Match the Hatch ²

Learning Your Bugs & Behavior to Catch More Fish

Part 3 of 5 of Fly Selection Mastery Series

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Learning to identify insects and their seasonal behaviors is the first major step in learning your bugs and mastering fly selection in order to catch more fish.  In this article, we break it down for you explaining what a category of insect is, the definition of an insect stage and then a complete list for you to memorize on your bugs to give you a basic knowledge so you can begin taking the next steps in your entomology knowledge.

The next step you’ll want learn is the names of fly patterns and what they imitate.  Our fly shop is organized for you to learn what certain patterns imitate using the categories filter.  Take a look at our fly shop when you get a chance and you can search through and test yourself on flies, what they imitate and then click on the fly and it will show you what it imitates.  The content below the fly product shows more tips as well for you to read.

Test Yourself When You’re Ready

Check out the fly shop here once you’ve memorized the list below and are ready to test yourself.Identifying Flies by Stage and Category

We have a few categories to help test you:

  • Flies by Season – flies recommended by season.  View these and see if you can identify the stage and insect it’s trying to imitate.
  • Flies by Stage – Nymphs, Pupas, Emergers, Dries, Spinners etc
  • Flies by Type – By Insect Category to help you find caddis vs mayfly patterns etc

If you haven’t joined our 5-part email series on fly selection

You can sign up for our email series here, it’s free and will be sent to you in a few minutes after signing up. It’s full of great tips and resources to master fly selection.

Learning to Identify Insects Anywhere, Anytime

Mastering the Bugs for Fly Selection

Most anglers open their fly box, look aimlessly at the hundreds (maybe more) of dollars of flies and make their fly selection based on their past experiences or whatever “looks good” in their box.  “I did good on that one last year, guess I’ll try it out.” When is the last time you heard a guide say that?

You don’t, and it’s because they first ask the question, what are the trout eating today?  Once they have a strong, educated decision, they select the fly and begin to catch loads of fish.  The knowledge that helps them select the right fly faster and more accurately is fly fishing entomology.  We covered this topic with a great story as we outlined the 3 steps to mastering fly selection, and it’s a good read if you haven’t read it yet.

This article will help you understand the orders, stages, sizes, colors, seasonal and time of day behaviors of all insects you will need to identify on the river in order to catch trout. This is the first step in perfecting your fly selection skills.

Before we begin on the list however, let’s understand what orders and stages exist with trout insects.

Orders aka Insect Categories

midge adults
midge adults

Let’s learn quickly what we mean by orders and stages, then we’ll show the list of insects by order, category, size and color.

Orders are just a fancy and scientific way of saying a category of insect.  Remember in highschool biology when they taught Kingdom, Phylum, Class, ORDER, Family, Genus, Species? Of course you don’t, who listens in highschool biology? You should have listened though cause it relates to fly fishing!

All you really need to know is that as fly fishermen, nearly all of our fly patterns we use imitate orders of insects, not the specific species.  Aside from some mayflies (Hex, Green Drakes, BWO, etc) and some stoneflies (salmonflies, yellow sallies etc), we keep it simple and only focus on the categories.

This is great news for all of us, because instead of having to remember 10,000 insect species, we just need to understand 13 categories.  If you can identify the order of the insect, you’re more than 50% of the way to selecting the right fly.

Stages aka Insect Lifecycles

flies-by-stage-diagramStages of an insect simply refer to their current stage within an insect lifecycle.  Insects go through complete and incomplete metamorphsis.  Complete metamorphisis includes a pupa stage while incomplete skips that step and gets on with the story.

Most insects that you need to know for trout fishing go through a larva (nymph), emerger, adult (dry), and spinner stage. We refer to these plainly as nymph, pupa, emerger, dry, spinner when fly fishing and they often correlate to fly patterns.

Not all insects have these stages, and some have an extra pupa stage, and only some of those stages apply to trout feeding behavior…We know it gets a bit complicated, but for now hold on to the fact that this provides a list for you to digest, not the entire subject.  You’d need a fly fishing entomology course for that and is a great idea if you’re ready to take your fly fishing to the next level.

Let’s simplify and give you a framework you can use to start learning your bugs.  In it you will see all the major insect orders (categories), the stages of importance to the angler, and common hook sizes and colors you’ll want to imitate them with.  Book mark this page and refer to it often.  On the river, at the tying bench, whenever you need to match the bug or need help remembering what to expect on the river for what time of year.

