Go to Flies

By Paul Prentiss

I thought it might be informative to solicit input from the staff of Front Range Anglers on favorite fly patterns. I asked them to name the one fly they always have on hand. In effect, it's their 'go to' pattern for difficult or uncertain conditions. The fly could be fished as a point or trailer fly. Any type of fly was acceptable -a dry, wet fly, nymph, or streamer.

This week and next I'll summarize the feedback. The seven individuals easily clock 100+ days of stream time every year. Most of them do guided trips, provide fishing related instruction, and are on the pro staff of several suppliers. The results were interesting and a bit unexpected.

  1. Everyone selected something different even though they were not prompted to do so.
  2. All the patterns are commercially available. Please note that each of these gentlemen is an expert fly tier with numerous fly designs to his credit.
  3. With only one exception, these flies have been around well over 25 years.
  4. The majority were subsurface patterns
Jay Zimmerman is a proponent of the fly Russ Blessing developed 40 years ago - the Woolly Bugger. It's productive everywhere, easy to tie, available in almost any color combination or size and can be fished in many ways. Jay is never without a large box of Woolly Buggers. "75% of the time when I'm not sure what to use I'll go to this fly. It makes no difference as to the season or the type of water."

There is no right or wrong when it comes to tying this pattern. The only real constant is a large marabou tail and even here there are variations.
It can be fished fast or slow, with or without action, and weighted or un-weighted. You can use floating lines or sinking lines and long or short leader depending on circumstances and sizes. "I like darker bodies (black or brown) with black or brown hackle, a black marabou tail and a nickel colored bead head. I carry with me an incredible range of these flies in just about every color combination you can think of."
Jon Spiegel is a big fan of the Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph. Fished alone or as a trailer, he has every confidence in this pattern. "Over the years it's never let me down. I catch fish every time I use it"

The Pheasant tail nymph is a true classic. The original was tied by Frank Sawyer, an English River Keeper, using only copper thread and pheasant tail fibers. He devised the pattern for use on the River Avon in Wiltshire in Southern England. In short order it became world famous. Frank's book "Nymphs and Trout", first published in 1958, describes the method of tying and fishing the nymph.

Gary Borger, in his book "Nymphs", noted that in 1973 he received Frank Sawyer's book for his birthday and from it tied some Pheasant Tail nymphs for use on a Montana spring creek. In his first experience with this fly, he caught 27 fish in 100 feet of stream in 2 hours, all between 1 and 3.5 pounds.

Over 600 species of mayflies dwell in North America, and most of them are small and brown when they are nymphs. Thus the small, brown Pheasant Tail Nymph suggests a wide range of living creatures that trout are fond of munching. In rivers, it resembles pale morning duns, blue-winged olives, March browns, and a host of others. In lakes, it's a darn good representation of a Callibeatis nymph.

The typical nymph uses pheasant tail fibers, peacock herl, and copper wire. The Flashback version of this nymph has a strip of synthetic flash material on top of the whole length of the nymph. A very popular version of this fly (pictured above) that Jon uses quite a bit is tied with a gold bead head.


Larry Jurgens pleaded to include two flies but under considerable pressure to select only one, he turned to the Adams.

"The Adams is a solid imitation of just about any mayfly. I've fished it for 50 years and it just plain works. I like both the original and the parachute version."

The Adams represents nothing in particular, yet everything in general. Since its debut in the 1920's it has held its position as the most popular fly in the US. One can use the same tying methods and vary the materials to tie the Adams with colors that resemble the naturals on any waters.

This fly was created by Leonard Halladay of Michigan. He was an innkeeper and avid angler who hit on the pattern when he was asked by a close friend, Judge Charlie Adams, to tie some flies for him in 1922. Larry also pointed out that this is the favorite fly of AK Best who wrote a recent article about it in the March 2005 issue of "Fly Rod and Reel".
Bill Leuchten struggled with the question of his favorite pattern. He decided on the UV Midge. "When I'm sight fishing, and I can actually see fish refusing some of the best patterns I know, the first thing I do is go smaller. Simple midges catch the most stubborn fish."
What is a midge? Although some anglers refer to any small fly -natural or artificial- as a midge, the term is more accurately used to identify several families of insects in the order Diptera, two-winged flies.

Midges are the only insect that bring trout to the surface every month of the year.
During the winter months they're the only game in town. Because midges hatch in huge numbers, trout find them an easy meal. An unconfirmed statistic I've heard about midges on Colorado's South Platte River, is that for every mayfly consumed trout eat 300 midges.

According to Bill correct size is really the most important factor in selecting a fly for midge fishing. "Because midges are so small, choosing a fly that is one size off can make a big difference in whether a trout will take or not."
Danny Smith chose a fly that is one of my favorites. The Prince Nymph rates as one of the top 10 nymph patterns and it should be in your fly box. The body of green peacock herl with its efflorescent qualities is the primary attraction for fish. This forked tail nymph originated with the brothers Don and Dick Olson of Bemidji, Minn. but it was made popular in Western North America by Doug Prince of Monterey, California.

"The prince nymph is a searching pattern. It is a great pattern to use when fishing new waters or when you are unsure what the trout are eating.
In still or moving waters, the Prince Nymph is always a good fly to start with. I like the fact that you can fish it in a variety of ways and can modify the look by clipping back the wings. Try stripping this pattern with rapid jerks in still waters and lakes. Small split shot can be added to achieve more depth."
Brian Schmidt loves wet flies and streamers, but for just plain fun he's a big fan of the Royal Wulff. Next to the Adams this pattern may be the most widely recognized fly in the world. It was developed in the 1930's by one of the most revered American Anglers, Lee Wulff, and was introduced to the public in Ray Bergman's classic work "Trout".

"I like everything about this fly. It's easy to see, you can modify the body color and wings, it floats extremely well in fast water, and it has a great profile. When you fish this pattern, it takes you back to the basic fundamentals of dry fly fishing which for many anglers is the ultimate form of fly fishing."

Paul Prentiss has been a big Western Coachman fan for over 30 years. He ties some15 versions of this fly in a variety of sizes. The interest in this pattern got started one evening on the Blue River. In a period of three hours he hooked and landed 34 fish. The biggest was a 19-inch brown. He had carried these flies (a gift from a friend) in his vest for 5 years prior to that night.

The Western Coachman is perhaps the most famous fly that Wayne 'Buz' Buszek developed.
The pattern was introduced in the late 1930's. Buszek was a legendary California fly tier who is still honored each year by the Federation of Fly Fishers award bearing his name.

There are both wet and dry fly versions of this pattern. Buszek also launched a trude version - down-wing dry flies, usually tied with bright calf-wings and substantial hackle collars. They are excellent searching flies because of their visibility and flotation.

In 1988 the trude version of the western coachman with a white deer hair wing won the one fly contest in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.