insect. Does this happen? Definitely, and rarely (super large volume hatches are an example). Is it relevant to you? Probably not.

What is this insect, specifically? Do you REALLY need to know to catch fish?
What is this insect, specifically? Do you REALLY need to know to catch fish?

It’s important to note I am not saying the FLY doesn’t matter when trout fly fishing. The fly is tremendously important. We all accept that and pursue it with passion and relish. It’s what makes MonthlyFly.com Match the Hatch fly subscriptions special! The thesis here, in our opinion, is that precise, in depth insect analysis and identification is not necessary for a great day on the water. Relax. Let it go. For the majority of flyfishers it’s just not necessary. As well, we’re not downplaying or disrespecting entomologists their hobby or passion. If you enjoy it, go for it with our respect and gratitude!

The reason for our recent bug ID contest on our Facebook page was absolutely a lead in to this piece. It illuminates a number of problems inherent in truly identifying insects for trout fly fishing purposes:

1) It’s difficult and time consuming
2) You can’t really be confident you’re right
3) What is the point? Do you carry millions of flies, 3-5 for each life-cycle of each species you might encounter? I sure don’t. In fact I am trying to carry fewer!

What was the insect in our bug ID contest? I don’t know definitively. As well, I am not interested in being positive about what it is either. That’s why we neatly put choosing the winner on other posters’ shoulders by acclaim (number of likes) than us assessing right or wrong. We’re not opening that can of worms! If I were pressed, it does look a lot like a Female Hexagenia Limbata Spinner. Location and time of year seemed to support that. Even so I noted some subtle differences researching it and in comparable photos. Other guesses from our Facebook community included simply Mayfly (which technically is correct!), Green Drake, Sulphur, Cahill, Yellow Drake, Willow Fly, the list goes on and on from general to specific. Depending on which region you’re in, which watershed, which water body, heck which side of the mountain you’re on those could all be correct! Depends on what Grandpappy called ‘em right?!?

How do we choose which flies to buy and then which flies to fish? Well we can handle the choosing of flies for your area, and send them to you automatically each month, at the right time via our subscription packages (www.MonthlyFly.com). After we do our part, it is still up to you to reach in that box and select the most viable flies for that location, that day, water and weather conditions, etc. Not to mention presenting and fishing them in a way that triggers a strike. What we strive to achieve personally, and what we’re sharing with you today, is this:

Strive to understand what is CLOSE ENOUGH, and what is GOOD ENOUGH

CLOSE ENOUGH and GOOD ENOUGH for this pretty wild rainbow!

Kind of sounds like the battle cry for mediocrity doesn’t it? Well it takes a lifetime to acquire that wisdom in my opinion, and none of us carries endless flies. You already do this I’m sure. Probably every time you go fishing. Before being an expert at specifically ID’ing insects I’d rather be proficient at presentation and placement, drag free drift on all casts, perfect knots, perfecting 4 or 5 different casts for different situations, etc. For most flyfishers, it’s about the return of fish on the investment of time.

What do CLOSE ENOUGH and GOOD ENOUGH mean here? Well in the case of our big yellow insect friend up top, a yellow to brown inch long stonefly (note it’s NOT a stonefly) nymph for subsurface because I’ve always got those in the box. For up top whatever large, inch long dry I have that could vary in color from cream, light yellow, yellow, light brown, and so on. I’d be willing to try big Yellow Sallys, Cahills, Sulphurs, Drakes, etc. Whatever I judged was closest, and close enough, in my box. So many times I’ve thought ‘This is too far off but it’s the closest I’ve got. There is no way this will work’. Yet sometimes the trout oblige. As I noted before I no longer carry many hundreds of flies in multiple boxes. I’m down to 150(ish) and that includes multiples of patterns, nymphs, dries, and all else. I do adjust them seasonally and locally to the water body for a given trip.

GOOD ENOUGH means that while we know it may not an exact match (great if it is!), does it fall within what I believe to be the spectrum of variables that I believe will trigger a strike? Those variables are size, body color, and wing color, with general body shape being a distant fourth.

Which insect, specifically, is this well known and phenomenal fish catcher?
Which insect, specifically, is this well known and phenomenal fish catcher?

For example- fish small ant patterns in the winter. If there are midges in your area, but no ants, you’ll catch fish (all else being equal). Those little ant patterns are CLOSE ENOUGH and GOOD ENOUGH to winter time trout feed. Small, black, and buggy. The Griffith gnat is another great example- it looks like everything and nothing. The mind bending question(s) I’ll leave you with to answer on your own are these: If the above works, should you only carry ants and fish them (tiny ones) as midges as well? Or carry just midges and fish them as ants? Or just Griffiths gnats for both? That’s up to you. Apply the above, in GENERAL to the major bug TYPE hatches in your area and compare it to what you’ve got in your fly box and/or received from us!. Fish your choices with confidence and a fair number of casts (more than 1- you know who you are) with the best presentation you can. Enjoy the process. We do.

Tight lines from Josh@MonthlyFly.com!


Note: We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this blog post. I expect there will be enthusiastic and strong opinions on both sides of the coin. There is a reason we avoid Latin names on our descriptions and fishing tips in the fly keys that accompany our fly subscriptions, and in any other writings. We’re presenting an approach and philosophy we believe will work for the majority of flyfishers out there. We understand you may want to go deeper into the fascinating world of insects and trout feeding behavior! To the bug enthusiasts out there, you have our respect and gratitude!

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