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Artistic view of a Male Pteronarcys californica (Pteronarcyidae) (Giant Salmonfly) Stonefly Adult from the Gallatin River in Montana
Pteronarcys californica

The giant Salmonflies of the Western mountains are legendary for their proclivity to elicit consistent dry-fly action and ferocious strikes.

Lateral view of a Male Baetidae (Blue-Winged Olive) Mayfly Dun from Mystery Creek #308 in Washington
This dun emerged from a mature nymph on my desk. Unfortunately its wings didn't perfectly dry out.
27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
Troutnut is a project started in 2003 by salmonid ecologist Jason "Troutnut" Neuswanger to help anglers and fly tyers unabashedly embrace the entomological side of the sport. Learn more about Troutnut or support the project for an enhanced experience here.

Bolivar, MO

Posts: 14
Sirhoops23 on Feb 16, 2007February 16th, 2007, 6:43 am EST
Ok for anyone out there. Coming from a total novice fly tyier (not novice fly fisherman but novice fly tyier) what are your three must have fly's from following catigories. Dry, nymph, streamer, terestrial and wet? Just looking to see where I should start.
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
GONZO on Feb 16, 2007February 16th, 2007, 7:08 am EST
Hi JJ,

As a general list of relatively simple flies for a novice tier that would be broadly effective in a wide range of situations, I'd recommend the following:

Dry--Elk-Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Compara-dun

Nymph--Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail, LaFontaine Sparkle Pupa

Streamer--Woolly Bugger, Black-Nose Dace, Muddler Minnow

Terrestrial--Foam Beetle, Foam Ant, Letort Hopper

Wet--Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear, Little Marryat, Soft-Hackles

Keep in mind that many of the flies listed are more properly considered to be tying "styles" rather than "patterns" (meaning that the size and colors of the materials can be varied to match local hatches and conditions), and that even this rather broad list leaves out some often important categories of trout foods (midges, crustaceans, and caddis larvae, for example). Many suitable substitutions can be made for each fly on this list without detracting from general effectiveness. Hope this helps.

Troutnut's profile picture
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2758
Troutnut on Feb 16, 2007February 16th, 2007, 7:21 am EST
Ditto what Gonzo said. I would add Royal Wulff to the dry fly category, though. That's probably a product of the small streams with sparse hatches that I fish lately in my area, but it's my go-to fly when I don't have a good reason to fish something else.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Hollidaysburg Pa

Posts: 251
LittleJ on Feb 16, 2007February 16th, 2007, 8:08 am EST
I agree w/ gonzo as well, however I have been using the Charles Meck Pattern elk/deer head caddis for the past season as a substitute for the elk hair caddis, and it has been terrific. It is on the Practical Fly Patterns DVD w/ Eric Stroup and Charles Meck. Either way you can't go wrong.
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
GONZO on Feb 16, 2007February 16th, 2007, 8:18 am EST
Jason, how could I forget to include one of the finest attractor dries ever devised? I hope you and Lee Wulff will forgive the oversight. I'd also add that I wanted to include the Griffith's Gnat to the dry-fly list (and sticking to the original requirement of three in each category was difficult). I continue to be amazed at how effective this simple and time-tested little fly is for imitating midges and other minutiae in the film.
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Shawnny3 on Feb 16, 2007February 16th, 2007, 12:23 pm EST
Nice question, JJ. I could make a list of my own, but there have already been some great flies listed. I would advise you to make your own list, since you probably already know what you like to fish. I'm not surprised that Gonzo, who fishes pressured waters (or at least writes books about it), didn't put any traditional mayfly dries on his list, while Jason relies heavily upon a traditional dry for the small streams he fishes. So you'll have to gauge the water you fish and the type of fishing you like to do to figure out what you really ought to tie.

I would start with flies that look easy to tie, then work to the ones that look more difficult, mastering one fly completely before you start trying to tie another one. The only way to do this is to tie a bunch of one pattern in one sitting, trying to improve with each fly until you find yourself making the pattern consistently well and tearing apart the first ones you tied. If you tie only one fly of a certain pattern, then move on immediately to another pattern and another pattern, you'll find yourself after a few hours with a pile of bad flies that have taken too long to tie and a tying bench strewn with a pile of disorganized materials. You will have also failed to develop your skills as quickly as if you had just concentrated on learning to tie one pattern well. I know all of this because I made this mistake when I started tying (and still battle wanderlust at the tying bench even today). There will be plenty of time for experimenting after you've developed your skills, but I would advise beginning by mastering each fly and the techniques that go with it, one at a time.

A few financial considerations: Good dry-fly hackles are very expensive and worth the long term investment only if you plan on tying a lot of dries or have a lot of money to burn up front. Gonzo's flies are sneaky-smart ones for a beginner in this regard, because you don't need very good hackle to tie a decent stimulator, elk-hair caddis, or comparadun, since they tend to employ buoyant elk hair and float well without needing great hackle. If you stay away from quality dry-fly hackles, you can probably be outfitted to tie a dozen very good patterns for $50 or less. If you're a hunter, the price is closer to the cost of your ammunition.

Also, presumably you have a vise, but for those just starting out and on a tight budget I would advise not dumping a lot of money into an expensive vise. The point of a vise is to hold a hook while you tie a fly on it. A device that serves this purpose ought not to cost $500. Up to about $150, you tend to get what you pay for in terms of basic performance in a vise - beyond that, it's all bells and whistles. Though I wouldn't choose to go back to it, I've tied a lot of flies on a $20 Cabella's piece of doo-doo, and it still holds hooks well these many years later.

Last, all beginners should stay away from beginners' kits, which invariably contain lots of stuff you'll never use and very little you actually will. Instead, choose the specific patterns you want to tie, buy only the materials you need for those patterns, and add materials as you add patterns to your repetoire. My brother, a phenomenal fisherman but novice tier, outfitted himself to tie the dozen best patterns he fishes, vise and all, for under $100. Tying your own flies need not be a huge up-front investment, and it's tremendously rewarding.

Best of luck,
Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
Bolivar, MO

Posts: 14
Sirhoops23 on Feb 17, 2007February 17th, 2007, 3:04 am EST
You all are great and thanks for the advice. As far as fishing goes I would agree with most of your lists. But I think my add in on dry's would be the renagade (much like a griffith gnat) it immiatates midges in the the foam amazing too. Gonzo you are so right about some of the most important catagories such as midges. So why don't we just continue this little discussion with the midge category because they look farily easy to tie. And maybe I will make it tougher on you all. Name one fly you would "start" with as Shawnny3 said. Name the easiest on the lists. I thought the ideas were great and would love to hear some more. maybe also some sites to get great material at a good price. and i do have a fairly inexpensive vise and tools so I am set up and ready to go.
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"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
GONZO on Feb 17, 2007February 17th, 2007, 5:30 am EST

Shawn has given some very good advice about getting started in fly tying. (And, as usual, I hear the voice of practical experience in his post.) I would only modify his suggestion that you master one fly at a time to suggest that this is more about techniques than patterns. In other words, once you are comfortable with a particular tying technique you can usually adapt it to most patterns that rely on that technique (the various forms of hackling, dubbing, winging, hair-spinning, etc.). I would also add that, IMHO, thread management and manipulation is the most basic and essential skill in fly-tying, and everything else flows from that. I also liked Shawn's comment about tying on a "piece of doo-doo" vise. For more than forty years, I have produced the vast majority of my flies with an ancient Thompson Model B and wouldn't trade it for anything. But, I have learned to tie without the features that many modern tiers rely upon, and this is largely just a personal preference.

Shawn is also very perceptive about my reluctance to include "traditional" mayfly dries on the initial list. While many other ways of representing adult mayflies (such as the Compara-dun) are as (or sometimes more) effective, my main misgiving is that learning the proper winging and hackling of traditional Catskill-style dries is often one of the most daunting challenges a novice tier faces. Learning to tie such flies certainly teaches useful techniques, but many easier techniques produce better results with less frustration. (At some point, you will probably want to learn to tie these flies, but don't be disappointed if your early efforts are pretty lame--I know mine were!)

