October 26, 2022
The first two questions a new fly fisher might ask are “What flies do I need?” and “Why are there so many different flies?” The latter question has a simple answer: Trout eat an enormous variety of aquatic and terrestrial insects, crustaceans, fish, fish eggs, and other food items. The first question is tricky—every waterway has its own unique food chain.
Staple patterns such as Pheasant-tail Nymphs, Hare’s-ear Nymphs, Copper Johns, Elk-hair Caddis, Compara-duns, Catskill Adams, and Woolly Buggers should always be in your box and will consistently catch trout. They’re generic patterns designed to imitate multiple insect species including mayflies and caddis, and other food sources such as baitfish. Woolly Buggers can be fished using different methods: dead-drifted under an indicator, retrieved as a streamer, or jigged to imitate a dying baitfish, a swimming leech, or a scuttling crayfish. They also imitate hellgrammites in brawling rivers, or damselfly nymphs in stillwaters.
Modern flies have evolved from these time-honored patterns, and open a world of endless innovation and possibilities in fly design. The following 24 fly patterns are intended to highlight today’s cutting-edge trout flies, sourced from the best guides and fly tiers in the world. Sifting through the thousands of available patterns is a daunting task, and there are many great patterns that aren’t included here. They may be in your fly box in the future.
The best advice I can offer to build a proper fly box for your waters is to gain a fundamental knowledge of the waterways you’re fishing. Reach out to local guides and fly shops to hone in your fly selections. Hire a guide—you’ll be amazed at what you learn. Spend time on the water observing, and learn to tie flies. Become a student of the water and the natural surroundings. You will reevaluate your box endlessly, adding and removing patterns as time progresses—it’s only natural for a fly angler. Remember to enjoy your fly-fishing journey. It’s a long one, but so much fun.
Dennis Pastucha is the art director for Fly Fisherman. He holds a bachelor of fine arts with a minor in art history from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He is an avid fly fisher and fly tier.