Traditionally, fly fishermen targeted trout and salmon. Today, fly-fishing has grown into a huge hobby and the list of fish that will strike a fly is long.
Fly-fishing is suitable for freshwater or saltwater and includes fish such as Arctic Grayling, Rainbow Trout, Bass, Panfish, Pike, and saltwater species such as Striped bass, Redfish, Tarpon, Bonefish, and Snook.
Keep in mind that this is a partial list and below we will add to that list.
Many species of trout are awesome as fly-fishing targets.
Brown trout are perhaps the most targeted trout by fly fishermen.
Browns are smart, feisty, and challenging. Rainbow trout are often bigger and present bigger battles, but even smaller species are keen for fly-fishing.
A backwoods creek or small river is an ideal place to toss flies for brook trout and cutthroat trout.
Like many species targeted by fly fishermen, trout are often top feeders and will devour surface or dry flies if you pair them to their available food options.
Trout are voracious feeders and consume a variety of aquatic insects.
The record Trout caught on a fly rod is 36 pounds 6 ounces and was Brown Trout.
Salmon, which include the Pacific Salmon and Atlantic Salmon are also a big fly-fishing target.
Salmon range in size from small to very large. They include Pink, Silver Salmon, King Salmon, Chum Salmon, and Atlantic Salmon.
The exception to Salmon and fly-fishing are the Sockeye Salmon, which feed on plankton and will rarely strike a fly.
If you want to target big fish on a fly rod, then King Salmon are the ones you want.
The largest King Salmon caught is 97 pounds and was landed on a fly rod on the Kenai River in Alaska.
The smallest salmon are the Pink Salmon, and when they run, they show up by the millions.
You can plink Pink Salmon on an active run all day long.
Steelhead is the sea version of Rainbow Trout. They appear in the Fall and Winter when the weather is freezing and the drive to fish is insane.
Fly-fishing for Steelhead is akin to a select club. The anglers who toss flies for Steelhead do so out of a purity for fishing and a love of the wilderness.
The record Steelhead is 27 pounds 4 ounces.
Like Salmon, Steelhead hatch in freshwater and then make their way to the sea.
When it is time to spawn, they return to their rivers where they lay eggs.
Most steelhead make this journey three or four times before they die.
You can catch bass all day long on a fly rod. Bass are popular because they are everywhere making heading out for a few hours of fishing an easy chore.
Best color flies for bass are black and olive mixed with a few shiny bits.
If you are looking for a fly rod specifically for bass, aim for a 9-foot rod in 8 weight.
You can also use your trout fly rod for bass. The record bass – largemouth – on a fly rod weighed in at 14 pounds 14 ounces.
The best times to fish for bass using flies is early morning and at evening times.
The reason being that aquatic insects feed and deposit eggs into the water early in the morning and just as the sun is setting.
The bass are primed for eating during those times, and fly-fishing is an amazing way to temp them to strike your fly.
Pike are an explosive battle on a fly rod. Even the smaller pike are formidable, but the bigger, trophy pike are something that will change you.
A trophy northern pike can range from 45-60 inches in length and strike with such lightening quickness that it startles you.
Pike coil themselves back on themselves and lurch through the water to snag fish that swim by them.
They hide in weedy patches and shadows and prey upon smaller fish.
To actively target pike on a fly rod, you need to seek out the weed beds.
Tie a mouse pattern fly to your line and present it on the far side of the weed bed.
Slowly jig it over the surface of the weeds and wait for the explosion that will come.
Pike love small mammals and flies in those patterns are sure to cause a reaction.
One problem with fly-fishing for pike is their teeth. Northern pike have over 700 teeth crammed into their mouth, and they will make short work of mono or fluorocarbon fishing line.
To solve this problem, when you target pike, use a steel leader – 8-12 inches long will do.
Biggest northern pike that was caught on a fly rod is 43 pounds.
Arctic Grayling are one of the most beautiful fishes you can find. They have a large sail-fin dorsal fin, and are one of the best eating fish you can find.
