In fly fishing, there are hundreds of fly patterns anglers can use to land trout. It’s often overwhelming knowing what fly to use in a specific situation. Depending on the time of year, time of day, level of water, and temperament of the fish you’ll have to make a specific decision on what fly to use.
The more time you can spend fishing a certain body of water, the more knowledgeable you’ll become about what flies work! Be patient with the learning process and you’ll eventually find flies that work best for you.
Thankfully, there are a few select flies that work almost no matter where you’re targeting trout. Take a look at the list below and make sure you always have a few of these in your box.
In this article, I’ll cover:
What types of flies you should use to target trout
The 9 Best Flies to use for Catching Trout!
Chubby Chernobyl – (Our Best Dry Fly)
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Pat’s Rubber Legs – (Our Best Nymph)
Woolly Bugger – (Our Best Streamer)
Dry flies are flies that imitate adult insects. They sit high on the surface of the water and are a great representation of a fly that’s ready to fly and begin the mating process. They can also imitate other insects or even rodents that happen to fall onto the water.
The Chubby Chernobyl is one of the most fun patterns an angler can possibly use. Come late summer, the terrestrial patterns are active and the trout are in a feeding frenzy. The Chubby Chernobyl is an imitation of a grasshopper. It sits high on the surface of the water and works great as the top of a dry-dropper pattern.
Fish this pattern in late July through to August. Focus along cut banks with heavy vegetation along the sides. Grasshoppers will fall off of plants and into the water into the mouths of waiting trout. If the banks aren’t producing fish, go ahead and cast them through the foam lines towards the middle of the river.
The Chubby is best fished with later in the afternoon when the winds pick up and the water is warm!
Elk Hair Caddis – Size 12
Any sort of caddis pattern is one that every angler needs to carry in their box. Caddis hatches happen all over the United States throughout the majority of spring and summer. The Elk Hair Caddis is easy to tie and highly productive.
If you know that Caddis hatches are occurring, but aren’t quite sure which pattern to throw, tie on the Elk Hair Caddis and see what it produces. It’s one of the most productive searching patterns on the market!
As soon as you start seeing rises, it’s time to throw on the Elk Hair Caddis. Throw this fly near the rise and see what happens! It won’t take long for the fish to strike.
Parachute Adams – Size 16
Parachute Adams flies have a ton of great features. Their light winds and dark body colors work great in a variety of light conditions. It imitates an adult Mayfly so be sure to use this pattern early in the season.
Regardless of whether you’re fishing at a lake or a river, these patterns are going to work. Similar to the Elk Hair Caddis, the Parachute Adams will work great for a searching fly. Throw it towards any rise that you’ll see and you’ll likely land a fish.
Nymph patterns are representatives of insects in the early stages of their life. They often look like small worms swimming on the bottom of a river. If you’re wondering what sort of nymphs are hatching, lift a rock in the water and check out the bottom. You’ll be able to see exactly what the fish are eating!
Pheasant Tail Nymph – Size 14
The Pheasant Tail Nymph is a representative of a Blue Winged Olive. These flies hatch most often in the early spring! If you’re fishing a dry dropper rig, the Pheasant Tail is an ideal pattern to use. It has enough flash that it will work well in cloudy water as well as clear.
If possible, drift it through riffles as well as seams! If you aren’t using a dry dropper, you’ll need to use an indicator of some sort to help you know when you’re getting a bite. Pre-hatch or post-hatch, the Pheasant Tail nymph should be one of your go-to patterns.
Pat’s Rubber Legs – Size 10 (Our Best Nymph)
If you’re fishing any sort of Stonefly hatch, Pat’s Rubber legs should be in your box. Stonefly hatches take place in Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming. These prime waters are a blast to fish with Stoneflies.
The fuzzy body with long rubber legs is hard for fish to resist. You can find these patterns with a bead head or without depending on where the fish are feeding. If you’re fishing faster-moving water, then be sure to use a bead head to ensure that it will get more towards the bottom of the water column. You may even have to tie on a split shot to get it a bit deeper.
If you see the fish feeding in the middle or upper water column, don’t feel the need to use a beaded pattern. The non-weighted version will sit at an ideal level and float through the water unrestricted.
Fish with this fly up along the banks in the slower-moving water. Stoneflies will move up on shore to fully hatch so it’s common for fish to take these right along the deeper banks. Low and slow is often the name of the game with these flies since they don’t often move too fast.
Prince Nymph – Size 12
The Prince Nymph was created to also imitate Stoneflies. However, this pattern is one that should be used in a bit faster moving water. As the years have progressed, anglers have found that the Prince Nymph can imitate a variety of insects. Caddis and BWO hatches are also great times to use the Prince.
If you’re fishing a dry dropper rig, use this fly in a size 16 to 18. Many anglers find that a size 10 or 12 Prince works great in a two-fly rig. Use it as the lead fly and let a bit smaller nymph trail off the back.
If you’re fishing pocket water or riffles, then the Prince will be one of your best friends. High-stick your way through this water and let the fly go to work. It’s best to fish the bead-head patterns so it drops low in the water column and can bounce along the bottom where the fish are feeding. You’ll often receive reaction strikes with these patterns so be ready.
Streamer patterns are often representatives of minnows, crayfish, or any other larger prey that trout eat. These are some of the most fun patterns to throw. A big fly often leads to bigger fish. You can fish these at almost any time of the day. If you aren’t quite sure what’s eating and you know big fish are able to be caught, tie on a streamer and see what happens.
Perhaps the most well-known streamer pattern on the market is the Woolly Bugger. It can work in lakes, rivers, and everything in between! If you know minnows, crayfish or leeches are in the water, then go ahead and tie on the Bugger.
You can find this pattern in olive, dark brown, and black. Fish this pattern through pools and deeper stretches of water. Some anglers choose to dead drift while other anglers choose to swing this fly. That’s the beauty of fishing streamers! You can fish them using a variety of methods until you learn what the fish want.
You can use a bead-head or non-bead head Woolly Bugger. The beaded patterns tend to be far more productive since they can get lower in the water column where many of the larger fish tend to sit.
Clouser Minnow – Size 6
If I’m not sure what the fish are wanting to eat, then I’ll tie on a Clouser Minnow and dead drift it through pools. It’s flashy, big, and entices massive strikes. These patterns are a blast to use and quite easy to fish with. If you’re new to fly fishing, don’t hesitate to tie on a Clouser and see what happens.
These are especially productive in stained water! Stained water is where the clarity of the water is around 2 feet to 4 feet.
Jawbreaker – Size 4
If you know jig patterns are hitting, the Jawbreaker should be one of the first flies you use. If you’re fishing lakes, the Jawbreaker is productive. The angled hook allows for this fly to get deep in the water without getting snagged.
Cast this near structure and slowly jig it back towards yourself. It falls up and down in the water column extremely nicely. The only motion you’ll likely need to change when fishing this pattern is the rate at which you retrieve it.
Fly fishing for trout is one of those experiences in life that anyone passionate about fishing should try. Don’t let all of the options of flies intimidate you.
Go and use any of the above-mentioned flies throughout the year. For more local guidance on what is working well, go and consult with your local fly shop! You’ll have a blast landing some of the most beautiful fish on earth.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It's a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels.