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Best Flies to Use When Fly Fishing for Trout

Having the best trout flies available is critical to ensuring fishing success. What constitutes the best flies for trout?

a person fly fishing for trout

Beyond affordability (some flies are outrageously expensive,) a successful fly has three characteristics.

First, they are well constructed. In most cases, a trout fly you buy from a fishing section in a department store will not perform as well or last as long as a specially made trout fly. 

Second is their appearance. A trout fly must look like what it represents. A trout will not go after an imitation damselfly if it looks like a tangled ball of thread and feathers.

person netting a trout caught while fly fishing

Finally, the action of a fly is critical. A fly that looks alive will always attract more attention than one that looks waterlogged and dead.

To land the best trout, you need the best flies you can afford. Here are 13 candidates to get you started.

Best Trout Flies

  1. Parachute Adams
  2. Elk Hair Caddis
  3. Muddler Minnow
  4. Bunny Leech
  5. Woolly Bugger
  6. Bead Head Pheasant Tail
  7. Beadhead Prince Nymph
  8. Copper John
  9. Hare’s Ear
  10. San Juan Worm
  11. Gold Ribbed Hares Ear
  12. Crayfish
  13. Caddis Pupa

Parachute Adams

A Parachute Adams is a popular dry fly that works in about every type of trout water. It is designed to imitate a range of adult, aquatic born insects, including mayflies, damselflies, midges, caddisflies.

The Parachute Adams is made to be highly visible, particularly in swift water, which is why it has the flair at the end of the hook.

When you drop it into your target area, it hovers before landing, presenting an easy target for trout. Hook sizes vary by targeted species with this fly.


Elk Hair Caddis

The Elk Hair Caddis is another popular dry fly. It is designed to imitate a caddis fly and if done properly, the Elk Hair Caddis is almost a “spitting image.” 

Elk Hair Caddis tend to sit higher on the water because of its hackles, which provide a higher profile target for trout.

The high resting position of the fly also produces a “gurgle” and pop, much like a cork popper, which attracts even more attention. 

Color-wise, you want a more bleached look at the top and can go multi-colored on the bottom. Hook sizes vary by targeted species with this fly.


Muddler Minnow

Because of its versatility, the Muddler Minnow is used for multiple fish species. It is so popular that it is considered a staple fly, present in some form in almost every tackle box

Originally, the Muddler Minnow was designed to imitate a Slimy Sculpin fish. It was invented in the 1930s and has since been adapted to mimic:

  • Crickets
  • Mayflies
  • Tadpoles
  • Mice
  • Shiners
  • Chubs

Traditionally, the Muddler Minnow uses tinsel or foil on the hook shaft. It is usually tied on a size ten hook when fishing for trout.


Bunny Leech

Bunny leeches are another staple fly that comes in all shapes, colors, and patterns. The fly is heavy enough that once it gets wet, it easily sinks. Another feature is that the Bunny Leach looks like it is undulating with little manipulation. 

As with many flies, this one can be tied and be effective in any color. Matching the local environment is recommended when tying or purchasing a Bunny Leech.

Another advantage to the Bunny Leech is that it attracts multiple fish species, including salmon, trout, bass, perch, etc. Hook sizes vary by targeted species with this fly.


Woolly Bugger

A Wooly Bugger fly is arguably the most popular fly in fly fishing. Every angler with more than one fly probably has some iteration of the Wooly Bugger.

The fly is ubiquitous because it can be just about anything the angler wants. 

One search online, and it becomes obvious why the Wooly Bugger fly is so popular. Those search results will yield flies for bass, salmon, tarpon, trout, sunfish, perch, striped bass, you name it.

You can fish it in the ocean, bays, rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. Hook sizes vary by targeted species with this fly. 


Bead Head Pheasant Tail

A Bead Head Pheasant Tail resembles the classic nymph look with the added advantage of a pheasant tail streamer, multi-colored thorax, and colorful bead at the top.

It resembles mayfly nymphs as well as stoneflies. Almost every fish will try and eat a Bead Head Pheasant Tail. 

