The 14 Best Flies for Your First Fly Box
The 14 Best Flies for Your First Fly Box
After a few decades of helping folks pick out flies in the fly shop, you start to see the commonalities of most conversations. Customers ask the same questions, I crack the same jokes, they buy one of two dozen flies and we say our good-byes with a smile and a well wishing for their time on the water. That’s all absolutely great but every once in a while, we see a different kind of customer. This person wants to cover all the bases. They want to know they have everything they’ll need. This person wants a PLAN!
I can relate to the fly box planners of the world. I love to start an entirely new fly box for big fishing trips I have coming up. Part of the fun of a great fishing trip is the excitement and preparation for the trip. Sitting down with a cup of coffee, a sharp pencil, and a notebook full of fly ideas is how most big fishing trips start for me.
For new fly anglers, getting that first fly box can be a bit daunting for the fly box planner. Being a fly box planner myself, I feel your excitement and uncertainty. So, here are some top tips on how I would approach filling your first fly box and some suggested fly patterns to consider. Please note, these suggestions are primarily for anglers fly fishing for trout in rivers and streams.
1 - Start With The Classic Patterns
When you read about suggested flies or meet someone on the stream and talk flies, the conversation usually is about classic fly patterns that most anglers know. Classic patterns like the Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail Nymph, Parachute Adams, Wooly Bugger, Elk Hair Caddis, or Prince Nymph are commonly referenced because most anglers are familiar with them and because so many anglers fish them (because they work). For a first fly box, I recommend including a good portion of these classic patterns and getting to know them by name. You’ll increase your “fly jargon”, be likely to have the flies someone suggests to you, and you’ll be using tried-and-true patterns with histories of success.
2 - Buy Quality Flies
Shocker! The guys selling top quality flies are recommending buying top quality flies. Yeah, we’ll save you some time and expense right now and tell you that cheap flies are exactly that. There is a reason good fly shops only carry top-quality flies. Save yourself the hassle of learning on your own and start your first fly box with good quality flies that you won’t look at with disdain in the future.
3 - Cover Your Bugs
Part of fly fishing is knowing a bit about what your target species feeds on so you can match it with an appropriate fly. Knowing at least the basics about the major groups of insects in a trout stream is very helpful to the trout stream angler. You don’t need a degree in entomology, but grabbing a few flies to represent the most common insects and knowing what time of year they are present to the trout is very useful information. Take a moment to learn the basic lifecycles and common species of mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies. This knowledge can be very fruitful and adds to the enjoyment of fly fishing when you discover the missing piece of the puzzle, match the hatch, and put a smack-down on the trout that day.
4 - Consider the Seasons
Applying your knowledge of insects to the seasons you plan to be fishing can greatly impact your fly box. For example, if your fly fishing tends to take place when you vacation in July or August, your fly box will probably be heavy in dry flies and include lots of hoppers, caddis, terrestrials, etc. and not include much in the way of Skwala nymphs, Blue Wing Olives, October Caddis, etc. This information is all easily available by referencing a hatch chart for the rivers you fish or talking to a local fly shop.
5 - Size Matters
When selecting flies, remember the idea is to resemble food items that the fish are looking for. This includes color, shape, and size, and size can be the most important. Often, however, fly anglers don’t want to fish flies that are too small because they are hard to see, hard to tie on, or just seem like they won’t catch big fish. Unfortunately, though, all bugs aren’t size 12-16 and we need to use flies that are the size of the natural bugs if that’s what the fish are feeding on. When that Blue Wing Olive hatch starts going off and big trout are rising right in front of you on size 20 duns, you’ll wish you had a few with you… and possibly some higher magnification readers as well.
6 - Consult the Local Fly Shop
If you’re lucky enough to have a fly shop close to where you live and/or do your fishing, you most likely have some very valuable knowledge right in front of you and someone willing to share it. In this case, the information we are interested in is good flies for the rivers and seasons you are fishing. These are easy questions for the fly shop pro. In fact, these are questions he/she may have answered ten times in the last two hours of the same day. So, keep that in mind and ask well-crafted questions. Instead of walking into the shop and asking a general question like, “Hey, what are they biting on?”, maybe ask something more like, “I’m looking to fish the Example River now through September and was wondering if you could suggest like 10 or 12 top fly patterns to have on hand?”. When he/she begins suggesting flies, be prepared to buy them. They don’t work for free just like you probably don’t. Although BigTimeFlies wants to sell you flies on our website, we can never replace the value of the local fly shop so please support them when you can.
7 - Recommended First Fly Box
If you don’t have a fly shop close by or want flies for a wide variety of locations and seasons, we can still apply our first five tips to creating a perfect first fly box. Here is a recommended fly selection that includes classic patterns, certainly includes quality flies, and covers the most important insects in the most appropriate sizes for the most popular times of the year. You simply can’t go wrong with this selection of flies on any trout river or stream. Here we go…
So there you go, a terrific fly box for covering a multitude of trout stream situations and including a mixture of old and new classic patterns. If you need assistance with questions or have comments, get in touch with us at any time.
I hope this list and information is useful to you and helps you find success in your fly fishing adventures.
- Michael Bennett