Favorite Flies from 30 Years (And Beyond)

Favorite Flies from 30 Years (And Beyond)

Our contributors pick their favorite patterns.

  • By: Fly Rod and Reel
Bead prince.jpg

Today there are many variations on old and new patterns. What has transformed modern tying is not a handful of patterns, but rather the wide and creative gathering (as well as the use) of tying materials. Now we have CDC feathers, gallo de Leon, epoxy compounds, metal and glass double-drilled beads, rubber legs in rainbow colors, tungsten body shapes, scintillating synthetics, colorful foams and so on. Our feather merchants, such as Whiting Farms, have introduced some new uses for feathers. Have you seen Whiting’s Bird Fur? And the Internet has made materials and tying techniques available world-wide. Finally, what is the shape and color of your hook? The choices are myriad. We have never had such innovative and rich tying. With that in mind, we asked FR&R writers and editors to pick some of their favorite trout patterns through the last three decades.—Darrel Martin, contributing editor

Ted Leeson

My top choice for the most influential fly of the last 30 years would without a doubt be a bead-head anything—probably a generic Bead-head Hare’s Ear (below, top), one of the first bead-head patterns to show up here in the West, though my personal favorite of the bead-head patterns is a Bead-head Prince (below, bottom). In terms of changing the way people fish (dry-fly/dropper combinations) and a style of fly that has become perfectly ubiquitous, the bead-head seems well beyond the others. I like the Sparkle Pupa, too. I might argue as well for the Quigley Cripple, since the dressing style is now widely used on a variety of flies. Something like the Zebra Midge is not a bad choice, acknowledging the small-fly/tailwater phenomenon of recent decades. I’m not sure when the Clouser Minnow showed up—not primarily a trout pattern, but one that does cross a lot of boundaries. I think that CDC flies have been very influential as well; the problem is that there is no archetypical CDC pattern, something that capsulates its importance over the decades. The Stimulator is a reasonable choice, though not a terribly original design, really just tweaking an older pattern, the Bucktail Caddis. But of course there’s nothing new under the sun.
—Ted Leeson is our gear-test maven

Seth Norman

One of first flies I learned to tie came advertised as a Warden’s Worry, which it is not. By most folks lights it’s a long, short or standard, thin, fat floating or weighted, minute or monstrous Renegade. Simple by any standards, it worked for me for years—still does—tied wet or dry. We could do this in one sentence; let’s not: Take two wraps of barred brown hackle at the hook bend, tie off. Follow with a body of peacock herl; rib with pearl Flashabou for dry, copper wire for wet. Add two turns of grizzly hackle up front. Drink, deeply, but wisely. You may wish to time yourself: For me, a pace of one Jim Beam per two pals per hour—it’s hard to describe—will pump out a spring’s worth of these in a period of time I forget. (Note: It does help to admire them at the end of the evening, because by the next morning the later ones may have gone off a bit. Humidity, I’m guessing.) I’m reasonably sure fish have taken tiny versions as a midge or midge cluster, size 18 to 8s as both mayflies (green drakes in particular) and caddis, especially in broken water; and a few fools will mistake fat floaters for snails in lakes. I also do love a parachute tie, and except in white water prefer these to standard patterns. But for me, the Compara-dun style addresses so many mayfly “issues.” To wit, it catches fish—even selective fish, often; also, I can usually see it on the water and tie it at the vise. I even use the wing for a foam-bodied Hex that will withstand an entire evening of toothy cutts and smash-jawed smallmouths. (Note: it helps to—lightly-lightly-lightly!—dab the wing base with a little Soft Tex.)
—Seth Norman is our longtime book reviewer

Jim Butler
I’ll start with the McMurray Ant: Essentially, two cylinders of balsa wood, painted, and strung on a short length of mono, then lashed to a hook; a few turns of appropriate hackle added. More than once, when I’ve been unable to adequately match what was hatching, a McMurray (or some other small terrestrial) has helped me camouflage my angling shortcomings and catch a few trout. Next, an Elkhair Caddis. Not just a fine imitation, but also a terrific searching fly (somehow, its jaunty attitude as it floats down a run almost gives it a personality). Thanks, Al Troth. Gold-Ribbed Hares Ear nymph: The bug that took my first fly-caught trout. Nuff said. Now, in a nod to modernity, I often fish’em with a bead.—Jim Butler is the magazine’s former editor-in-chief

Joe Healy
I’m partial to a Yellow Humpy or a Yellow or Orange Stimulator (hmm, is this sounding like a personal ad?) as searching patterns, or a Joe’s Hopper (of course). Also, a gray CDC Caddis has worked well for me throughout New England waters, and the combination of CDC and a turkey biot in an CDC Biot Spinner is another winner. Also the Compara-Dun is a favorite, particularly in the years since I had a tying lesson from Al Caucci.  —Joe Healy is this magazine’s associate publisher

Val Atkinson

My favorite flies from the last three decades: Quigley Cripple, Black Ant, Poly-Wing Trico, Monroe Leach, Dave’s Hopper. They’re still my favorites. First choice on the top: Quigley Cripple; first choice on the bottom: Monroe Leach. Get’s them every time.—Val Atkinson is a contributing editor. Dave’s Hopper photo by Ted Fauceglia

James Prosek
My go-to flies are Elkhair Caddis, Caddis nymph and Caddis emerger—a la Gary LaFontaine. Also, the Woolly Bugger and Squirreltail Streamer.—James Prosek is a contributing editor.