By Norm Albiston, Fly Fishing Instructor
It's easy to tell the experience level of a fly fisherman by looking at his fly box. New fishermen have "rookie boxes," full of all kinds of flies. Just to be on the safe side, they buy one or two of everything. They don't know what the flies match, or when to use them, but they've got one. Most experienced fly fishers carry only a few patterns, in different sizes and shades, with at least a dozen or two of each pattern. This confidence is based on knowing these flies work, so why fill up the box with unnecessary ones.
I teach over three hundred fly fishermen every year, and most are beginners. They have questions about equipment, casting, insects, etc. But after they gear up and choose a place to go fishing, the most important question is: "What flies should I take?" There are literally thousands of patterns to choose from. Shops are stocked with bewildering displays of "must have" flies, some of which I've found to be truly essential, and some which are only useful in catching fishermen's dollars. The shop carries these flies because someone buys them, but that fact alone does not make them valuable, especially for beginners.
So, what flies should everyone carry? What should someone building a fly box buy first? It depends on where you fish, the season you fish, the flies your mentors believe in, and your budget. Flies are expensive. Ok, incredibly expensive. But we are willing to spend a lot of money so we can avoid the greatest of fly fishing nightmares - being in the right place at the right time, with the wrong flies. But all of this does not mean we need to take out a second mortgage to buy flies.
For years I have collected articles from magazines, books and catalogs on the best flies. Looking through them recently, I found the same flies on everyone's list. They were also in my boxes. Each tucked away in a familiar place, where most have been for many years. That led me to develop a list of the best flies for Utah waters that would help my students.
The list below is based on my own preferences, as well as what others have written. I understand not everyone will agree. Occasionally I use other great patterns, some of which I share only with my sons, after they have sworn a blood oath not to show them to anyone. The flies below, however, are the basic, time-tested patterns that are effective almost everywhere. Think of them as American Express flies, patterns you should never leave home without.
Adams 14, 16, 18 The #1 dry fly. Parachute wings are a great choice
Royal Wulff 14, 16, 18 The #1 attractor
Yellow Humphy 14, 16, 18 Use in turbulent water
Pale Morning Dun 14, 16, 18
Blue Winged Olive 16, 18, 20 Great in spring and fall
Elk Hair Caddis 14, 16, 18 Tan, olive, black & yellow bodies
Goddard Caddis 14, 16
Other Dry Flies
Stimulator 10, 12, 14, 16 Imitates stone flies, caddis and
hoppers in mid to late season
Hoppers 10, 12, 14 Match color and size
HareÕs Ear 14, 16, 18, 20 The #1 nymph
Pheasant Tail 16, 18, 20
Red Fox Squirrel 14, 16, 18
Prince Nymph 14, 16, 18 Slow water and lakes
Caddis Fly Nymphs
Zug Bug 14, 16, 18 Slow water and lakes
Latex Nymph 14, 16, 18 Green and tan bodies
Sparkle Pupa 14, 16, 18
Green Caddis 14, 16
Killer Caddis 14, 16 Olive, chamiose, pink bodies
March Brown Spider 14, 16 Soft hackle
Black stone fly 2, 4, 6, 8
Scud 16, 18, 20 Olive, amber and pearly pink
Brassie 16, 18, 20 May be caddis or midge
Muddler Minnow 2, 4, 6, 8 Black, brown and white
Kiwi Muddler 2, 4, 6, 8 Black, brown and olive
Wooly Buggers 6, 8, 10 The world's most popular fly. Black, olive, variegated, etc.
Leach 6, 8, 10 CBS, pond olive & blood
I am asked, usually by those on limited budgets, what to buy if you can only afford a few flies. Actually, it's relatively simple. I would choose the Adams, Royal Wulff, Elk Hair Caddis, Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail, Muddler Minnow and Wooly Bugger. Yellow Humpy, Stimulator and Muddler Minnow would be close runners up.