As the spring trout fishing season approaches, I figured I’d share some of my favorite flies to catch these gorgeous fish. This is just my experience, and everyone probably has a different list. In fact, my list might even change dramatically after this year-there is just no knowing.
I have trout fished exclusively here in the northeast, but these are patterns I know catch fish just about anywhere. The tough thing about using a generic term like trout is that it covers so many different categories; stocked, wild, stillwater, moving water, brookies, browns, rainbows, cutties, bulls, and a number of hybrids all fit the definition of trout, and possibly even lakers and other salmonids depending on your view. For the purpose of making this as universally applicable as possible, I have picked flies that are simple, and will catch just about any fish you encounter, in multiple seasons.
Woolly Bugger. Is there a more obvious fly I could have picked? Probably not. Does it flat-out catch fish? Totally! Woolly buggers deserve a place in every anglers box, in a number of variations to cover any situation. I minimally have weightless olive and black buggers, and bead head versions of the same flies, if not a few different colors, like white and brown. In addition, I like to have them in sizes ranging from 6-14. 14 may seem a little small, but on numerous occasions have I been fishing tiny mountain streams with little brook trout where it saved the day. Not only do brookies like it, but I’ve also had a good sized pike follow it right to my feet before! I find that stocked trout prefer around an eight or a ten, and usually stripped relatively quickly. The color you use depends on the water clarity and level. If it’s high and muddy, throw colors like black and white to get the fish’s attention. If it’s clear and low, tie on a more natural color like olive or brown instead. If it’s somewhere in-between, take your pick, or use a combination of colors instead.
Black Foam Ant. Undoubtedly, this late summer/early fall pattern excels when the water is low and the major hatches of the year have just about subsided. That being said, I’ve experienced some spectacular stillwater wild brook trout fishing with these ants while patiently awaiting the arrival of green drake mayflies in late June. The takes on these little flies are viscous, invoking awe in even the most seasoned fly fisher. I will typically fish the foam ants in sizes from 16-12, although you could go smaller if you’d like. Seeing as this fly floats like a cork, it is perfect for dry-droppers, or in place of the more commonly used hopper on a hopper-dropper rig when the fish are being a little finicky. Just about any trout will eat this pattern, and it doesn’t take a perfectly drag-free drift to get the job done.
Squirmy Worm. I don’t care how much hate I get for putting this fly on my list, I just know that this fly will catch fish anywhere. Generally, this is one of those last-resort flies that get tied on when you’re all out of ideas and options. I like this fly in two colors: natural brown and hot pink. Like I mentioned with the wooly buggers, the general idea when selecting colors is, in high and murky water, choose bright flies, and in low and clear conditions, go with something a little more natural. Rules are made to be broken, but those are the general guidelines. My favorite sizes for squirmies are 12’s and 14’s, and I usually fish them as a dropper off a heavily weighted nymph. Most people think of squirmy worms as stocked trout flies, but they’ll catch wild trout as well.
Zebra Midge. This may be slightly unexpected, but midges can be found hatching in just about any water body and during any season. Many people think of these bugs as tiny, but in some water bodies they can get quite large-as big as a size 10. Most of the time, though, I tie these in sizes 18-24. They excel at catching highly-educated trout that won’t take anything larger. During the colder months, these flies are often my go-to, especially since they can be the only things hatching then. Red, black, olive, or some other crazy color combination will work. Fish these in conjunction with another midge pattern under an indicator with a long, light tippet, and you have yourself a rig to fool even the most highly educated trout.
Peacock and Partridge. There aren’t many flies more simple to tie than this one, and perhaps that’s why it is so effective. While it’s tied to imitate caddis emerger, it can also be great to fool trout when mayflies are coming off, or even in the absence of a hatch. I have caught some truly nice fish on this fly, including my personal best brown trout in northern New Hampshire. The peacock and partridge soft hackle is great in sizes 12-16, as with most conventional nymphs and wet flies. They work well swung in moderate current, but my favorite way to fish them is slowly stripping them in stillwater. You could use them in conjunction with another wet fly or unweighted nymph, tie them as a dropper on a tightline rig, or even fish them off a dry on a dry-dropper. There truly is something about this pattern that tantalizes the fish.
The simplicity of these patterns may be why they are proven fish-catchers. Even though tiers continue to produce more extravagant and otherworldly patterns each year, these standbys continue to produce without hesitation. As I get on the water more this year, I’m excited to see how this list changes. One thing will hold true, though, I’m sure: the flies will continue to be among the most basic.
If any of these patterns interest you, or if you’re looking for some other flies to fill your boxes, look no further! I tie flies locally and with high-quality materials at a very reasonable cost. I am currently working on setting up an Etsy shop, but if you’d like to order some flies now, just reach out using the contact page on the home page of this blog, or shoot me a DM on Instagram or Fishbrain.