The Complete List of Insects for Fly Fishermen


midge adults

  • Stages: Nymph, Pupa, Emerger, Dry
  • Sizes: #14-26
  • Colors: Any Color Imaginable (Black, Olive, Red, Purple are my favorites)
  • Seasons: All Stages, Year Round
  • Time of Day: All Day, Later in Day When Colder
  • Most Important Late Fall – Early Spring


  • Stages: Nymph, Emerger, Dry, Spinner
  • Sizes: #6-26
  • Colors: Any Color Imaginable
  • Seasons: All Stages, Year Round, Mostly Spring, Summer and Fall (BWO in Winter Only).  Nymphs are year round importance all times of day.
  • Time of Day: Morning to Mid Day and Evening to Dusk


  • Stages: Nymph, Pupa, Emerger, Dry
  • Sizes: #10-20
  • Colors: Blacks, Browns, Olives, Oranges, Tans
  • Seasons: Late Spring to Late Fall – All Stages
  • Time of Day: All Day with Mid Morning and Late Evening Most Important



  • Stages: Nymph, Dry
  • Sizes: #6-16
  • Colors: Blacks, Browns, Oranges, Yellows, Olives, Tans
  • Seasons: Early Spring (Skwalas), Rest are Late Spring to Mid Fall
  • Time of Day: Mid Morning to Dark


Scud_Gammaridae-960x637 (1)

  • Stages: Nymph
  • Sizes: #12-18
  • Colors: Greys, Pinks, Oranges, Olives, Blues, Whites, Two-Tones
  • Seasons: Year round, late fall to early spring most important
  • Time of Day: All day with importance on early morning



  • Stages: Nymph
  • Sizes: #12-18
  • Colors: Greys, Pinks, Oranges, Olives, Blues, Whites, Two-Tones
  • Seasons: Year round, late fall to early spring most important
  • Time of Day: All day with importance on early morning

Annelids (Worms)


  • Stages: Nymph
  • Sizes: #8-16
  • Colors: Reds, Pinks, Browns, Tans, Purples
  • Seasons: Year round, Anytime water rises or gets off color
  • Time of Day: All day, Anytime



  • Stages: Nymph, Dry
  • Sizes: #8-16
  • Colors: Blues, Tans, Olives
  • Seasons: Late spring to Mid Fall (Before Frost)
  • Time of Day: All day with importance on early morning and late evening


dragon dry

  • Stages: Nymph, Dry
  • Sizes: #6-14
  • Colors: Reds, Blacks, Tans, Olives, Blues
  • Seasons: Late spring to Mid Fall (Before Frost)
  • Time of Day: All day with importance on early morning and late evening

Water Boatman

Water_boatman_Corixidae-960x637 (1)

  • Stages: Nymph, Dry
  • Sizes: #10-16
  • Colors: Blacks, Olives, Tans, Browns
  • Seasons: Late spring to Mid Fall (Before Frost), Hatch late fall
  • Time of Day: All day with importance on early morning and late evening



  • Stages: Dry
  • Sizes: #6-16
  • Colors: Browns, Olives, Pinks, Purples, Tans, Reds, Yellows
  • Seasons: Mid Summer to Mid Fall (Before Frost)
  • Time of Day: All day with importance after noon to evening



  • Stages: Dry
  • Sizes: #14-20
  • Colors: Blacks, Reds, Browns, Tans
  • Seasons: Late spring to Mid Fall (Before Frost)
  • Time of Day: All day with importance on early morning and late evening



  • Stages: Dry
  • Sizes: #12-18
  • Colors: Blacks, Olives, Browns, Purples, Blues
  • Seasons: Late spring to Mid Fall (Before Frost)
  • Time of Day: All day with importance on early morning and late evening

When you break it all down to these categories, it doesn’t look that overwhelming.  Contained within this list is 99% of all the insects you’ll need in your fly box including their basic seasonal and time of day behaviors.  Doesn’t look like much but when you begin adding up all the variations, it’s no wonder why we all have 15 fly boxes and still complain to our spouses we don’t have enough flies!

This information is an excellent guide to helping you stock your box, understanding the basics of fly fishing entomology and beginning to learn how to match that hatch whether it’s above or below the waters surface.  Memorize these stages, sizes, colors, seasons and time of day and you will be well on your way to preparing your fly box correctly.

Want to Learn More?

As you can see, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning about fly selection and entomology. We have a comprehensive online entomology course that you should check out. Just scroll down if you really want to get a complete understanding of fly fishing entomology.  If you need a cheat sheet, this article is perfect for you, but if you really want to master fly selection, a detailed course is really going to take your fishing to the next level.

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