Lastly, with regard to midges, they usually are and (in my opinion) should be simple flies. I am certainly as guilty as anyone of endless elaboration and complication in my tying, and sometimes that pays off handsomely in heavily pressured waters. Still, I do not find that elaboration adds much (if anything) to the effectiveness of the smallest flies. The catch, however, is that while most midge ties are quite simple, they are not necessarily the easiest flies for novice tiers because they are so small. But, if you can learn the basics of thread management and material manipulation on somewhat larger flies first, downsizing these skills to midge scale is not that difficult.

CaseyP's profile picture
Arlington, VA/ Mercersburg, PA

Posts: 653
CaseyP on Feb 17, 2007February 17th, 2007, 8:13 am EST
JJ asks us to
Name the easiest on the lists.

as a tyro myself, i'll wade in:

Elk Hair Caddis because
1.its fat body can stand heavy beginner-type dubbing
2. its hackle isn't really hard to wind down the body
3. the hair wing is an essential technique and really fun to get right
4. they catch fish in all sizes so you can start big and work smaller as your skill improves.

Pheasant Tail Nymph because
1. pheasant tails are pretty and not too expensive
2. you can learn about beads, or not
3. you can learn about weighting, or not
4. they catch fish in lots of sizes (see EHC above)

Foam Beetle because
1. they are simple, but can be gussied up if you like with striped foam
2. you can hang your home-tied PT from it and catch twice as many fish
3. you can tie them a little bigger than other things so your fly box looks fuller.

i didn't like tying wooly buggers as a beginner because they had so many parts i kept forgetting, and i have never caught a fish on one. ever.

the best gift anyone ever gave me for tying flies is a book called The Benchside Introduction to Fly Tying by Leeson and Schollmeyer. the technique pages and the tying instruction pages are on different half-papers so you can flip the technique pages in the middle of tying. i have learned how to do a lot of things using this book right up to a very nice Royal Wulff . The illustrations are very clear. not cheap, so maybe someone will give you a birthday present. personally, i'm asking for Gonzo's book next.
"You can observe a lot by watching." Yogi Berra
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
GONZO on Feb 17, 2007February 17th, 2007, 10:10 am EST
Nice post Casey, and good advice; though your observations on the Woolly Bugger are certainly unique in my experience. As for that last comment, I hope your request is granted. If not, just let me know, and we'll work something out, pal! :)
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Shawnny3 on Feb 18, 2007February 18th, 2007, 4:19 am EST
Nice posts, guys.

I agree with Gonzo that starting with midges might not be the best plan because they are so small, and that tying them simply is the best idea even for experienced tiers. And the comment about thread control is right on.

Casey, excellent rationale for your patterns - hard to argue with any of that. I try to stay away from foam, but that's strictly for aesthetic reasons - I'm sure foam flies work really well. I would discourage a beginning tier, however, from getting too infatuated with foam, though, because I think that relying on it too heavily could erode your tying skills. I would say that's true for most synthetics, actually. If all you want to do is catch fish, fine - nothing wrong with that. But if a beginner really wants to learn how to tie well, I would caution him to be careful that his purchases of materials are based on actual need and are not just crutches used to support poor tying.

To answer JJ's question of which pattern to start with, I would start with the Sowbug, Walt's Worm, or a related caddis wet. These are extremely simple, can be modified easily to imitate more specific larvae and nymphs, and catch fish consistently. Also, how to dub well is a critical first skill to learn, and these flies give the beginner ample practice at dubbing. To see if your dubbing technique is working well (and at first it probably won't), dunk each fly you finish into some water, let it get saturated, and see how the body looks. The biggest problem for a beginner is unseemly lumps from uneven dubbing. They may not look that bad at the bench, but let them splay outward in the water and you have a body full of cancerous tumors. After you're satisfied with them at the bench, to see how good your thread control is, take those flies to the stream and fish them. After each fish, inspect the body under the water in the palm of your hand. If your fly begins to look lumpy or fall apart after a fish or two, you're probably not tying tight enough wraps. Also, if your body was cancerous to begin with, you'll see the lumps metastasize after each fish.

