By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
Despite what some fly fishing magazines, blogs, and podcasts would have you believe, there is no Biblical list of the best flies for trout. By that, I mean that no one has a selection of flies that will always work for any trout in every water in the world.
The best us fly fishing media folks can do – the best we should do, rather – is not just give out our list of go-to flies, but to also explain why those flies work so well for us.
Fly choice is always location and situation specific, but it’s more angler-driven than anything else. I know guys who go out and want to fish caddis or humpies all day, regardless of what’s on the water. More often than not, they catch plenty of fish to stay happy. I reckon what makes a fly good, then, is how stubbornly you’re willing to fish it.
With all that in mind, I wanted to share seven of my best trout flies. I live and fish in the Rockies, although I do make a trip to Alaska every year. I was raised a dry-fly purist on the small streams and creeks of central Utah, and those are the waters where I still most often feel at home. My fly choices reflect that I’m rarely on water that you wouldn’t find in a high-country setting. Aside from my love affair with the Green River, I don’t get out on big water too often, either.
I’ll also try to explain why these are some of my best flies for trout.
1. Last Chance Cripple
Tim Flagler consistently puts out some of the best fly tying videos known to anglers. His version of the venerable Last Chance Cripple is a mainstay in my fly boxes almost year-round.
I love this fly for a lot of reasons, but what makes it a go-to for me is its versatility. It functions as both a crippled mayfly, or an emerging mayfly. I’ve been caught in a good mayfly hatch more than once without the right emerger pattern. The Last Chance Cripple has come to the rescue often.
Honestly, you can fish the Last Chance Cripple throughout an entire mayfly hatch. Even when trout are actively eating duns, they’ll almost always move to eat a crippled fly. A bug that can’t escape is almost irresistible, and that’s exactly what a cripple pattern should imitate.
2. Micro Mayfly Nymph
My good buddy Gilbert Rowley – the guy behind award-winning IF4 films like Confluentus – did this tying video of a split-back mayfly nymph that’s fairly close to the one I tie myself.
Mayfly nymphs are a must for anyone who chases trout. This particular pattern is exceptional because it so closely mimics the really small, really dark nymphs you often find clinging to the underside of rocks in a river. Since mayflies are so common in most trout streams, even when they’re not hatching, you can count on finding a few trout that are willing to eat a mayfly nymph year-round.
3. Micro Leech
I know everyone loves the balanced leech these days, but years before that fly took off, I kept using these micro leech patterns to great success on stillwater. Some of my best days on the lovely high-country lakes and ponds of the Rockies are due to the viability of this pattern. Pairing it with a chironomid beneath an indicator is a great way to fish stillwater, especially if you’re not in the mood to strip streamers.
These flies work best for me when stripped in on a slow retrieve. The marabou flutters with the tiniest flick of your rod tip, so a slow retrieve really gets the fly moving and looking real.
4. Hare’s Ear
I don’t remember the last time I went fishing without a few Hare’s Ear nymphs in my box. Of all my nymphs, I’d take this and a zebra midge if I had to pick just two to fish for the rest of my angling career. Hare’s Ears just flat-out work everywhere. The proportions help this pattern pass for either a caddis, mayfly, or stonefly nymph, depending on how big a hook you tie with. With an appropriate amount of superglue and UV resin, they last a good while, too.
I like to tie mine exactly as Uncle Cheech does in this video, except I use curved hooks instead. I love the look of a Hare’s Ear on a nymph hook like the Umpqua U202.
5. Foam Bodied Elk Hair Caddis
There’s a few ways to tie this fly, but the example above is closest to what I like. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional elk-hair caddis. It’s a fantastic, tried-and-true fly. It’ll always have a home in fly boxes across the world. But the foam-bodied version is what I pick because it’s way more durable, and requires exponentially less floatant throughout its lifespan.
Even when trout chew off all the hackle fibers, the foam body still leaves you with a usable fly. It doesn’t look pretty when it’s that chewed up, but I reckon the trout don’t really care. They care more about a good drift and a fly that matches the size and shape of the bugs they regularly see.
6. Durrant Family Special
I don’t have a tying video for this fly – I need to finally get around to filming one – but I have to share it. This is a fly my grandfather tied for years – he was a commercial tyer back in the 80s. He swears this fly is his own creation, thus the name “Durrant Family Special.”
In reality, it’s not a tough tie. I take some hackle fibers from a cape, some dubbing, elk hair, and then a good piece of grizzly hackle to make this fly. The only trick is not building up too much of a bump when tying in the elk hair. I avoid that by using Veevus GSP thread, or similar products.
This fly sort of looks like a mayfly and a caddis mushed together. That makes it technically a stimulator or attractor pattern, but it works exceptionally well during just about any hatch.
7. Griffiths Gnat
Never has a fly rescued me as often, or as dependably, as the Griffiths Gnat during a an early-season mayfly hatch. Seriously, this pattern has saved my bacon more times than I can count. Whether you’re in a midge hatch, or you don’t have bugs small enough for those mayfly hatches that bring big trout to the top, the Griffiths Gnat has your back.
This fly works so well because it looks like a little bit of everything. It’s part mayfly, part midge – but it’s 100% buggy, and I think that’s why trout love it so much.
Remember, these aren’t the only flies you should ever fish for trout. Heck, they’re not the only ones I fish with. But off the top of my head, these are seven of my best flies for trout that I look for whenever I’m on the river. New or old water – it doesn’t matter, so long as I have some of these flies in a box.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and guide from Utah. He’s the Owner/Lead Guide of The Utah Fly Fishing Company, the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.