Best Flies for Fly Fishing
Now that we have discussed the different types of flies used in fly fishing, it is time to outline some of the best flies to use for fly fishing. If you missed the article on the different types of flies you might be a little behind on the lingo, so check that out here. I am going to break down the best flies for trout, the best flies for bass, and the best flies for salmon, to be sure I cover anything you guys are going to look for on your next fly fishing expedition. There are so many generic flies out there that I want to include some unique winners that produce great results as well. I will be sure to several suggestions for each category and will wrap up this discussion with some salt water tips!
Who really knows what the best flies are for fly fishing?
Short answer; the fish. However, since we can not sit down to have a chat with them, I am going to draw from personal experience and a variety of professional sources to make sure this article will give you a good idea of what to use. I have spent years in the back country fishing and I know a little research before a fishing expedition can mean a lot more strikes and whoppers!
The Local Flavor
Anytime you visit a new fishing spot, be sure to have a conversation with someone who has fished that area before. Fly shops, professional fly fishing guides, or outdoor enthusiasts like yourself will have some good input to prepare you before you get out there and cast.
I was fishing a small rural lake in North Georgia one fall and nothing I was throwing out there was giving me any great return. On the point, a bit further along than the small network of submerged dead-falls I was casting into, stood a guy just killing it. Every fourth or fifth cast he would come up with a hit, whether he landed the fish or not.
I kept fishing my spot for a long while, not wanting to appear as inexperienced or amateur.
After some time I decided I just had to know what this guy was throwing out there. I took a slow stroll up to the point, noting that I would not have thought this to be a good sweet spot. No overhanging shelf, no reeds or protection for the bait fish, nothing to mark this as spectacular in any way. Just a sandy point leading into a deeper section of the lake.
After a five minute conversation and switching up my rig, I was back in my dead-falls, rocking out. I spent one of the best evenings casting and landed an enormous bass!
Angling may be said to be so like the mathematics, that it can never be fully learnt.
Flies for Trout
Trout. The name itself brings up so many memories for me. Specifically weeks during the summers at Redfish Lake in Idaho with my family, throwing flies and Rooster Tails and simple spoons. I remember after pulling in my limit, we froze my catch that night, since we had already planned on steaks. The next afternoon we did not let the fish thaw enough and ended up with trout that were fried on the outside, frozen in the middle! It did not help that my two little sisters had been playing with the live line I had staked out and actually named the fish before we cleaned them. It is tough to eat a fish that was treated like a pet, even for a short time…..
After that, I practiced catch-and-release for the rest of the summer!
Trout come in many varieties but tend to like the same food sources. Whether you are fishing streamers or nymphs, wet or dry, with a well stocked tackle box you can find something that works. Here are some suggestions I have for the winners in any situation.
Reviews - Best Flies for Trout
- Hand-tied by professionals
- High quality Mustad hook
- Versatile for many different settings
- Not very durable
No matter where you plan on casting during your next fly fishing expedition the Woolly Bugger is one must-have for your tackle box. This versatile streamer will fill your limit fast and imitates a variety of aquatic life.
- Imitates aquatic worms in their natural setting - great for trout
- Beaded for getting deep in the water column quickly
- Excellent dropper nymph fly
- Many beginner anglers may be unfamiliar with these
This fly is one that is often overlooked by fly fisherman when choosing what to carry along on their expeditions. We tend to get so wrapped up in traditional flies that while looking at this design the connection is not immediately made, when comparing to so many choices that look like a may or stone fly. The San Juan Worm is a power nymph that will bring trout in consistently.
- Extremely popular
- Tied very well
- Some anglers find them to be trout-specific, but our opinion is they are versatile enough to try casting almost anytime.
The Adams Fly is by far one of the popular flies on the market today and many (including myself) consider it to be the dry fly with the highest success rate in the world. I have cast this in every season and seen returns. Since we are talking about trout, the Parachute Adams is my pick for #3 in my list of best flies while fly fishing for trout.
- Great for both rivers and stillwater
- Elk hair wing offers a perfect color match
- Excellent in areas where you can allow it to drift along the surface
- Beware of flies that use deer hair instead of elk hair. Although they have very similar flotation characteristics, deer hair will flare more when wet.
This is another fly you can not leave home without. In rivers or still water the caddisfly is one of the most widespread insects found in North America. The trout are accustomed to eating these flies and the Elk Hair Caddis imitates a living caddisfly. If you are trying to expand your collection of flies and need to pack some serious power, grab a couple of these and get to catching!
Beginner Information About Flies for Trout
For a good rundown on trout fly basics, check out this great tutorial by Tim Landwehr and Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company.
Flies for Salmon
Salmon are anadromous, which means they are born in fresh water and migrate to the sea, then return to fresh water to reproduce. This is a general rule, but there are many species of “landlocked” salmon too! Depending on where you are headed on your next fishing expedition there are opportunities in both rivers and lakes.
I have had the good fortune in my life to follow the life cycle of the salmon and see many different techniques for harvesting this valuable resource. While crossing the Bridge of the Gods (which spans the mighty Columbia River between Oregon and Washington) I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Native Americans who catch these fish using traditional methods. The fisherman pull in massive migrating salmon with a technique called “dipnetting.”
