Ok, I'm afraid my mad google skillz are failing me. I'm afraid I need the help of someone who has a better knowledge of fishing flies terminology. I am in the process of accessioning a small (32) collection of fishing flies, and I would like to put any pertinent style or type information into the computer entry for each fly. I realize there are 3 main types of flies, and that there are thousands and thousands of individual kinds, some of which may have been made up on the spot and called "Bob" for all anyone knows.
Does anyone know of a website or a book that shows several hundred of the most common types? I can't seem to find enough examples of each to even begin to start telling the dry from the wet (though I'm semi confident I'm starting to pick out nymph).
I don't need to be seriously exact, but I'd like to at least put novice level information into the entries.
The dry flies will generally be the smallest ones. They will also almost always have a stiff, thick hackle (like a collar) just behind the eye of the hook. Dry flies imitate insects that land on the water and the hackle is what generally keeps them afloat. Mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies are the three most common types of dry fly. GIS is your friend for general appearance. Coloring of dry flies is generally natural-looking; lots of greens and browns and duns.
The wet flies are likely to be on larger hooks. They may have hackles, but generally not as thick and usually softer. Colors may be a little less "natural" and they might have bits of flash like a silver or gold colored wire or tinsel. Wet flies can imitate insects and minnows and such, or they can simply be "attractors" designed to get the attention of a fish and hopefully make it angry enough to strike. They often have long, bushy tails, often made of maribou, which tends to give them a "swimming minnow" action on the retrieve.
Nymphs are also wet flies, but on the smaller side (not generally as small as the dries, though). They may be tied on a hook with a ball at the front; this is a weight that can take them quite deep, as nymphs tend to live very close to or on the bottom of a body of water. Nymphs almost never have anything sticking up like a wing or a hackle, but will often have bits sticking down on the bottom to simulate legs. Nymphs also tend to come in more natural colors, most often dark greens and browns as well as black.
If you have any flies that are on black-toned hooks or are extremely brightly-colored and ornate, they're most likely salmon flies. The black-toned hooks are corrosion-resistant, which is key, as salmon fishing is done in salt water. I don't know, however, at what point in time the black hooks became available. Salmon flies are also not always ornate (the classic Mickey Finn is about as simple as they come). They'll generally be quite large, though. They're technically wet flies.
Thank you, that's really helpful. I know exactly what you mean by hackle. What do you mean by GIS though? I'm guessing you don't mean the mapping kind.
I don't appear to have any that are on larger hooks, so there probably aren't any salmon flies. Which is a little strange because I would have assumed there would be some, coming from this area. I'm not entirely certain of the age, but my best guess based on donor information is that they are 30-40+ years old, with some possible newer additions.
I have one strange one, that looks like a big thin beetle. It has long antenna, legs and everything, so it isn't supposed to be a minnow. It is well over 2 inches long and about 1cm wide, while the other flies are usually around 2cm long. Body is orange (made of a woven stiff maybe basketry material), "shell" is strips of brown and white mottled feather, and antenna and legs are black. Any idea what kind of fish this would be used for? I think (if I ignore the orange coloring) that it is supposed to be a really big water beetle.
I really appreciate the reponse. The information I was able to find, was very detailed and beyond what I needed to know. While interesting, the different drag properties of different parts and kinds of feathers is more involved than I want to get.
Zundian got it in one: GIS = Google Image Search. It took me ages to stop thinking Geographic Information Systems when I saw GIS; glad to know I'm not the only one (but apologies, nonetheless).
The black-hooked salmon flies I was referring to are Atlantic Salmon flies (for a nice page of classic "fully-dressed" Atlantic Salmon flies check out this page). There probably isn't a lot of call for them in Oregon, although I guess there's no guarantee the provenance of the flies you have is local.
Judging by the description you gave of the big one, a beetle sounds about right (may or may not be a water beetle, though -- lots of insects fall into the water that can't swim, making them prime food). When you say "woven" material, is it striated in both directions or just one? If it's just one, it's probably dyed deer hair. You'd be amazed at what can be done with deer hair. It also floats. If it is truly woven and it's one of your older flies, that could be a really interesting find. I learned to tie flies in the early nineties when newer materials like foam, mylar, tyvek, and rubber were just starting to become common and augment the classic fur, feathers, tinsel, and floss. I didn't do any tying or fishing for fifteen years and have only recently come back to it. Some of the flies they've got these days are unreal and they're using anything and everything to make them. The flies on this page aren't really intended for fishing, but you see what I mean. A 19th century fisherman who tied with only his hands (i.e., no vice, no thread bobbin, etc.) while standing waist-deep in a river would probably either puke or pass out at the sight of them.
As for what fish might go after a bug like that, well, a hungry one. Some flyfishermen are purists: they won't fish anything that doesn't match something that naturally occurs in the area. The rest of us just like to catch fish, so we'll throw anything in the water that we think a fish might bite at. One of my favorite "flies" imitates (rather astoundingly) a small frog pretty much exactly like this one. It's a bitch to cast due to the huge air resistance, but if you can get it out there, smallmouth bass will hit it like the angry fist of god.
If you really want to know lots of detail about those flies, I'd recommend posting a picture or two to a board like this one (the rest of the site is quite nice as well). There's more than likely plenty of folk there who could identify most of your flies by name and probably tell you some pretty good stories in the process. I'm mostly just a duffer who gets out fishing a few times a year and on the other side of the continent. The Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife is probably a good place to start if you want to know what fish are commonly fished out there; as I recall from magazines I read long ago, you've got some classic trout rivers out there, but I don't doubt there's also pacific salmon on the coast, bass, and plenty of other species.
Maybe nose around www.airfarewatchdog.com, their blog, or mail these questions to their bloggers - they love stuff like that. I predict they'll answer Dublin or Copenhagen from the briefest of web searches.