Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody WY, former National Park Superintendent

One of the author's must-have flies, the Bead Headed Prince Nymph (this one from Umpqua)
One of the author’s must-have flies, the Bead Headed Prince Nymph (this one from Umpqua)

After several years of fly fishing, many fishermen have acquired quite a few flies. Fly tiers have infinitely more. It is not unusual to see a different hatch each time you go out fishing. Or discover several new flies you ought to have because a friend told you “They were hitting them like crazy.” And, if you are a fly tier, over time you will have so many patterns in the numerous fly boxes within your fishing jacket that the problem will be trying to find the one you would like to use at the moment. I can tell you as a fly tier of more than sixty-eight years that you will probably tie more flies for friends and relatives over the years than you do for yourself. Because it is fun to tie flies. Because you are in demand by those that do not tie flies, and you really enjoy giving your flies to others. There is no way you can use all of them. And then you will tie some more. Over your years of experience you have packed around numerous boxes containing quantities of streamers, dry flies, wet flies and nymphs. But, eventually you realize you have been hauling around dozens, maybe even many hundreds of flies that have never been wet. Why is that?
There could be several reasons. If you fish only one or two rivers or streams all the time, you have learned what often produces some action. Or, you have gained considerable experience with several patterns and learned to read the water well on your favorite trout stream that you are successful enough to be satisfied. I know several fishermen that the only flies they use are a leech pattern under the water and a grasshopper pattern on top of the water. If leeches are in their environment, trout will strike at them. Trout probably don’t see enough leeches to be selective. And, when grasshoppers are flitting around, a representative pattern is a deadly trout taker.If you are buying all your flies or as a fly tier you want to carry only the flies that historically have proven themselves as the flies that catch the most fish and only those are the ones to have. Size can make a difference, and it would be wise to have each in a small size as well as a medium size. Color can be important too, but keep the number to a minimum and stay with the traditional dressing. If you must make a color choice, lean towards the browns, black and grey colors.
For dry flies the top trout flies that catch fish most often are Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, Royal Wulff, a may fly dun in olive color, a black ant, and a grasshopper. For nymphs, a dark stone fly, a Zug Bug, a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Bead Headed Prince nymph, Pheasant Tailed nymph, and of course, a black leech and a grasshopper. With these you will not be ready to match the hatch, but you will be better equipped than those fishermen that are flailing the water with whatever looks good in their many fly boxes.


  1. Clay, my son-in-law was laughing as he read your description of me. We just returned from a 5 day trip fishing the McCloud river. I had taken 6 different boxes filled with a variety of flies tied over the years, and we still fished a very scant few, changing only size and color. Very enjoyable article.

  2. Great post Clay

    It’s so easy to build up a huge collection of flies and never really get to use them all. I like to focus on my small selection of nymphs until I find a winner!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *