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Top 10 Flies for Fly Fishing

Best Dry Flies and Nymphs as Voted on by About Fly Fishing Readers


Top 10 Flies for Fly Fishing
freyfisher/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Earlier in the year, we held a 64-fly tournament where About readers selected their favorite flies for fly fishing.

Here’s a list of your top 10 flies (dry and wet) for fly fishing, as voted on by About fly fishing readers, with a quick blurb on what makes each fly special:

1. Elk Hair Caddis

Hands down my personal favorite in terms of a flexible dry fly that can be used just about anywhere, the elk hair is a simple imitation of the adult caddis fly that works perfectly for most types of trout. While elk hock is usually pretty tough, it has a great buoyancy quality in it. Blow off the water every couple casts, and there’s no need for floatant.

2. Hare's Ear

Another go-to fly for most types of trout, the Hare’s Ear (made of mottled brown hues of hare’s fur) is one of my favorite nymphs out there. It’s a classic pattern that mimics small aquatic insect larvae or crustaceans. It can also be tied in a range of sizes, from a size 8 longshank to a 22, so it’s also a very versatile pattern that appeals to everything from trout to grayling, salmon to bass.

3. Pheasant Tail

I’m a big fan of the flashback, a variation of the classic pheasant tail, which has a signature thorax made of peacock herl. The flashback adds Lurex over the herl to give it a little sparkle in the muddy waters I find myself fishing after the runoff. It’s another great fly for just about any type of trout, so if you don’t have this nymph in your box you’re missing an all-around winner.

4. Blue-Winged Olive

A pattern that’s really come on strong in recent years, the blue-winged olive resembles various species of mayfly that have that traditional olive body and smoke-colored wings. I never leave home for a trout fishing trip without this and my trusty Elk Hair dry flies.

5. Woolly Bugger

Another classic, the bugger is the most versatile streamer in my pouch. I’ve caught everything from lunker rainbow trout to crappie, and largemouth and striped bass on the woolly. The wooly bugger is great because it not only looks like a bait fish or leech, but it darts around like one with tons of action on the retrieve as well. It also comes in dozens of colors, so if the black and olive version isn’t working out, try something crazy like a purple one. My biggest brown trout (Montana) and biggest striped bass (California) came on the same purple woolly if you can believe that one. Believe in the bugger, that’s all I’m saying.

6. Clouser Minnow

The clouser, like the woolly bugger, is an effective baitfish imitation, only it’s made of bucktail (called a hairwing) and works best (for me, at least) in saltwater. The turquoise and white is made for the flats, and nearshore fishing, and the bucktail holds up in the salty conditions as well. And with a hook that’s tied upside down, it’s a great option for anglers wanting to avoid the seaweed and snagging rocky bottoms. Just make sure the hook’s big enough of to hold a halibut, or a striped bass, because that’s the kind of fish you’ll be tempting with a clouser.

7. PMD (Pale Morning Dun)

There are a lot of duns out there, but the pale morning dun model takes the cake – particularly out West. The PMD is a staple on summer freestones, but the exact pattern depends on when and where you’re fishing. There’s a PMD for just about every occasion, with a nymph, emerger, spinner, and even a comparadun or sparkle that’ll get the job done throughout the summer season.

8. Adams

I cheated a bit here by just calling No. 8 the Adams, as the parachute Adams was a top 10 selection that I’ve lumped in here as well. The Adams, however, gets most of my recognition because the pattern is nearly a century old. The combination of grizzly and brown hackles makes it a trout magnet just about anywhere, which is why it’s still among the most popular flies on the market. Keep this in your box with an elk hair and a hare’s ear, and you’ll be in good shape pretty much anywhere a dry fly is relevant.

9. Soft Hackle

I have to admit, I was a little surprised the soft hackle cracked the top 10. A cross between a nymph and a simple hackled wet fly, the softy is the darkhorse of the bunch. The good news is it’s pretty easy to tie, and it’s great for rainbow and brown trout. To liven things up a bit, I like to spruce the soft hackle up a bit with orange seal fur on the body, but olive and black are the more traditional approaches.

10. Prince Nymph

Known best as a stonefly nymph, the prince is a pretty solid general nymph pattern. I’ll use it on good-sized rivers and lakes alike, tempting trout, panfish and bass with this versatile nymph. On larger waters, I’ll go with the beadhead to add a little more action and get the fly down on the bottom. Add some gold tinsel to the body (rib), and you’ll have a nice “flasher” to complement your flashback pheasant tail.

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