10 Best Trout Flies For Fly Fishing Fresh Water

April 28, 2021 5 min read

The 10 Best Trout Flies For Fly Fishing Fresh Water

Ok, I’ve led you astray, there aren't ten, there are three, maybe four. Stick with me here.

Thinking back over the past 20 years or so, I used to haul around just about every fly pattern I could get my hands on. A trip to a fly shop meant grabbing a handful of flies because I felt I should probably have “some of those’ - you know, just in case.  There is a strange and slightly desperate comfort derived from thinking you have all the bases covered - even when you don't know what the bases are.

The last 15 years have been a remarkable exercise in reductionism for me. Most of the time I really only ever fish 3 or 4 patterns. This Presbyterian approach to fly assortment is no small part attributable to hanging around with Bob Wyatt for too long, but it’s also entirely logical - it just makes a huge amount of sense.

This unequivocal 'less is more' approach means not having to frett about what fly to tie on. When you’re only carrying 4 or 5 patterns the choosing part is pretty straightforward, which just leaves you to get on with the fishing part - and that’s the most important bit.

As a rule, trout are usually more concerned about how you present the fly rather than what you present, so, to my mind anyway, it’s more important to become a competent fly caster, reader of water, general observer and well rounded angler.

I'm a better fish catcher now than I ever was, and with far fewer flies - because I'm a better angler.

This-morning in preparation for writing this post I asked my head Rod Meister Trevor what his favourite / most used flies were. Without hesitation Trev rattled off 3 great flies, all generalist / impressionistic patterns. An Adams, Sawyers Pheasant Tail nymph and a Woolly bugger - Olive of course. Perfect.
When asked why those particular flies Trev replied; "they all look like everything, and I fish them with confidence - and bedsides, I read Bob’s book, and that pretty much ruins you”

And that, for me, pretty much sums it all up.

General impressionistic flies, fished with confidence . Presented well with particular attention given to size rather than pattern - Just like Bob’s been banging on about for goodness knows how long.

So In a nutshell here’s what you need to nail trout anywhere on the planet:

  1. A small brown floaty thing. 
  2. A small grey or brown sinky thing
  3. And a reasonably large green swimmy thing

A dry fly - The small brown floaty thing

Top contenders:

  1. Adams: Great general pattern - has a hackle
  2. Royal Wulff: Highly visible - But a ridiculous thing to tie
  3. Deer Hair Sedge: (No hackle): Buggy as all hell - Floats like a cork - Simple and easy to tie.

WINNER: DHS - Bob Wyatts Deer Hair Sedge. I mean - look at that thing. Tied small and slim it’s a mayfly -Big bushy and fat it’s a cicada. This is the Swiss Army Knife of the fly world - but better, it actually cuts.

10 Best Trout Flies For Fly Fishing Fresh Water

… I have to admit I’m developing a penchant for foam bodied flies - not all foam, but some foam in the construction, see, I haven’t totally crossed over. No floatant, very robust and easy to see - lasts all day - all good


A nymph - The small grey or brown sinky thing

Top contenders:

  1. Sawyers Pheasant Tail Nymph: Looks like everything, slim and gets down well - tends to fly to bits after a few fish chomps
  2. Hares Ear Nymph: Looks like everything, buggy as hell - holds together well - very easy to tie

That's it, there are only two

WINNER: Hares Ear Nymph. Fish it wet, dry, slim or fat. It’s everything and nothing and holds up well.

10 Best Trout Flies For Fly Fishing Fresh Water

A wet fly or streamer. The reasonably large green swimmy thing.


  1. The Woolly bugger: Olive. that’s it, there are no contenders. The only contention is that the Woolly bugger is probably responsible for taking more fish than any other fly - ever.
 Weighted and unweighted the Woolly bugger does a fine job of imitating baitfish, fry, small crayfish, Dragon fly larvae, leeches, shrimps and drowning terrestrials. It’s all in the retrieve on this one. I tie mine without the hackle…

10 Best Trout Flies For Fly Fishing Fresh Water


That’s it. 3, that’s all there is. Really.

While your preferences might vary, if you have those 3 general impressionistic flies covered you are as good to go as you possibly can be.

And while I appreciate there may be special conditions in your neck of the woods that might necessitate something specific; the point here is to grab a few good flies and commit to fishing them well.

But wait - there's more!

