The Bugs

  • Meet the Bugs

    Aquatic Food Sources

Meet The Bugs

The aquatic food sources are key to becoming a proficient fly fisherman.


Successful fly fishers are detectives, inquisitive and curious by nature. Seasoned fly anglers observe and interpret the myriad of clues and tips Mother Nature provides in order to be successful.


Part of this intricate puzzle is a sound understanding of the various food sources available within a given body of water or throughout a geographic region. After all, fly fishing is founded upon the principle of using creations of fur, feathers and synthetics to suggest a natural food source. While anglers need not have a degree in entomology (the bugs) in order to be consistently successful they should have a basic understanding of the food groups. Experienced fly fishers know the basic form of the prey item, how it moves and behaves in the water, when it is most likely to be available, emerge cycle (if the food source has one), how it emerges-on water, on land or in the water. Typical color ranges are also important, often critical to success. With these key traits in mind the fly fisher tends to make the correct choice of pattern, fly line and retrieve to bring their imitations to life. This is crucial in stillwaters in particular as there is little or no current to help animate the fly.


Every day on the water should begin by prowling the shallows turning over rocks and logs for signs of the local inhabitants. Make note of the insects or other food sources relative number, size shape and the manner in which they move. Look upon the water’s surface are their pupal and nymph shucks? Check the near shore vegetation. Are their cast husks from a dragonfly or damsel fly emergence? Spider webs are another great source of what’s out and about. Jot these finds down and record them in a diary for future reference, the patterns and knowledge gained is invaluable.


Knowing the basics of entomology goes along way from separating a day of casting and frustration from one of action and excitement. Keep in mind despite the in depth discussion and analysis that went on in during the drive with your fishing partners, nowhere was a fish present! Fly fishers have to figure it out one the water and along the shore making the understanding the various food sources vital to success.

Belonging to the order Hemiptera or water bugs, backswimmer species number just over 30 across North American lakes, ponds and slower stretches of rivers and streams.

Within the 22 caddis families found across the continent lies a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and most importantly behaviours. All seem intended on driving fly fishers nuts.

The Dipteran order have been buzzing around for 200 million years, evolving into one of the largest and most diverse of all insect orders, with over 3500 species in North America alone.

OK, it’s not a bug! But it is a food source. Relatives of the lobster, crayfish are widespread across North America, from fast flowing streams to lakes, ponds and sloughs.

With a lineage tracing backing to the beginning of recorded time damselflies have been a stillwater or slow moving stream staple for thousands of years.

With fossils dating back 200 million years, dragonflies are amongst the oldest insects on our planet. Although still considered large today, prehistoric dragonflies were brutes.

Over 650 species worldwide, with more than 60 in North American marine and freshwater environments including, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, bogs and swamps.

For many fly fishers, particularly on rivers and streams, mayflies are the most important insect, often forming over 50% of the trout’s dietary intake on mayfly rich flowing waters.

Scuds are prevalent in lakes, ponds and running water such as spring creeks and tailwaters. On stillwaters, scuds can be the most important food item year round.

To the river fly fisher stoneflies are what leeches, scuds and dragons are to the stillwater angler, a staple food source.

Water Boatmen are widespread and common inhabitants of lakes, ponds and slow moving stretches of rivers and streams throughout North America.

I know what food sources to look for and when they are most likely to appear. Knowing what and when makes pattern selection easier throughout the season.