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Blue Wing Olive Dry Fly: A Comprehensive Guide

28 May 2024

The world of fly fishing is vast and intricate, with countless flies designed to mimic the various stages of aquatic insects. Among these, the Blue Wing Olive (BWO) dry fly stands out as a perennial favorite among anglers. This blog post explores the rich history of the Blue Wing Olive, the fish species that are enticed by this fly, effective fishing techniques, and the essential equipment needed for a successful outing. Whether you're an experienced angler or a newcomer, understanding the Blue Wing Olive dry fly can significantly enhance your fly fishing experience.

The History of the Blue Wing Olive Dry Fly

The Blue Wing Olive dry fly has a storied history rooted in the traditions of fly fishing. The term "Blue Wing Olive" refers not to a specific species of insect but to a group of mayflies within the Baetidae family, known for their small size and distinctive coloration. These mayflies are prevalent in streams and rivers across the world, making them a crucial component of many trout diets.

The Blue Wing Olive fly pattern was developed to imitate the adult stage of these mayflies, which is when they are most vulnerable to predation by fish. The design of the Blue Wing Olive dry fly has evolved over the years, with early patterns featuring natural materials like feathers and fur. Modern versions often incorporate synthetic materials to improve buoyancy and durability.

The popularity of the Blue Wing Olive dry fly can be attributed to its effectiveness in a wide range of fishing conditions. Its ability to imitate a common and widespread food source makes it a reliable choice for anglers looking to match the hatch and entice fish to the surface.

What Fish Will Bite the Blue Wing Olive Dry Fly?

The Blue Wing Olive dry fly is known for its versatility and effectiveness in attracting various fish species. Here are some of the primary targets:

  1. Trout: The primary target for the Blue Wing Olive dry fly is trout, including rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout. These fish are highly responsive to mayfly hatches, making the BWO an essential pattern in any trout angler's fly box.

  2. Grayling: In regions where grayling are present, the Blue Wing Olive can be particularly effective. Grayling are known for their selective feeding habits, and the BWO's realistic appearance can entice these fish to strike.

  3. Panfish: While not a primary target, species like bluegill and crappie can also be caught using the Blue Wing Olive dry fly, especially when they are feeding on small insects near the surface.

  4. Bass: Smallmouth bass, in particular, can be tempted by a well-presented Blue Wing Olive dry fly in streams and rivers where they coexist with trout.

How to Fish the Blue Wing Olive Dry Fly

Fishing the Blue Wing Olive dry fly requires an understanding of the behavior of mayflies and the techniques used to present dry flies effectively. Here are some methods to consider:

  1. Matching the Hatch: The key to fishing the Blue Wing Olive dry fly is to match the hatch. Pay attention to the size, color, and behavior of the mayflies on the water. Select a fly that closely resembles the natural insects and present it in a manner that mimics their behavior.

  2. Dead Drift: One of the most effective techniques for fishing dry flies, including the Blue Wing Olive, is the dead drift. Cast the fly upstream and allow it to drift naturally with the current, ensuring there is no drag on the line. This presentation closely mimics the way real mayflies drift on the water's surface.

  3. Upstream Cast: When fishing for trout, an upstream cast can be very effective. Position yourself downstream of the target area and cast the fly upstream, allowing it to float naturally back towards you. This technique helps keep the fly line and leader out of the fish's line of sight.

  4. Mend Your Line: To achieve a drag-free drift, it's often necessary to mend your line. After the cast, use a quick flick of the rod tip to reposition the line upstream. This helps prevent the current from pulling the fly unnaturally and can make a significant difference in fooling wary fish.

  5. Sight Fishing: When conditions allow, sight fishing can be an exciting and rewarding way to use the Blue Wing Olive dry fly. Look for rising fish or those holding in shallow water. Present the fly delicately to avoid spooking the fish and watch for any subtle takes.

  6. Emerging Flies: During a hatch, mayflies often struggle to break through the surface film, making them easy targets for fish. Consider using an emerger pattern or adding a drop of floatant to the body of your Blue Wing Olive dry fly to mimic this behavior.

Equipment for Fishing the Blue Wing Olive Dry Fly

To fish the Blue Wing Olive dry fly effectively, you'll need the right equipment. Here’s a detailed guide on what you should have:

  1. Fly Rod: A 9-foot, 4- to 6-weight fly rod is ideal for most situations involving the Blue Wing Olive dry fly. For smaller streams and more delicate presentations, a 3-weight rod can be a good choice.

  2. Fly Reel: Choose a reel with a smooth drag system that balances well with your rod. The reel's primary role in dry fly fishing is to hold the line and provide a smooth, controlled release when casting.

  3. Fly Line: A weight-forward floating line is suitable for most dry fly fishing situations. Look for a line with a long, fine front taper to help achieve delicate presentations.

  4. Leader and Tippet: Use a tapered leader that transitions smoothly from thick to thin. A 9- to 12-foot leader is ideal for most situations. Attach a 4X to 6X tippet, depending on the size of the fly and the water clarity.

  5. Floatant: To keep your Blue Wing Olive dry fly floating high on the water, use a quality floatant. Apply it sparingly to the fly before casting and reapply as needed.

  6. Fly Box: Include a variety of Blue Wing Olive dry flies in different sizes (16 to 24) in your fly box. Having multiple sizes allows you to match the hatch more accurately.

  7. Waders and Boots: Quality waders and boots are essential for accessing prime fishing spots. Look for breathable waders and sturdy, well-fitting boots with good traction.

  8. Accessories: Include hemostats, nippers, a landing net, and polarized sunglasses to reduce glare and spot fish more easily.

Tying the Blue Wing Olive Dry Fly

For those interested in fly tying, creating your own Blue Wing Olive dry flies can be a rewarding experience. Here’s a basic recipe:


  • Hook: Dry fly hook, sizes 16-24
  • Thread: Olive or dark olive, 8/0 or 12/0
  • Tail: Blue dun hackle fibers
  • Body: Olive dubbing or synthetic material
  • Wings: Blue dun hackle tips or synthetic wing material
  • Hackle: Blue dun dry fly hackle


  1. Start the thread at the hook eye and wrap a smooth base back to the bend.
  2. Tie in a small bunch of blue dun hackle fibers for the tail, about the length of the hook shank.
  3. Dub a slender, tapered body with olive dubbing, wrapping forward to about two-thirds of the way to the hook eye.
  4. Tie in the blue dun hackle tips for the wings, ensuring they are upright and divided.
  5. Tie in a blue dun dry fly hackle and wrap it forward in even turns to create a collar. Secure and trim the excess.
  6. Whip finish behind the hook eye and apply a drop of head cement for durability.

The Blue Wing Olive dry fly is a staple in the fly fishing world, revered for its effectiveness and versatility. Its rich history, coupled with its ability to attract various fish species, makes it an essential pattern for any angler's fly box. By understanding the history, target species, fishing techniques, and necessary equipment, you can maximize your success with the Blue Wing Olive dry fly.

Tying your own Blue Wing Olives can add a personal touch to your fly fishing experience, allowing you to tailor the fly to specific conditions and preferences. So, next time you head out to the water, make sure you have a selection of Blue Wing Olive dry flies in your arsenal. This classic and effective fly has the potential to turn an ordinary day of fishing into an extraordinary adventure. Happy fishing!

By diving deep into the Blue Wing Olive dry fly's history, effectiveness, and practical application, this blog post aims to equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to make the most of this exceptional fly. Whether you're a fly fishing veteran or just starting out, the Blue Wing Olive offers opportunities for learning, experimentation, and, most importantly, successful fishing trips.

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