My Top Ten Flies of Summer

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I have scoured the popular fly fishing blogs in search of top ten fly pattern lists and found that most, if not all of them, favor commercial shop flies and lean heavily towards a predictable collection of pheasant tail and hares ear nymphs. Sure, we should carry many of those with us as we head out in search of fishing action. Personally, I rarely use many of the most popular fly patterns and saving them for in case something goes wrong with my personal A list. You see, I am out of the box, square peg in a round hole kind of guy. I hate convention and stagnation, I am a progressively minded explorer of possibilities always on the look out for the next best killer fly pattern. I have spent the better part of four decades refining my top ten list throwing out less productive patterns in lieu of better designs.

I have tied and fished with the Prince Nymph, Pheasant tail, Adams, Elk Hair Caddis and the other top ten patterns that everybody has listed on thier blog (yawn). Sure, those flies will always catch fish because they illicit a strike response from curious or hungry fish. Sometimes they even imitate what the fish might be eating at the moment you are using them. Most of all they look a lot like something edible but not like anything in particular and that is why they end up on everyones list.

To get into my guiding box, a fly pattern must imitate many possible food forms. Every fly in this list has been drafted into service because of its multiple possibilities AND functionality. You see, not only does they fly have to look edible, it has to have a tactical function. Tactical function of the fly is the weight and depth that it is designed to be fished at and what life stage it might be imitating.


Dirty Hipster, Natural Hares Ear

When just a spot of color is needed to invoke a curiosity response but anything more flamboyant would turn off the fish.

I was in search of a tactical jig that I could use as an anchor fly anytime, anyplace that would also function as an effective attractor nymph. I tie these in a wide array of sizes and bead weights to get to the depths I need. Even if this fly is not on the fishes menu, which is very rare, the somber tones and buggy appearance will not put the fish off. I tie in a trailer hitch in the back for attaching a dropper fly.

available in the store.

  • Hook: Tactical Jig.
  • Bead: Black nickel slotted tungsten.
  • Thread: Hot orange.
  • Tail: Dark pardo Coq de Leon.
  • Tag: Optional, hot orange lite bright or stomach body thread.
  • Rib: Small oval gold tinsel.
  • Abdomen: Dark hares mask fur.
  • Thorax: Dirty spike blend (Black rabbit and fox squirrel body hair 50/50).
  • Legs: Rootbeer barred grizzly micro legs.
 

Bank Maggot

Several decades ago a horse had died at the head of a riffle in my favorite beat of the Deschutes River. I fished below that carcass for an entire season using a simple white maggot pattern. Historically, fish hatcheries used to hang carrion around the raceways allowing the maggots to fall into the water thus feeding the fish. Fish relish delicious ripe maggots.

I had forgotten about the maggot pattern for a very long time until I relocated to the Roaring Fork valley. As is customary, I take a gastric lavage to determine what food items are currently being ingested. **Relax my friend, I'm a trained fisheries biologist that has spent years conducting field research, I know what I am doing and do not harm our fish.** In several gastric samples, I had observed opaque white body parts of benthic macroinvertebrates. It is likely that what I was seeing was the effects of gastric juices denaturing the proteins of the insect or that the fish had taken the insect during a molt into the next instar. It did spark a memory of fishing the maggot patterns below that horse carcass on the Deschutes. I went home and whipped up a few of these bank maggot patterns.

I have discovered that when I am having a slow day and none of my usual patterns are turning the fish on, I found that the Bank Maggot works. Mostly, I found this patterns works best in low light conditions such as on overcast days, in the shade or early morning. I like to use these when the water is stained from run-off and following a monsoon that can cause increased turbidity. In my forthcoming book, I reveal why this pattern works well in less than optimal lighting situations.

I have since found aquatic sowbugs of a similar shape and color in my river that this pattern mimic nicely..

Available in the store.

  • Hook: Firehole #633 #8-18
  • Bead: White tungsten or brass
  • Thread: Veevus white (only this brand has a nice UV quality)
  • Rib: White Uni-Flexx floss
  • Abdomen: Light gray, tan and white hares mask fur.
  • Thorax: White hare'e ice dubbing
 

Pautzke Hares Ear AKA Sexy Walt's or the Pink Bunny

What started off as a Sexy Walt's Worm and a metallic pink bead has morphed into a local favorite dubbed the Pautzke Fly. That big pink bead affixed to the anterior portion of the fly looks like a Pautzke cured fish egg that you can buy at local bait shops.

