The Truth About “Magic Flies”

4 mins read
close up shot of a box of flies for fly fishing
By Spencer Durrant

The idea of “magic flies” is one that’s somehow wormed its way into the greater angling consciousness. There is something alluring about the notion that using a certain fly all but guarantees success.

But that idea is flat-out wrong.

Magic flies don’t exist.

Let’s examine why that is.

Fly Choice Does Matter

Now, I’m not arguing that your choice of flies doesn’t matter. Of course fly choice makes a huge difference in how successful you’ll be during any given day of fishing.

For example – a few years ago I was in Oregon, fishing an early-season blue-winged olive hatch. The fish were keyed in on emergers, and resolutely refused any of my dun offerings. My two buddies who were fishing with flies that rode lower in the surface film caught a ton of fish. I didn’t catch anything until I switched to a similar fly.

In that instance, it felt like the little emerger pattern was the proverbial silver bullet. In reality, all I did was my part as an angler. I fished the right fly in the right situation, and was rewarded with some trout in the net. Some days on the water call for specific flies, or specific fly presentations. That’s part of fly fishing, and is largely why us anglers have so many different flies. A single all-purpose, catch-fish-everywhere fly just can’t exist, due to the very nature of fishing itself. What works on one river on Monday won’t necessarily work on a different one on Tuesday. It might not even work on the same river a day later, either. The chances are high that it will, but there’s absolutely no guarantee.

Your fly choice should be influenced by what you see on or in the water and where you think trout are likely to be feeding (in some cases, you can see the trout feed, but that’s more the exception than the rule). Again, this is why fly anglers have so many different flies in their boxes. Matching your flies to what trout are likely to eat is one of the best ways to ensure a successful day on the water.

Why Do Some Flies Work So Well?

So, with the myth of magic flies well and truly busted, why does it feel like they exist? Why are some flies so deadly, even on different rivers, all across the country?

Some flies are designed better than others. Some flies are more perfect imitations of common trout food than what’s in the bins at your local fly shops. In particular, patterns that imitate small midges or caddis nymphs are effective in so many rivers because almost every trout river is home to a sizable population of those bugs.

But since every river – and every fish, for that matter – is different, it’s impossible to create a fly that works 100% of the time. Fishing would sure be a lot easier if something like that existed, but it just doesn’t. I also don’t think fishing would be as fun if we could put fish in the net with a ruthless efficiency, either. Part of the appeal of the sport is that we don’t always come out on top.

Wrapping Up

While it might seem like a magic fly exists, especially in trout fishing, the truth is that there’s no such thing. There are tons of great, highly-effective flies, but there is no one-size-fits-all magic-bullet type fly.

What is your go-to fly in tough fishing situations? Let us know in the comments.


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