Which fly catches the most fish or which fly every angler should have in their box is probably the debate that led to Dame Juliana Berners to write her book in 1496. It’s the debate that lead to this article right now.
What I’m trying to say is, people have been arguing about this forever.
What will work and what won’t work is inevitably going to vary based on geography, time of year, time of day, water conditions, and probably a whole lot of other factors.
The idea behind this guide is to lay out a series of flies that have the most success the most often. This isn’t an exhaustive list of every fly you should carry, but I wouldn’t be caught without these, either.
1. Parachute Adam
The Adams is arguably the most essential fly, bar none. For trout, some version of an Adams is indispensable. It does come in a wide variety of sizes and variations and you can’t really go too far wrong with any of them. This pattern will provide an adequate imitation of virtually every flying insect that a trout can eat.
If you only have one dry fly, it has to be an Adams.
If I have to pick one variation of the Adams above all others, I like the Parachute. It has all the great jack-of-all-trades qualities of every other variation, it rides a little better through rough water, and it’s a little easier to see on the surface.
2. Blue Winged Olive
There are a lot of different green and olive mayfly species out there at least one of them will hatch throughout the summer on virtually every trout stream on the planet.
Trout love mayflies and you don’t want to be stuck without a pattern to match during a hatch – they’ll ignore whatever else you’re throwing as they gorge on flies.
3. Pale Morning Dun
Just like the Blue Winged Olive, there are a ton of tan and cream-colored mayflies.
Trout love them just as much as their olive cousins.
4. Chernobyl Ant
You’re going to need a larger, terrestrial pattern.
For me, it was a hard choice between this one and Dave’s Hopper. I’ve caught a lot of fish on the hopper, but I think the Chernobyl Ant (in a reasonable color) is just more versatile.
It’s a passable grasshopper, but it’s also an ant, a beetle, a cricket or, in a pinch, a stonefly. In a brighter color, it’s also a good attractor pattern.
5. Elk Hair Caddis
While the Adams is most people’s go-to fly, the Elk Hair Caddis is a close second. It’s without a doubt the best and most versatile caddis imitation in existence and does a pretty good stonefly imitation as well.
6. Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear
This is the best general-purpose nymph out there. The gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear.
Its shaggy looks can imitate virtually any aquatic insect that trout eat.
If you can only carry one nymph with you, make it this one.
7. Bead-Head Pheasant Tail
If you can carry two nymphs with you, make this the second one. Like the Hare’s Ear, it’s a generalist, and nearly as good as the Hare’s Ear.
I like having the bead head on to help get this nymph down to the bottom of deeper runs.
If you’re running two or three nymphs in tandem, having a Hare’s Ear and Pheasant Tail together is never a bad place to start.
8. Woolly Bugger
If the Adams is the perfect jack-of-all-trades of dry flies, the Woolly Bugger is it’s subsurface equal.
It doesn’t look quite like anything, but it looks enough like a lot of things to entice hungry trout. You can fish it as a leech, a baitfish, a grub, a cricket, a stonefly or dragonfly nymph, and probably other things too.
9. Muddler Minnow
While the aforementioned Woolly Bugger can cover a lot of the streamer situations you’ll find yourself in, I think it’s necessary to have a good imitation of larger prey, especially if you’re chasing predatory species like Bulls.
While there are a few possible candidates – lots of people would choose the Clouser, I’m partial to the Zonker as well as this one – I think the Muddler Minnow is the best candidate for success in the most places.
It’s another fly that can mimic a tremendous number of organisms – in this case baitfish and small terrestrial creatures.
10. San Juan Worm
This is one that gets overlooked by a lot of people – except those friends of mine that fish Alberta’s Bow River regularly.
At first glance, it’s easy to overlook the overly simplistic design and it’s not always to most exciting fly to fish. For the purists, I think there’s something about a worm under an indicator that’s a little too close to baitfishing for comfort.
But remember, it’s imitating a worm so it doesn’t need to be fancy. It needs to work, and it does.