Fly boxes can become cluttered, filled with dozens of patterns and countless variations. Sometimes, it is nice just to go back to basics, and try to think of a core group of flies that fulfill most trout fishing needs.
I know when I was new to fly fishing, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of flies available. It was made even more difficult when each pattern come in many sizes, colors, and bead combinations. Where should someone new to fly fishing even start.
So for this article, I decided to list the 5 flies I will bring if I could have nothing else.
1) #16 Tungsten Beads Pheasant Tail (but tied sparsely)
The pheasant tail nymph is my favorite nymph and is an absolute classic pattern. It represents mayfly larvae, and because mayfly nymphs make up such a significant portion of a trout’s diet I feel it is essential to have one such nymph in my box.
The Pheasant Tail nymph is now tied in countless variations, but I will stick with a rather traditional design based around the original pattern invented all the way back in 1958 tied by English river keeper Frank Sawyer.
The main exception to the classic design is that I will include a tungsten bead, and I will tie the body more sparsely for a skinnier silhouette that sinks faster. The Frank Sawyer pheasant tail is a classic of a fly, but I sometimes find it is a victim of its own success and trout start to avoid them. Hence why I tie them so sparsely to give them a different look.
Choosing just one size of Pheasant Tail nymph is difficult, I always carry multiple sizes, but I will settle on a #16 which can be fished in most conditions.
The black bead allows the pheasant’s tail to sink faster to reach the strike zone faster. . If I were to pick a bead color it will likely be black. Simply because gold is used too much.
This next part could be cheating against the original purpose of this article, but I went with the tungsten bead over the copper bead, because a couple of bad backcasts can easily shatter the tungsten bead turning the nymph into a normal pheasant tail making it better for fishing shallow ripples.
2) #18 Parachute Adams
The Parachute Adams is a classic dry fly, and I always carry multiple in my box. This fly serves multiple purposes, firstly it fishes very well during most mayfly hatches.
The original Adams dry fly had its origins back in the 1930s, sometime between then and now someone had the bright idea to improve it by adding a bright white calf tail hair on its back to create the Parachute Adams.
The bright white tuff makes it nice and visible and easier to see especially in low light conditions when mayfly hatches frequently occur.
Finally, it works quite well as an attractor pattern.
I went with a #18 because some days trout will refuse to take anything larger and it is still large enough to be relatively visible. When the trout are very stubborn, I always have the option to trim it down even smaller to make it closer to #20 in size.
Why did I choose a Parachute Adams over another dry fly such as the royal wulff? To be honest, I could only pick one and it was basically a coin flip. In my opinion, both patterns, and many others fulfill a very similar role.
3) #6 Chernobyl Ant
The Chernobyl ant is one of the more modern flies on this list, becoming well known sometime in the 1990s. I love fishing flies that resemble large summertime terrestrials, and the Chernobyl ant is as good as any and better than most.
The foam body gives it excellent buoyancy, and I can easily use it to suspend a nymph as part of a hopper dropper rig. The foam legs also give it a degree of stability. While I am not convinced they attract more fish, fishing dries with legs gives me more confidence so I insist on them.
The Chernobyl ant represents virtually any kind of large terrestrial, from hoppers, cicadas, and beetles. Trout are not normally overly selective.
I went with it in #6, while many terrestrial insects are larger than a #6 I have found trout are more willing to take a fly that is too small over one that is larger than the natural insects.
4) #14 Twilight Beauty
The Twilight Beauty is a less well known traditional wet fly. While I rarely fish wet flies, I did develop a fondness in my early days of fly fishing for this one. It reminds me a bit of the black gnat dry fly but it is a wet fly so it is designed to be subsurface.
I am not actually aware of the history of the Twilight Beauty, and a quick google search did not reveal much. At the moment it only seems to be popular in New Zealand and Australia.
There are dozen of other wet fly patterns that can fulfill a similar role as the Twilight Beauty but this is my favorite. I like it’s minimalist design and the bold wings gives it a very mayfly-like silhouette.
I find it to be a very versatile pattern that I can fish in many different ways.
While the Twilight Beauty is a wet fly and is designed to be fished subsurface, probably imitating a drowned mayfly or tiny fish. It is possible to smother them in floatant and fish them as a dry fly. It also works quite well as an emerger just stuck below the water surface.
Just important to keep in mind that it is fundamentally a wet fly, so it is never going to float quite as high as a dry fly.
I went with a #14 because trout seem to be somewhat less picky when it comes to the size of wet flies compared with nymphs or dries. I also often fish them in the evening when smaller ones can be difficult to see.
5) #16 Sparsely Tied Hare’s Ear
I have gotten myself into a tough spot, with one spot remaining and so many potential candidates.
I could have selected a streamer for the last spot, if I did it probably would have been a #4 rabbit strip streamer. (Narrowly beating out the Woolly Bugger and Grey Ghost) The strip of rabbit fur simply gives lure so much action, and a streamer at times can trigger strikes when nothing else would.
But, I did not select a streamer because they overlap too much with spin fishing for me. I can get very similar results with many spinning lures. So why lose a spot when alternatives exist?
I eventually decided to settle on the Squirmy Worm, trout love to eat worms after all and they are so easy to tie. No, I joke I meant the Glow Bug. Who does not like fishing weighted balls of florescent fluff? They kinda resemble Powerbait. Egg stealing fish kinda deserve to be caught after all.
Jesting aside, I eventually decided on a second nymph, and that is the Hare’s Ear. Trout feed upon a ton of nymphs. So having two different patterns makes sense.
The Hare’s ear is the Pheasant Tail’s partner in crime. Two iconic patterns that have been modified and imitated countless times. There are so many variations of these two nymphs simply because they work.
The Hare’s Ear like the Pheasant Tail simply catches fish. So which variation of the hare’s ear, will I probably will go with a simple but sparsly tied one with a single copper bead. No need to reinvent the wheel.
Not much to summarize, If I was limited to only 5 flies I will select two nymphs, two dries, and a single wet fly which I often incorrectly fish as a dry.
Feel free to share your favorite flies in the comments below.