One of the Native American families invited me to stay with them for the night on the reservation. Her home was a simple RV, used to house the people while fishing. It was surprising to see a sign that mentioned “YOU ARE NOW LEAVING US GOVERNMENT CONTROLLED TERRITORY” and even more surprising to hear the story of the family. The US government grants the right to fish with nets to the tribes who once inhabited these lands, allowing them to easily catch fish and sell them in roadside stores. If you are ever in the mood for an excellent piece of smoked chinook, this is the place to visit!
However, if you are not a member of these tribes, you need to get out there with your rod and reel. So let’s talk about what will be sure to keep your day exciting on the river!
Reviews - Best Flies for Salmon
- Glo Bug
- Spey Fly
- PM Wiggler
- Great value
- Simple, yet effective
- Excellent in cold conditions
- Need to be quick when setting the hook to avoid hooking the trout too deep (e.g. throat).
- The "egg" may slide up and down the hook after a while.
This may look like a Christmas ornament but this fly actually imitates an egg. On your next fishing expedition carry a few colors with you. INSIDER TIP: don’t give up after using one color. The turbidity of the water, the amount of sunlight, the sediment; these can all affect the way the salmon views the shade of your fly.
- Excellent for low water steelhead fishing
- More hook-ups even with soft winter takes
- 3.5 inches long overall and unweighted for swinging in low clear water.
- Not overly versatile
- Can be a little more expensive
SPECIAL NOTE: OVERALL WINNER FOR LOW WATER STEELHEADS!
The spey fly is a classic salmon fly that can be fished in a variety of environments. To really kick up your casting success rate, try tying a darker colored spay.
- Hand-tied with high-quality materials
- Especially good for steelhead or spawning salmon
- Lots of variety in designs can make choice difficult
- Can sometimes be a little more difficult to find
This is another great one for steelheads, but you can also see some luck casting this power nymph into spawning salmon. Try to keep a variety of sizes on hand for anything you might encounter. This can also be used for carp!
Flies for Bass
I have spent my life in pursuit of bass. Growing up in Georgia meant my weekends and afternoons were spent on the sunny side of a lake, casting anything any everything in hopes to land those long shadows cruising just beyond the clear water. Bass strike HARD and fight like the dickens. They taught me to get up before sunrise if I wanted a good morning session and how to be patient under any circumstances.
My love affair with bass has progressed throughout the years. I remember catching my first small mouth off a push-button Zebco reel (remember the 202?) and a bobber, split-shot, hook, and a balled up piece of my mother’s homemade bread.
Into my teens I began casting Rapalas and became an expert in the entire rainbow of plastic worms (7” Pumpkinseed U-tale with a Chartreuse tip if you ever visit North Georgia). But when I have a fly rod in my hand, paddling my canoe across Lake Hartwell or Lake Oconee, this is when I understand what it means to be a bass fisherman.
Reviews - Best Flies for Bass
- Diver Frog
- Clouser Minnow
- Great for surface patterns, leading to some epic strikes!
- Great value
- Not the most versatile fly, but excellent for bass.
The reason this fly kills it is the action, simply the action! After the cast the Dahlberg Diver Frog stays true to its name and dives to imitate the movements of a frog or small fish. This is one to use when chasing larger bass and will not disappoint!
- Extremely versatile for both freshwater and saltwater species
- Usually available in assorted packs
- Beginners may find they work well, but they are highly dependent on technique. Could be good or bad depending on how comfortablt you are using them to begin with.
The Clouser Minnow will produce results in any situation. When fishing for bass, many times you will have a variety of water conditions; try different colors to switch up the presentation of shade to the fish before you give up on this one. Once you find the shade they like, you will be landing monster bass all day long!
- Great for larger fish
- Versatile (any fish that eats crayfish will be enticed).
- Assorted pack allows you to switch up designs and colors depending on conditions.
- These flies can sometimes be a little more expensive
I can still remember turning over rocks when I was a kid to look for crayfish. When I made the connection that the big bass out in the lake where hunting them as well, my fishing game reached a whole new level. Be sure to keep quick jerks in your movements when retrieving; the crayfish, when threatened, will escape with a tail snap that is surprisingly fast. The bass is faster, though!
Saltwater Fly Suggestions
I have generally found that anything I use with success for bass will be handy in the salt water conditions. The variety of fish you can pull in from an inlet or lagoon mouth or reedy salt marsh is absolutely astonishing. I find brighter colors get more strikes, and be sure you are packing heavy leaders for the larger fish you will encounter.
However, saltwater fly fishing is not all about size.
I spent a few weeks each summer with my grandparents in Beaufort, South Carolina. Growing up with this time in my life was something I remember to this day as part of my heart and soul. My grandpa would crank up his old rusty Chevrolet and we would head for the marsh or one of the islands, a cooler full of sodas and sandwiches and some salty potato chips, truck bed full of my gear.
During low tide we would stake cotton lines out in the mud and tie old turkey necks with weights to them, to catch delicious blue-claw crabs for my grandma’s crab-cakes or Gullah crab rice. As the tide would rise we would bring the lines higher up in the mud, and as the water covered the reeds I would cast into them, pulling in mullets and croakers and anything else that came to check out what the world left for them to eat. When I got tired of casting I would pick up my net and cast for shrimp.
I never pulled in anything that was truly a monster, but those times, rod in my hand, grandpa puttering around the shore, that was just as good.
No matter where you are headed to fish today, take a moment and look around. It is pretty great to be out there!