My Short List, Favorite Flies

According to natural law (and contrary to the fears of some of us enduring the

Blue-wined Olive dry fly

Blue-winged Olive dry fly

northern winter this year), a warmer season will commence before long, and with it shall come another year of fly-fishing and enjoyment of the streams and rivers. I got to thinking of my favorite trout fly patterns and of new flies that I’ll be casting when the ice and snow retreat enough to let me on the water again. For those who might be interested, I thought to share some patterns that I’ve found to be effective on the high country streams of New England and the Mid-Atlantic region. You might compare the list to your own favorites and possibly come to a conclusion of sorts. In any case, here’s wishing you hikers and anglers a great new season (I’m pretty sure it’s coming!) on your favorite streams and camping sites.

Hare's-Ear nymph

Hare’s-Ear nymph

The following short list of favorites is adapted from my book River’s Edge, A Fly-Fishing Realm, published in 2008 by Wood Thrush Books. Since the book’s appearance I’ve developed other favorites that I’ve tied and found to be effective on the streams and rivers of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The book may be up for a reprint this year and, if so, I may have to add some soft-hackle, emerger, and streamer patterns to round out this basic list.

Dry Flies

Adams  #12-16. Possibly the best all-around dry fly pattern. Still.

Stimulator (stonefly)

Stimulator (stonefly)

Black Ant/Beetle  #14-18. Deadly, especially during the summer season.

Blue Quill  #16, 18. I find this pattern more effective in the first light of summer mornings than in early spring when the hatch begins.

Blue-winged Olive  #14-20. A classic for overcast conditions or inclement weather.

Caddis (Black, Brown, Olive, Tan) #14-20. I wouldn’t be caught without them.

Green Drake  #12. A late-May beauty for Kettle, Pine, Oswayo and other rivertop                           streams. The big trout love it.

Griffith’s Gnat  #18-22. For summertime on the Genny, when the livin’ is easy,  or on                  Spring Brook, when the goin’ gets tough.

Hendrickson/Red Quill  #12, 14. When the spring hatch is on, you can’t go wrong. One of            the finest.

Light Cahill  #12, 14. Premier June mayfly.

Black Ant

Black Ant

March Brown #12. The big juicy fly of May, on Pine, Slate, Kettle, Genesee, Oswayo, and many others.

Royal Wulff  #12, 14. Perhaps the greatest attractor pattern of all, and a better floater than the Royal Coachman.

Slate Drake (Isonychia) #10-14. My favorite late-summer, early-autumn mayfly.

Spentwing Spinner (Rusty, Cream) #10-14. Essential patterns.

Sulphur  #16, 18. The strongest hatch of late May.

Trico Spinner  #20-24. Love to fish this tiny, summer Mayfly, even if it’s a bitch to see.

Usual  #12-16. This Fran Betters pattern (with snowshoe hare) floats like no others.

Nymphs & Wet Flies

Brassie/Midge Pupa  #16-22. Fish ’em on the spring creeks, too.

Grey Ghost (a favorite landlocked salmon streamer)

Grey Ghost (a favorite landlocked salmon streamer)

Caddis Pupa/Emerger  #12-18. Use before the hatch, or during it.

Egg  #10-16. The basic cold weather “fly.”

Egg-sucking Leech  #6, 8. Perhaps my favorite steelhead and salmon pattern.

Green Weenie  #8-12. Silly, but effective to the point of being legendary.

Hare’s Ear  #10-14. Could be the Number One pattern in the northern hemisphere.

Hendrickson  #12, 14. When they’re not rising as you hoped they would…

Midge pupa

Midge pupa

Light Cahill  #10-14. A summertime favorite.

Pheasant-Tail  #12-16. Almost as famous and popular as the Hare’s-Ear.

Stonefly (Black, Brown, Yellow) #10-14. Also important as dry fly patterns.

Woolly Bugger (Black, Olive) #8-12. Whether on the river tops or way down on the flat lands, this pattern has probably tagged more big fish for me than any other.

Black Woolly Bugger

Black Woolly Bugger

Isonychia spinner, by Bob Stanton

Isonychia spinner, by Bob Stanton

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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10 Responses to My Short List, Favorite Flies

  1. This is great and thanks for sharing. Might have to carry a printout of this post on me throughout the season!

  2. I’d be honored! Thanks Mike.

  3. Les Kish says:

    Hi Walt. My fav’s from your list are…… midge pupa, beetle, mini bugger/leech, caddis. Might have to pick a couple more though. Cheers.

  4. Thanks Les. A Western list is bound to have differences, though others we can share in angling appreciation.

  5. Alan says:

    Some very fine choices there. Pretty much covers it.

  6. When Mr. Brook Trout approves it, I begin a better day. Sincerely,

  7. Mary says:

    I just wanted to tell you how much I like your writing – I can across the blog when reading about Trailing Arbutus. Loved that posting. My mother’s side of the family comes from up in Lycoming county and how she loved that flower.
    I wonder if you’ve ever read any of David M.Carroll’s work? You might especially enjoy his “Trout Reflections – A Natural History of the Trout and Its World.” He’s an incredible artist as well – this is a beautifully written and illustrated book. Perhaps you know it.
    Looking forward to reading more of your blog,

  8. Hi Mary,
    Very pleased that you came across the blog and enjoyed “A Myth of Trailing Arbutus,” a tale I, too, am particularly fond of. Lycoming County and environs are ideal country for discovering this plant in bloom (which is not so easy to do anymore). That’s a neat connection you make through your mother. As for David Carroll’s work… I’m not sure if I’ve seen it yet. The name definitely sounds familiar and, you can bet, I’ll be checking out “Trout Reflections” as soon as I get a chance. The title is something that I can’t pass up.
    Meanwhile, thank you for reading and commenting, and I hope to hear from you in the days ahead!

  9. Great list here. Your hares ear looks a little different than others I’ve seen. What kind of dubbing are you using? I’m guessing a fur of some kind? Not the generic rabbit dubbing stuff.

  10. Thank you, F.C., you have a good eye. I’ll often use muskrat for the body of the Ear.

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