They are smaller fish – under 3 pounds – and found in the far northern waters.
They alone are worth a trip to Alaska backcountry.
Their smart and cunning personality makes them an amazing fly-fishing target.
Once you dial them in you can spend the entire day reeling them in hand-over-fist.
A record arctic graying would be in the five-six pound range.
Fly options for arctic Grayling include Elk Hair Caddis (caddis fly), Black gnat, mosquito patterns, and humpies.
Panfish are another excellent target for fly-fishing.
While panfish are smaller, they are readily available, and they give you excellent practice while learning to hone your fly-fishing skills.
Because panfish and bluegill don’t make expansive runs when hooked, the rod selection is not that important.
What is important when targeting panfish and bluegill is that you match the fly weight to the rod.
Your fly-fishing rod will note the fly size in a range so that you can match the fly size to the rod.
Unlike other types of fishing rods, fly rods are designed to cast without sinkers, that is why matching the fly weight to the rod is critical.
Saltwater Species for Fly Fishing
Bonefish are excellent fly-fishing targets. They grow to around 15 pounds, and you can find them in the shallows and inshore waters in tropical waters.
If you are fishing in Florid, you are apt to cross paths with larger Bonefish.
The best fly-fishing rod for bonefish fishing is a nine foot, nine weight rod with a fast action tip.
The largest bonefish caught weighed 16 pounds three ounces.
Some of the best flies are mimics of aquatic life. The Ververka Mantis Shrimp fly is outstanding as is the longstrip Bonefish fly, or the Sili Legs flies.
Redfish, like bonefish, are awesome targets on a fly rod.
They range to 33 inches in length and are also known as Red Drum fish.
They put up a good fight and bring a lot of action to fly-fishing.
A good fly rod for redfish is an 8-9 foot rod with a 9-pound weight.
You can use the same rod as you would for Bonefish. The record redfish is 43 pounds.
You target redfish in the same areas where you find bonefish – inshore, near shore.
Good flies for Redfish are t hose that are fibrous and bright, such as the shrimp fly.
Snook is another wonderful inshore fly-fishing target.
They can grow quite large to 46 inches and inshore, you can target them hand-over-fist all day long.
The record for snook on a fly rod is 30 pounds, 4 ounces.
The best fly rods for Snook fishing are the 7-9 feet rodes in 8-11 weights. If you plan to target bigger snook (deeper water), then go with a longer rod and heavier weight.
Snook flies are similar to those for redfish.
They like shirmp mimics with streamers in white tones and purple tones.
It seems unreal that you can fish for tarpon on a fly rod, but you can.
These monsters can be eight feet long and close to 300 pounds. The unofficial record for tarpon on a fly rod is 194 pounds, one ounces. That’s plenty big.
The best rod for fly-fishing for tarpon is 10-12 weight fly rod paired with a Tibor Gulf Stream reel. Good fly options for tarpon include Merrimans Tarpon Toad, Peanut Butter by EP, and Black Death by Apte.
Spotted bass are a fun fly-fishing target. You can catch them all day long if you know where to find them.
These are smaller saltwater fish in the five-eleven pound range but they offer plenty of fight.
A good fly rod for spotted bass is one that is 6-7 weight with medium action.
You can also use the same rod you’d fish for with Redfish or Bonefish.
Good fly selection for spotted bass are those flies that are minnow mimics with a fluffy presence in whiter tones.
Can you fly fish for anything?
Pretty much, yes. You can fly fish for anything.
The difference being that some types of fish are more apt to strike a fly than are others.
While you can target shark using a fly rod, you are more apt to catch Tarpon.
Can you catch big fish fly fishing?
Yes, you can catch big fish on a fly rod. The record is a 385 pound lemon shark.
What is the point of fly fishing?
The point of fly fishing is more about challenging the angler than the fish.
Fly fishing is more precise and requires greater skill in presenting the fly and battling the fish. It is not necessarily a sport for those who want to catch the most fish, but sometimes the biggest.