One advantage is that the Bead Head Pheasant Tail can be fished all year. It can even work in the dead of winter in a river or stream if it is fished slowly enough or suspended if used in ice fishing.

It is most effective when mayflies are getting ready to hatch in the spring. The most common hook sizes are 10.


Beadhead Prince Nymph

The Beadhead Prince Nymph is the Prince Nymph fly with a beaded head. The Prince Nymph is a versatile fly that closely resembles most aquatic fly nymphs. The beaded head provides an additional flash to the already colorful presentation.

One nice thing about this fly is that you do not have to have a specific insect to mimic in mind. It is distinctive but also nondescript.

The Beadhead Prince Nymph excels in just about every type of water, including swift current. It is most effective when stripped sporadically across a fishing zone. The most common hook sizes are 10 through 16.


Copper John

Copper John nymphs are extremely popular because they are extremely “buggy” from the perspective of a hungry fish.

Anglers frequently use it as a nondescript nymph or fish it like they would a stonefly or damselfly. Coloration can vary, and the fly is usually tied to a number 10 hook.

One distinctive feature of the Copper John is that it comes in just about every conceivable color.

This is because it can be used for just about every type of fish and in any water, all year long. Smallmouth bass anglers, for example, have been known to drag a Copper John behind a drift bait.


Hare’s Ear

Another nymph, look-alike, the Hare’s Ear, is a traditional favorite used worldwide by fly fishers. Its fuzziness imitates many insects, including may, stone, and damselflies.

It works year-round in just about every type of water. Traditionally, Hare’s Ear-hook sizes range from 12 to 16, making it ideal for trout, smaller salmon, and panfish.

Another attribute to the Hare’s Ear is that it can be fished in just about any form possible. Hare’s ears can be wet or dry, drifters or sinkers.

Unweighted, it tends to sink very slowly and almost hover as it works its way down the water column.


San Juan Worm

Aquatic worms look just like a smaller version of an earthworm. The San Juan Worm mimics an aquatic worm.

It is made of just three materials: Hook, threat, and streamer. The streamer is usually red but can also be brownish or tan. Hook sizes range from 10 through 17. 

A San Juan Worm works in just about any type of water because aquatic worms are present in just about every type of water.

The Worm is a fly that can be fished year-round, even in an ice fishing scenario. Drift, strip, or suspend the fly. Fish of all types love it.


Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

The Gold Ribbed Hares Ear is a Hares Ear with a twist: A string of gold tinsel or foil is added along the hook’s shaft.

The hook sizes and ranges are the same as a regular Hares Ear. The Gold Ribbed variety is a testimony to the versatility of the original Hares Ear. 

A Hares Ear fly is another staple that you will find in just about every fly angler’s arsenal.

It is so common because it can be fished in just about every environment and resembles any one of a dozen (at least) types of insects. 


Crayfish

Crayfish are food for almost all fish. The crayfish fly closely resembles a small crayfish. It has two backend “legs,” a striped, multi-colored body, and a forward tassel that resembles a crayfish’s head.

Hooks for these flies tend to be larger, although usually not more than a number 8 hook. 

The important thing about the Crayfish fly is that you match it to the crayfish you have in your area. Crayfish can vary in type, size, and color.

A mismatch can ensure no trout comes near it. The crayfish fly is fished on the bottom and slowly drug back to the casting point.


Caddis Pupa

Caddisflies are one of the most common insects fly fishers imitate. Caddis pupa flies drift just under the water, slowly rising until they emerge and begin trying to fly.

That means that the Caddis Pupa fly is best fished when drifted. Trout are used to seeing them floating underwater, making them more likely to strike.

Hook sizes for the Caddis pupa fly tend to be a higher number than 10. Presentation is the most important thing with this brown, black, tan, or brown offering. If you think you are fishing it slowly, slow down by half.


Final Thoughts

Choosing the best trout flies is a challenge. This is because every trout angler will have their own opinion of the best flies for trout.

Regardless, these are a great starting point that you can modify as you grow your collection.

Maricel Indong

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