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Filling Out Your Fly Box

Updated: 6 days ago


Fly Box Essentials

When filling out any fly box to best be prepared for your time on the water, mayfly, stonefly, and caddis fly patterns typically take the first few slots. While these flies will do the heavy lifting on most fly anglers outings, there are a handful of other patterns that are very necessary in certain trout streams throughout the United States as well as the rest of the world. Scuds, sow bugs, wooly buggers, junk flies, soft hackles, and terrestrial imitations can be essential to have at times. In this article, we will dive into the best patterns to imitate these important part of trout's diet. For more information about the aforementioned caddis fly patterns, mayfly patterns, and stonefly patterns, check out the linked articles where we take a deeper look at the best imitations for each of these flies.


Midge Fly Patterns

Zebra Midges, Matt's Midge, Sparkle Midge, CDC Midge, Mercury Midge, and the ever popular Griffiths Gnat are excellent trout catching fly patterns. Midges can be the bane of fly anglers existence at times but a saving grace during times of year such as winter when they can be the only insect activity on the water.


Midge Nymph Patterns

Midge Nymph Patterns

The classic zebra midge can fool the most selective and wary of trout. They are a must have in any fly box. Their small size may deter some anglers, but at times of the year, they are an absolute staple. Variants such as the mercury midge, disco midge, and blood midge. The typical rule of thumb is, the smaller the better when it comes to these flies.


Midge Emerger Fly Patterns

Midge Emerger Patterns

For the most finicky and selective of risers eating midges, emerger patterns are likely the best bet for frustrated fly anglers. The cdc midge and sparkle midge are excellent flies that can imitate the intricacies of small, hatching midges. The smaller the better with these flies as midge eating trout are typically much more selective with what they will eat.


Midge Dry Fly Patterns

Midge Dry Fly Patterns

The Griffiths gnat has stood the test of time for fly anglers looking to fool trout on the surface when eating clusters of expiring midges. When times get tougher however, patterns such as the Matt's Midge can do a better job at fooling selective trout. Flies in the size 20 range or smaller are best here so break out the small tippet and cheaters to tie one on.



Scuds, Sow Bugs, and Shrimp Flies

Scuds, Sow bugs, and freshwater shrimp are not insects but freshwater crustaceans that provide and excellent source of protein for trout in both lakes and streams. These critters are not found in all trout streams but can be incredibly important to trout's diets on specific lakes, tailwaters, and heavily vegetated streams.

Sow Bugs Scuds and Shrimp
Sow Bugs, Scuds, and Shrimp (left to right)

Scud Fly Patterns

Scud Fly Patterns

Scuds look like smaller shrimp that live in dense vegetation and wood in streams and alpine lakes. While they are a major food source throughout the year, they can be even more important during the winter when insect activity is low. Scud fly patterns come in a variety of weights and colors in the size 14 to 18 range. In lakes, a lightly weighted fly, slowly stripped oland the bottom is an excellent strategy. On streams, drifting scud patterns along larger grassbeds is a great way to run into trout.


Sow Bug Fly Patterns

Sow Bug Fly Patterns

Sow bugs closest relatives are the well know Roly Poly or Pill bugs most kids played with in their youth. These are aquatic varieties that dwell in aquatic vegetation, most commonly on tailwater rivers and streams. Patterns such as the Tailwater Sow Bug, and Soft Hackle Sowbug do an excellent job of imitating these small crustaceans. Flies in the size 16-20 range are the most effective.


Mysis Shrimp Fly Patterns

Mysis Shrimp Fly Patterns

Mysis Shrimp are the least common in the set. These have been introduced into lakes across the Rockies and western states. While they are more abundant in the lakes, some mysis shrimp can be flushed down to the tailwaters below a spillway where local trout can grow to huge sizes from the easy, protein rich, meals.



Junk Fly Patterns

Shunned by some, praised by others, the simple fact is, these flies flat out catch trout. Eggs, Mop flies, and worms are the most common flies in this category. Flashy, colorful, and enticing, all three of these flies appeal to trout's curiosity.


Egg Fly Patterns

Egg Fly Patterns

Fall and spring are certainly excellent times of year to throw the various egg imitations. Patterns such as the Y2K, Glo Bug, and Clown Eggs are essentials during these times. Stocked trout are more than willing to eat these patterns year round. Whether other trout, salmon, whitefish, suckers, or shiners are spawning, egg patterns can be an excellent option at these times.



Mop Fly Patterns

Mop Fly Patterns

Mop Flies may be the most disputed of all the junk flies. While what they imitate is always up for debate, I have seen October caddis nymphs, and crane fly larvae that do look similar to some mop flies. Who knows what other grubs or terrestrial larvae can make their way into creeks during periods of heavier rain. Regardless of their imitations, they undoubtedly catch trout under most circumstances.


Worm Fly Patterns

Worm Fly Patterns

Squirmy worms, san juan worms, wire worms, and their variations should find their way into everyone's fly box. The squirmy worm being my personal favorite as they provide the fly with additional action, the only downside being the lack of durability. Most popular during times of high, rising, or stained water, all three of these flies can bring trout to the nut under just about any circumstance,



Woolly Bugger Patterns

Woolly Bugger Fly Patterns

There is no telling how many fly anglers first trout was landed on a woolly bugger. This classic fly is a must for any beginners fly box as you simply can not fish it wrong. While certain methods work better than others at times, whether drifted, dragged, or stripped, woolly buggers can be irresistible to some trout. From small to large, weightless to weighted, black to white, its best to have options for the various conditions you may find on the water.


Soft Hackle Fly Patterns

Soft Hackle Fly Patterns

Soft hackles come in endless variations, some of which serve a purpose, others just provide trout with something they have yet to see. Whether swung, used as emergers, or dead drifted, these flies simplicity make them easy for beginning tiers to put together and start fishing. One of the more popular patterns that is a good place to start may be the Partridge Orange as it seams to be a favorite soft hackle pattern throughout the world.


Terrestrial Fly Imitations

Grass Hopper, ant, and beatle fly patterns

Grasshopper, Beatle, and Ant fly patterns are useful fly imitations during the summer months. These are excellent flies to pair with a dry dropper rig as their foam construction allows them to float high on the water. Patterns such as the Flying Ant and Chubby Chernobyl should certainly make there way into every fly box. Windy, summer days tend to be the best time to reach for these flies.


For more information on what comprises a trout's diet, check out our article on What Do Trout Eat. To learn more about Fly Fishing a Hatch, Selecting Flies, Fly Fishing Streamers, and Essential Fly Fishing Gear you will need on the water, check out these articles.


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