For every fly fisherman, there are a few infamous lists. A list of fish we haven’t yet, but really want to catch, a list of places we want to fish, or maybe a list of things we want to buy. But no list is as hard to put together as the list of our favorite flies, especially a list of just ten. The other lists are fairly easy to come up with because we know the species we love most to fish for, and for most of us the list of places we want to go, is usually of well known, or highly spoken of locations, and our lists of products usually just includes gear from all the top brands. But our list of favorite flies, that’s tough. There are always a few flies we know will be on the list, but then again there are a few that some of us have come to love, that don’t make it onto most peoples’ top 20. Then there comes the challenge of ranking them. For me, and I know for many others, the favorite fly may not be the most productive throughout the year, it just happens to be our favorite. Maybe because the take is more exciting, maybe because the fly can only be used in a certain, favorite, place, maybe you can’t explain why. It just is. So, for this list, I sat and thought for a good while, and this is what I came up with.
1- The Bunny Leech- Over the past few years, I’ve come to love rabbit fur as a tying material. I have almost completely stopped fishing buggers due to the fact that rabbit hair just gives you so much more movement in the water. Simply put, rabbit hair looks and fishes way better than the marabou/hackle combo of the woolly bugger. I know this is going against the norm, as the bugger is probably the most famous and most used fly ever, but you can’t deny facts, and the fact of the matter is, I have caught more fish on rabbit than I have on buggers. Even terminal tackle fisherman are switching to rabbit hair when it comes to jigs. Choosing this as my top fly was actually the easiest part of the list. It catches the most fish for me. I can put this fly in any water, anytime of the year, and as long as there is a hungry fish around, I’ll catch fish.
2- The Egg Pattern/Bead- For as long as I’ve been a fly fisherman, I’ve had egg patterns in my fly boxes. But until recently, I hadn’t fished them much. A friend of a friend who had spent time as a guide in Alaska told said friend that the majority of the trout caught up there were on egg patterns trailed behind a main fly. So one day we decided to give it a shot. Guess what. We caught the majority of our fish on the trailing egg pattern. Eggs patterns just flat work. That’s all there is to it. Now the reason I included the bead is because the bead works great as an egg pattern, and is a lot cheaper. Plus with a bead, you use a stinger hook, which for me has proven to be very effective on a number of flies. Now I know there are a lot of fly fisherman out there who look down on guys who fish beads and egg patterns, saying that it’s cheating, and that we might as well be using bait. But there’s no scent involved, just a hard plastic bead, soft plastic, ball of chenille or some synthetic hair. It looks like an egg, which is a favorite food of many fish, but the caddis is also a favorite food of many fish, namely the trout, and those guys don’t seem to have a problem with fishing that pattern. I think those guys are just mad that we catch more fish than they do. The old purists don’t like it when some young kid with new school attitude comes out and out-fishes them. Aside from it being very effective, that’s one of the main reasons I love egg patterns and beads.
3- The Elk Hair Caddis- This pattern has become the most used of all dry flies. You can walk into most fly shops and find that this is what they have the most of. The reasons for this being such a popular pattern are that trout LOVE them, and you can fish caddis patterns for most of the year, if not all year. Even if there aren’t caddis’ hatching, you can usually entice a trout into rising to one. If I can’t figure out what to use, or there aren’t fish actively feeding, this is my go-to dry fly.
4- The Parachute Adams- Like the caddis, there’s not much that needs to be said as to why this is one of my favorites, and also one of the favorites of probably all fly fisherman. This pattern can be used for most of the year to get trout to rise, and nothing beats catching fish on the surface.
5- The Stone/Salmon fly (Dry) – This is one of those flies that is among my favorites for reasons other than being really effective for most of the year. In fact, there are only a few months of the year when these flies are super effective (the time of year varies from place to place). This is actually my all time favorite fly to fish, and the only reason it’s #5 is because of the fact that I’m very limited on when I can use it. These flies are usually big, they only hatch when the weather warms up, they need clean water, and fish know when it’s time to start targeting these bugs. So when I’m fishing these flies, it means I’m watching fish take big dries off the surface, the weather is probably really nice, I’m on a beautiful stream, and the fish are hungry for them. Need I say more?
6- The Stimulator- Just like the caddis and parachute Adams, the stimulator is a near year-round dry fly that can get trout to rise. But, unlike the caddis and the parachute, this fly can be used as an attractor pattern, and also to imitate multiple species of aquatic adult insects. The stimulator, in the proper color, can be used to imitate the different stonefly species, the various caddis patterns (usually the October caddis), and even the famed Hexagenia Limbata.
7- The Beaded Stonefly Nymph- The stonefly is the only pattern that made my list both as a dry and as a nymph. The reason for this is fish love big protein packed food, and on rivers where stones hatch, their nymphs are in the water all year long because these bugs stay in nymph form for anywhere from one to four years, depending on species. I prefer beaded patterns because it is known that 90% of a fish’s food is taken under water, and beaded patterns just work better for getting down in the water column.
8- The Scud- I like the scud because they can be fished in a wide variety of places and with a number of different presentations. For me, they have worked best in clear streams under an indicator, but they also work well in still waters. Trout like scuds because they are an easy food source. They don’t move much, but rather just float along, and are available most of the year. Fish typically don’t have to work much to eat scuds, open their mouths and move a little up or down.
9- The Crayfish (aka Crawfish, Crawdad) – This pattern made my list because these crustaceans can be found just about everywhere you find trout. Like I said before, fish like big protein packed meals, and these clawed critters definitely offer that. Another reason I like fishing crayfish patterns is that the strikes are usually a bit more intense. Crayfish are usually fished by stripping, to make it look like it’s in a hurry to get away from something or to get somewhere else. When fish see this and decide it would make a good meal, they turn and chase it down, making for a more violent strike, more predatory. To me the predatory aspect makes fishing these more fun.
10- The San Juan Worm- We all know fish love worms. And we all love to catch fish. Pretty simple. The San Juan Worm was created to mimic the worms of the San Juan River below Navajo Dam in New Mexico, but the pattern works anywhere aquatic worms are found. Some people say that guys who fish the San Juan Worm are just “glorified bait fisherman”. To me this doesn’t make any sense. Like the bead and egg patterns, yeah it looks like a natural food source, but so does a size 4 Rogue Stone. Guys who only fish dry flies fish hopper patterns during summer, they fish caddis patterns all year, midges, BWO’s, and don’t all of those imitate a natural food source? Yes. So what’s the difference? If it catches fish, I’ll fish it. And the San Juan Worm catches fish, lots of them.
I know there are guys who may read this that aren’t going to like me, but I don’t care. Using these flies will catch you fish. And isn’t that one of the main points of fishing? Someone once said that a fisherman is someone who goes fishing no matter what. To expand on that, to me, a fisherman is someone who goes fishing no matter what, and does his best to succeed at the game. The purist guys out there say that fishing beads, egg patterns and San Juan’s is like fishing bait, but those guys fish dries that look just like the bugs that inhabit the rivers and their banks. Before I wrote this I did some research, and looked at peoples lists of favorite flies, and not one out of the hundred or so I saw, included the egg pattern or bead. And only one included the San Juan Worm. So hopefully by reading what’s on my list, you’ll try some of the flies that are different from other lists. If you do, you may get some dirty looks from the purists, but you’ll also out fish most of them. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make it a competition by catching more fish; I’m just out there trying to succeed at the game. And to succeed is to enjoy one’s self. Doesn’t catching fish add to the enjoyment?
Good luck and good fishing,
FANW Fly Fishing Editor, Cody Lindberg aka Troutbum89