There are thousands of different fly patterns with dozens of different color combinations to choose from, but which is the right color combination to use and when?
Choosing the right fly color for the moment comes down to two factors, your personal tastes and what color shades are naturally occurring in prey / insects.
Before we get technical into “matching the hatch”, let’s quickly touch on whether or not color matters. In short, your color choices on flies do have an impact on visibility and light contrast. Visibility in the water and the ability to contrast against low light or murky conditions help fish pick it out easier. That being said, fish see colors differently than we humans do because they pick up polarized light, and that makes certain colors glow like neon signs. For example, the joints on insects and the scales on fish glow like this in sunlight. Certain materials and colors on fly fishing flies imitate the reflection of polarized light on natural prey. I wish we could tell you which and materials are best, but very little scientific research has been conducted on how specific brands of materials react in polarized light.
Matching the hatch
Matching the colors naturally found in nature is not a very hard thing to do. Most commercially available flies and materials will be close enough to match nearly any hatch you’re up against. You don’t have to be exact but just within a couple of color shades. Fish aren’t, typically, extremely picky if it’s not identical to the real thing. However, there have been some instances where I have been proven wrong and only specific material choices worked while everything else was ignored.
Your Personal Tastes
What colors you like to fish does have an impact on your ability to catch fish. We’ve noticed that colors that we feel more confident in make us more attentive and present our flies better. In other words, your personal tastes in color may not imitate natural insects / prey accurately, but your ability to present the fly like natural prey makes your fly undeniable.
Our Favorite Color Variations
We sat down with The Fly Crate staff to get a feel for which color combinations they prefer out of all the rest. Additionally, we compared that with our best-selling colors as a baseline to what the fly fishing community puts their money on.
By far our most popular streamer fly combination commonly seen in Clouser Minnows and Woolly Buggers. Additionally, this is deadly within the Caddis category across all life cycles, i.e. larva, pupa, and dry fly.
Purple / Black
Purple / black are a popular and effective combo in nymphs, emergers, and dry flies. We believe that the dark tones contrast each other well when wet and represent natural nymphal shucks to a fish’s eye.
Tan / Olive / Black / Brown
You can’t go wrong with natural colors found in every species of insect. You can mix and match these colors to make combinations between their abdomen, tail, body, etc.
Lighter Tone / Darker Tone
This is a great streamer combination recipe to success. We’ve found that contrasting colors perform better than just one throughout the fly. We wanted to quickly touch on pairing a lighter color with a darker one. For example, a yellow belly with a brown top streamer or white with tan or orange with green.
If you’re uncertain what the hatches may bring, pack your fly box full of Grey tones. Grey is the greatest and most versatile color of them all. Think of this as the happy medium between hundreds of colors. Some of the greatest and most dependable patterns ever created feature Grey bodies and abdomens, such as the Hare’s Ear and Adams variations. Out on the water, we will use an Adam’s Parachute in a matching size to imitate olive-colored BWO’s, tan / brown March Browns, golden stone nymphs, dark brown nymphs, cased Caddis, etc.
When to use specific fly colors.
There is a general rule of thumb when fly fishing streamers and poppers that depends on the weather conditions.
- Clear Water, Sunny Weather — Use light colors like chartreuse and yellow to reflect light and glow in the water like a beacon.
- Overcast, Murky Water — Use dark colors like black, olive, and brown to contrast against the sky and surrounding water.