Visit most any stream or lake in the Pacific Northwest and few anglers will be found casting an artificial fly lure. Exception will be those bodies of waters set aside by law for fly fishing only. It's not an easy method to lure a fish into grabbing your offering. The cast may be a long one and factors such as wind, brush behind the caster and type of water in front can be a problem. The lure has to be presented in a way that looks natural. A sloppy slam of the artificial bug on the surface won't entice even the hungriest of fish. But, the fish that does succumb to the lure provides a great thrill, no matter how large or small the fish is.
When I was 12 years old my father paid the astronomical sum of $100 for a series of lessons from a supposed fly casting champion. That was in 1936 and the lessons were taught at a pond in Portland's Laurelhust park. After each lesson he would rush home, mom and I would get out our new fly rods and he would pass on his new knowledge to us. That part was good.
From there on it was a matter of trial and error on which artificial flies to use and how to use them. There were some tried-and-true favorites that worked on many bodies of water for us. There were the Coachman bucktails, Caddis bucktails, mosquito, Blue Upright and one very favorite, Queen O' The Water.
Dad and mom had a business where they could leave work any afternoon or weekend to go fishing and we did that a lot during the summer months. Not far away was the Clackamas river above the town of Estacada which, back then, was crystal clear and only lightly fished. We gained most of our knowledge through experience on that stream. I can still remember vividly the day I stood on a small rock above the pool, laid a dry fly out perfectly on the water and watched a trout rise up like a bubble from the depths to swallow that fly.
Then there was the time on one of the small lakes in the 8-lake Basin where I kept casting to a trout alongside a partially sunken log who would flash up at it each cast but then spook. Finally, one cast was slightly misplaced with the fly landing on top of the log. It laid there for a moment then rolled off. That little guy gobbled it immediately. I gently released him to do some more growing.
Although it takes very little finesse and even can be done with a spinning rod is wind drifting a fly on Diamond lake in Central Oregon. Fred Camp, who had a fly tying business in Salem many years ago, tied a fly called a Freshwater Shrimp, was a killer for that method on that lake. With a breeze to move us along we got in line between Mount Thebeau (?) and the south lodge and dragged the fly just under the surface. That method would catch fish when nothing else was working. I'm sure it will still do the trick today with the right flies.
I have hooked salmon and steelhead on some of Oregon's coastal streams as well as on the Deschutes river in Central Oregon using artificial flies. On the coast a couple of favorites were the Skykomish Sunrise or Alsea Special. A Black Maribou works well on the Deschutes fish.
Species I have not tried with artificial flies are the spinyrays but I'm positive it will work.
For anyone interested in learning the sport of fly fishing I would recommend any one of many such clubs around the country who promote that art of angling.