Similar to the way some investments have a proven track record of performance year in, year out, there are flies that produce fish time and time again. The financial world is full of variables, and so are the rivers and lakes in which we fish. In looking to invest in flies or mutual funds, it’s best to pick the ones that work well through thick and thin. Whether you are fishing large rivers, small creeks, backcountry lakes, or lower elevation reservoirs these flies have proven to consistently put fish in the net.
Deciding what flies to include in our fly boxes can feel overwhelming. There are a dizzying array of fly patterns and variations, some with names that feel helpful, others with names that only add to the confusion. Since we can’t bring them all to the river with us, I have built a simple base selection of flies that will work for you, most of the time. Below are patterns with suggested sizes and what they imitate. Some subsurface patterns have beadhead or flashback options.
Parachute Adams (sizes 12-24): Imitate most mayflies, and smaller sizes for midges.
Comparadun /Sparkle Dun (12-22): Different profile for mayflies of all sizes, midges in small sizes.
Elk Hair Caddis (14-18): Dead drifted or skated. Big ones also imitate stoneflies & moths.
Stimulator (10-16): Hoppers, stoneflies, caddis, crane flies, miller moths, dragon flies. Good for dry/dropper rigs.
Ants (14-20): Underused and fish love them! Small versions also look like midge or mayfly emergers. Natural ants eventually sink so it’s good to drown the imitations too.
Parachute Hopper (12/14): These also look like caddis, stoneflies. Good for dry/dropper or double dry rigs.
Pheasant Tail (sizes 12-22): Larger sizes imitate stoneflies and larger mayflies in rivers. In lakes, they imitate dragon flies and callibaetis. Medium and maller sizes imitate most other mayflies.
Prince (12-18): Stonefly imitation in large sizes, mid-size for diving or dead caddis, small for mayflies.
Rainbow Warrior (16-22): Midge and mayfly emerger for both lakes and rivers.
Rs2 (18-22): Midge and mayfly emerger (bwo’s, beatis, tricos).
Zebra Midge (14-22): Tungsten bead gets these midge larva/emerger imitations quickly into the ‘feeding zone.’ Suspend in lakes for hatches of large or small
midges. Smaller versions are best for rivers.
Jujus – bee /beatis (18-22): For small midges or mayflies, these are effective in
heavily fished water.
Hares Ear (12-18): Dragon flies, damsels, ‘fatter’ mayflies (drakes/pmd’s) and caddis larva can all be imitated by these ‘buggy’ flies.
Barrs Emerger (16-20): This is an excellent choice for a variety of small to mid-sized mayfly emergers.
Lafontane Caddis Emerger (16/18): Dead drift or ‘swing’ them during caddis hatches. Strip them on lakes
Copper John (12-18): Stonefly and lake mayfly in big sizes. Other sizes for most other mayflies. Caddis larva in 16/18 (chartreuse).
Pat’s Rubber Leg (10/12): Stonefly (for rivers with salmonflies use as large as size 4), crayfish, dragon flies and crane fly (cut off the legs).
San Juan Worm: Variety of colors imitate aquatic and earth worms, and skinny leeches. These are year-round attractors.
Eggs: 3 season attractors (spring/fall/winter). Trout, suckers, whitefish, and salmon eggs are all on the menu during their spawning times. Various colors work.
Wooly Bugger (Sizes 8-14): Universal streamer imitating a variety of baitfish, leeches, crayfish, dragonflies, damsels, etc.
While some fisheries have specific patterns that may work better depending upon temperatures, flows, and other variables, if you have good fly selection (matching shape/size/color) and consistent quality presentations, these 20 will be successful in most situations. Quality presentations include the right speed (or lack of), action (or lack of), and depth of the natural food source (insect, baitfish, or whatever). Fly fishing is a game of imitation and presentation. These 20 flies will get the job done in terms of imitation. The presentation is up to you!
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