Fish have an innate strike response when encountering eggs drifting downstream. Not only do eggs provide a nourishing snack, free drifting eggs are a danger to other redds as they can spread fungus. I have observed fish in my hatchery devour eggs that are denaturing (becoming opaque) in order to keep the remaining eggs from becoming infected. This also provides a clue as to why the white bead of the bank maggot works so well as they look like unfertilized fish eggs.

I've heard from the typical naysayer, "I've never seen an egg eating nymph before". You are anthropomorphizing things friend, the fish aren't thinking to themselves, gee that looks like delicious egg eating nymph. In fact the fish aren't even thinking. Fish are only biological machines having several separate innate, unconscious neurological triggers occurring concurrently. Who are we to argue with what the fishes brain might interpret what out fly looks like?

Note: I add a trailer hitch to this pattern for use as a dropper rig.

  • Hook: Moonlit ML058 #10-14.
  • Bead: Large metallic pink tungsten.
  • Tail: Dark pardo Coq de Leon.
  • Abdomen: Natural hares mask fur.
  • Rib: Fine opal tinsel. (optional, include some without for wary fish)
  • Thorax: Dark spike blend.
 

Goa Larva

This pattern imitates so many things living in the depths of a trout stream. Caddisfly larva, cranefly larva, Athericidae larva, riffle beetle larva an all be imitated with this one simple fly. My best summer searching pattern in low water bright light conditions.

  • Hook: Firehole 633 #8-16
  • Bead: Black nickel tungsten
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Abdomen: Dark olive hares mask.
  • Rib: Uni-Mylar clear.
  • Thorax: Hemmingways peacock UV bronze dubbing.
 

Green Papaya Czech Nymph

I am not sure when I first started tying this color combination, but ever since I did, trout have been in love with it. I use it all summer long, but especially during the yellow sally hatch of summer. Again, this fly works at drawing the attention of trout by representing multiple food items.

Available in the store

  • Hook: Hanak H630BL  #8-16
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Weight: Flat tungsten tape
  • Abdomen: Light olive, yellow and sulphur hares mask dubbing in three separate sections.
  • Rib: Fine oval gold tinsel, counter rib GSP thread.
  • Shellback: Semperfli bug shell back thin skin golden brown.
  • Dorsal markings: Brown copic marker.

 

 

 

Drowned Spinner

Never overlook the importance of having a drowned spinner imitation in your box. Many important mayfly species have rusty colored spinners. I often fish these early in the morning when spinner falls may have occurred overnight. One way to find out if a spinner fall has occurred is to find a back eddy where debris accumulates and look for dead spinners being conveyed about. Chances are trout will still be on the lookout for these.

  • Hook: Firehole Sticks 633#10-18
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Bead: Metallic brown tungsten in the thorax.
  • Tail: Dark pardo Coq de leon. 
  • Abdomen: Rusty spinner colored goos biot.
  • Thorax: Rusty spinner hares mask fur.
  • Wing: White organza.
  • Collar: Reddish brown cock hackle wound wet fly style.
 

Zebra, Zika Midge

Always affixed as a dropper on my multiple fly rig. Whether it is sunk under a dry as a dropper or as a brace of flies on a tight line. This fly has so much mojo that I use it year around.

  • Hook: Firehole Sticks 316#14-18
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Bead: mercury glass.
  • Abdomen: Silver and black Uni-Wire sm. wound together.
  • Thorax: Ice dub peacock black.
 

Flashback Black Pheasant Tail.

I digress, I just had to add a variation of a Pheasant Tail Nymph because this is an all around good fly that I have relied on for many years. One of my top sellers too.

Available in the store

 

  • Hook: Firehole 633 #10-18.
  • Bead: Black nickel.
  • Thread: 50D black GSP.
  • Tail: Dyed black pheasant tail.
  • Abdomen: Dyed black pheasant tail.
  • Rib: Small stainless steel dubbing brush wire.
  • Thorax: Black hare'e ice dubbing, coarse.
  • Wingcase: Peacock Uni-Mylar and UV resin.
 

Yellow Sally Flymph

I have used this on picky fish taking PMD emergers and performs well as an emerging caddis or yellow sally. Yup, that yellow sally emergers mid-stream like a caddis, hence why this fly swung shallow at the end of a drift gets clobbered. Used primarily as a dropper behind a heavy jig or under a dry fly.

  • Hook: Firehole 633 #10-18.
  • Thread: White 50D GSP.
  • Tail: Medium pardo CDL.
  • Abdomen: Pale yellow turkey quill biots.
  • Thorax: Yellow hares mask fur.
  • Hackle: Dyed yellow grizzly hen, 3 turns through thorax.
 

Polish Quill Emerger

The RS2 and the Swiss Straw Emerger got together and had a baby. This is pattern is an amalgamation of so many patterns that it just has to work.