Fly fishing is one of my favorite sports because there are so many opportunities to grow and expand. The deeper you dive into the sport, the more comprehensive it gets. That starter 9-foot 5 weight upgrades to a new rod with faster action, then comes new fly line tapers and materials, fishing opportunities to target different species, adding rods of different lengths and different materials, purchasing new gear and new fly boxes, the list goes on and on. Sometimes it helps to just get back to the basics: casting a fly and catching a fish.
In an effort to simplify, I have provided a list of my “Top 10 Flies.” If I had to limit myself to just one fly box, these flies would be the ones I would use to fill that box. I could use these flies to fish for species in freshwater and saltwater. I may have different colors or different sizes, but that’s because we fly fishermen just love options.
1. Clouser Minnow
The Clouser Minnow is the simplest baitfish fly pattern, but is as useful in freshwater as it is in salt. A small Clouser can be used to catch trout and panfish, or it can be scaled up large enough for striped bass and bull reds. The platform of this fly is an upright hook, with two different color strands of bucktail, and a set of lead eyes. This fly can be used to imitate shrimp, baitfish, fry and leeches. A bead chain can be used to make it sink slow, or large dumbbell eyes to sink fast.
2. Deer Hair or Foam Popper
Fishing topwater is the most addicting form of fishing, and a popper can be the best fly for that situation. Redfish, spotted trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass all readily eat a popper fly. Deer Hair poppers are more traditional and give a very unique “plop” as they are retrieved, but they can get waterlogged. Foam poppers are great for small flies, or large flies that need to be lighter weight. Foam flies are usually more cost-friendly. As a fly tyer, a deer hair fly takes a lot of work, and can be a real heart breaker if it breaks off.
3. EP Baitfish
This simple baitfish pattern can be tied in a variety of colors and sizes. These are most effective in saltwater, but can be used for bass species in lakes and large rivers. I keep several shad color patterns in different sizes for striped bass, and for redfish and trout I use tans, olives, and the staple black and purple. These flies are usually unweighted and can be fished with a floating line or sinking line. EP Baitfish flies with a lot of flash are great for surf fishing and fishing dock lights where baitfish congregate.
4. Deer/Elk Hair Caddis
This dry fly is very basic, but works great for trout, panfish, and bass. Tied with either deer or elk hair at the wing, the hair makes the fly float, and has a large profile from the side and underneath. This fly is buoyant enough to be used with a dropper fly off the hook bend beneath it. Foam can be added to make it more buoyant, but the deer or elk hair keeps the fly on the surface, with a small amount of liquid floatant. Body colors can be changed to make this fly mimic a variety of hatches that could be present on rivers. Most of all, this fly is easy to keep track of because of the hair wing. This is the perfect dry fly for a beginner trying to fish hatches.
5. Pat’s Rubber Leg/Girdle Bug
These flies aren’t winning any competitions for looks, but man are they effective. Mostly used for trout, this is a simple fly made with chenille and rubber legs. The Rubber Leg or Girdle Bug is an excellent dropper for a nymph rig, and can be used to mimic stoneflies and other large aquatic insects. A single bead can be added to the fly to help it sink deeper. I have coined this fly “the dredge,” because it gets down deep in the water column and can fetch missed fish from the deep sections of runs. This fly can also be larger in size and used for river bass and panfish.
6. Pheasant Tail Nymph
This is my favorite year-round trout fly. Pheasant Tails can be fished as a swung wet fly, below an airlock, tailing off a hopper dropper, or tied on a leader with another nymph. This fly mimics a wide range of aquatic insects found in rivers and creeks. The color patterns can range from natural tan, black and olive, to “hot spot” flies with pinks and oranges. The barring of the pheasant tail, and the flashes of copper wire make this fly very bug-like. To add some variety, I like to tie these with the tail feathers of a Turkey fan. Pick out a few color combinations you like, and make sure you get extra because these do have a tendency to get hung up along the bottom.
7. Gamechanger Fly
This is probably one of the most revolutionary flies of the last 20 years. Created to mimic artificial lures like a Rapala or paddle tail swim bait, the Gamechanger is a multi-articulated fly that wiggles, swims, dives and pulses like a real baitfish. Size and color options are endless, and same goes for the applications. This fly is effective offshore, inshore, in rivers, in ponds, in lakes, and in little creeks. These can be made to mimic bugs, crawfish, and even snakes! They aren’t cheap, and much like a deer hair popper, if one gets snagged on the bottom or caught in a tree limb make sure your phone is out of your pocket before you dive in after it.
The Seaducer is a very classic and simple saltwater fly that is effective in a wide variety of applications. The fly is typically tied with a few saddle hackle feathers that are palmered around the hook shank to make the body of the fly. Sometimes referred to as a “Guide Fly” because it is simple to tie, and not expensive, this is a great fly for beginner fly tyers to create. These can be fished with floating or sinking lines and should be fished when targeting predator fish in salt and freshwater.
9. Foam Hopper/Terrestrial
These flies are great for spring and summer topwater fishing, and can be used for trout, panfish and bass. These flies work well in ponds, but are most ideal in rivers and streams. Sizes and imitations can vary from small beetles and ants, to large stoneflies and grasshoppers. The dancing of the rubber legs on the water’s surface, in addition to the subtle glide of the foam body, make these very lively on the water.
10. Crayfish / Shrimp Fly
These are a must for smallmouth bass and saltwater species. Colors range from natural like tan and brown, olive and green, and darks like black and purple. These patterns are similar to Clouser minnows in that they range from unweighted, to fast sinking with large dumbbell eyes. I like to use patterns like this with small dumbbell eyes or bead chain eyes. From smallmouth in rocky rivers, to redfish on oyster beds and spartina grass, these patterns offer an appetizing snack to fish when other baitfish patterns are unsuccessful.
These are my top 10 all around flies, and it was hard to whittle a list down to just ten flies. Let me know below what flies you think I missed!