This practice of checking flies underwater after each fish, by the way, is a great habit to get into even for experienced tiers and fishermen. If you aren't in the habit of doing this, you may not realize just how much your fishing could improve if you did. Even the best-tied flies suffer much from the little sawblades in a fish's mouth, and just sweeping the fibers back into shape before casting again does absolutely nothing to fix the problem. Instead, take a needle and clippers to the errant parts (being careful not to clip any thread!) and pick and trim until the fly looks good underwater again.

Best of luck,
Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
GONZO on Feb 18, 2007February 18th, 2007, 7:22 am EST
Cancerous lumps of metastasizing dubbing--eww, yuck!!! Thanks for the very cool, if somewhat creepy image, Shawn!
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Shawnny3 on Feb 18, 2007February 18th, 2007, 12:27 pm EST
Sorry for the graphic imagery. I wonder what the fish have to say about such flies... our palates are probably more refined than theirs.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
Softhackle's profile picture
Wellsville, NY

Posts: 540
Softhackle on Feb 18, 2007February 18th, 2007, 12:51 pm EST
I strongly suggest the flymphs-wingless wets of Jim Leisenring. They are simple, yet effective and consistant fish catchers. I would definitely carry


Black Gnat, Old Blue Dun, Iron Blue Dun, wingless, Light Snipe and Yellow, Gray Hackle and Red Hackle.

Add to these some classic North Country soft-hackles like the Partridge and Orange and the Snipe and Pheasant,

Definitely simple to tie and great to fish.


"I have the highest respect for the skilled wet-fly fisherman, as he has mastered an art of very great difficulty." Edward R. Hewitt

Flymphs, Soft-hackles and Spiders: http://www.troutnut.com/libstudio/FS&S/index.html
Littleton, Colorado

Posts: 35
Sundula on Feb 18, 2007February 18th, 2007, 4:47 pm EST
Dry: Griffith's gnat, Parachute Adam's, Elk Hair Caddis
Nymph: Mercury RS2, Standard RS2, Mercury Black Beauty

I don't fish the other's much I really don't fish dries much. The one's I listed are very simple to tie and are very productive. I love fishing small nymphs and my favorite of all time is the Mercury RS2 I disovered it early last year and fished it literally all year with great results. The Mercury RS2 takes about 2-3 minutes to tie, the Standard RS2 takes the same time and the Mercury black beuty takes 1-2 minutes to tie. I love to tie simple flies if it takes me more than five minutes to tie I have trouble keeping a stock of them. I love simple small flies I ony want to spent an hour max at the bench. I used to tie all sorts of "extravagent flies" but I found that for myself the simpiler the better. I carry very few patterns of flies but alot of them and I can't complain. The trout in my area seem to enjoy them also. I tie for them not for me, some flies I see tied look better on the wall. keep it simple and I gurantee you will be rewarded with trout and at the bench. There is nothing more frustrating than spending alot of time on a fly and having the thread snag and snap at the end and have to start all over and by the time you are sick of tying you only have a few flies then you head out to the water and lose them in the bank or snag them on the bottom. KEEP IT SIMPLE!
Central Pennsylvania

Posts: 8
Wiconisco37 on Nov 4, 2008November 4th, 2008, 12:31 pm EST
this is coming from a 13 year old, and ive caught 50 native trout in 2 hours with these flies
the capitalized are the best of each category
Dry: Elk Hair Caddis 12-16, ADAMS 12-16, light cahill 12-18
Wet: WOOLY BUGGER 8-12, Patriot 10-14, and Red Hackle 10-14(red hackle fiber tail, peacock body, brown hackle, black thread)
Nymph: PHEASANT TAIL 12-18, gold ribbed hares ear nymph 12-14, serendipity 16-18
Streamer: Clouser 8-12, THUNDER CREEK 8-12, bn dase 8-12
Terrestrial: GRIFFITH'S GNAT 16-20, black ant 16-20 and foam hopper 8-10
try em out and reply to me

Posts: 115
Trtklr on Nov 6, 2008November 6th, 2008, 7:00 am EST
for what it's worth i believe infishermen did a poll for best flies, the comparadun took second and the clouser took first. read my post for "fly selection for begginers and pros alike" from sports afield, i found it quite enlightening.
I have seen nothing more beautiful than the sunrise on a cold stream.

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