There’s one more… Your get our of jail free card. The fly to use when trout seem to be rising, but aren’t taking dry flies. It’s the nymph to use when they’re not taking sunken nymphs.

You’re going to need an Emerger - and there are really only two contenders.

But first - what defines an Emerger? An emerger pattern imitates an emergent mayfly or caddis, not yet a fully fledged high riding dun; But with abdomen and tail still in the water column and with head and thorax sitting higher in the surface film. Emerger flies are designed to imitate insects actually hatching out of the water as they develop into adulthood. This stage of the lifecycle means the insects are extremely vulnerable to trout and are easy prey.

The Contenders
The Klinkhammer - or Bobs Deer Hair Emerger (you can see what’s happening here…)

  1. The Klinkhammer: Developed by Hans van Klinken. Exhibits that low hanging tantalising tail and abdomen hanging in the water. Cons - being a parachute it’s a hell of a thing to tie. It has a hackle…
  2. The Deer Hair Emerger (DHE). Super buggy profile, extremely robust, simple to tie.

WINNER: Bob Wyatts Deer Hair Emerger. (To double down on the buggy score tie up Bob’s Snowshoe Hare Emerger)

10 Best Trout Flies For Fly Fishing Fresh Water

It will come as no surprise that we sell Bob Wyatts flies, Woolly Buggers, Pheasant tails and Hares Ear nymphs here in our store. The flies are all premium ties and use top quality competition hooks (barbless) that are sticky sharp - you won’t find better, and for each one of Bobs flies we sell we send him over some beer money.  Our Best Flies >

Bob Wyatt is a photographer, recognised author and painter, Certified Fly Casting Instructor and fly angler. He has published two highly regarded books on fly fishing.
What Trout Want: The Educated Trout and Other Myths and Trout Hunting: The Pursuit of Happiness. Both available on Amazon

Bob has fly-fished for trout in North America, Europe and New Zealand since the 1950s. His book, Trout Hunting, challenged some conventional thinking regarding how trout work, and presented some fresh insights on why some great old flies continue to catch fish after a century or more of increasing fishing pressure. The reason is that, contrary to much expert opinion, trout are not getting smarter. If presented well, some fly designs are basically irresistible to a feeding trout.

Over fifty years of fly fishing has convinced Wyatt that a few basic designs will cover almost any fishing situation, and in most cases will catch fish better than specific patterns created for the so-called ‘selective trout’. The reason they work so well is because of the way a trout’s brain works. These fly designs are based on the most important ‘triggers’ to a trout’s feeding response – a fly’s size, shape and posture in the water. In fact, Wyatt regards a suggestive impression of a trout’s food to be far more effective than a close copy imitation. Presentation is the key. Well proven for fly fishing in New Zealand, with these flies you can confidently fish for trout, anywhere they swim.

More reading:

Fly Fishing Emerger Patterns - Bob Wyatt's Flies

The Hang Of It - Fly Fishing. Why an Emerger will out fish your dry fly any day

More thoughts on “selective" trout from Bob Wyatt


1 Response

David Lyon
David Lyon

May 03, 2021

There is one additional fly which might be added to the list. It is a variation on the hare and copper. I developed it to use in a specific pool in the spring, when the water is somewhat high and fast. Start with a tungsten bead head. Next, copper wire, roughly the same diameter as the hook. Starting in the middle of the hook shaft, wind forward in tight wraps until you get to the bead head, an then wind back (again, tight wraps) to the back of the hook. Leave enough tag to create a ribbing later. Next, the body. Use Hares ear plus (includes Antron fibers). Create a dubbing loop about 3” long, put the hair ear plus in it, twist the loop fairly tight, and wind it forward, tie it off just behind the bead head. (It will seem like a bulky body. It is supposed to be that way,). Next, counter wrap the ribbing, and tie off the fly. Head cement, and voila. Important aspects: the wrapping of copper wire, double for the thorax. This seems to affect the attitude of the fly as it drifts. Hares ear plus: critical element. I am convinced that the Antron fibers look like legs trying to grab onto a rock or something as the fly drifts. I have caught hundreds of fish on this fly over the years, mostly in the pool for which the fly was developed. Best day: at the pool for perhaps 3 hours, a dozen brown trout up to 19”, all on this fly. I generally fish it with fluorocarbon leader, using a strike indicator. If anyone wants more details, they are welcome to contact me.

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