September 13th, 1999

The Experts' Flybox

A Collection of "Best Bet" Patterns for Trout

Compiled by Andy Engle, Charlotte, NC

Novice (and not-so-novice) fly fishers often find themselves overwhelmed with the array of questions that are an integral part of our sport.  What rod should I use?  What line will work best with this rod?  Knotted leader or tapered leader?  This represents a tiny sample of the concerns on the minds of those seeking to have a successful day.  Even more frustrating is the underlying notion that if each of these choices isn't properly made, no measure of angling success can be expected.

While I won't venture to argue against the virtues of being a detail-minded angler, I will contend that in addition to being meticulous and deliberate in one's preparations to pursue our elusive quarry, a certain level of on-stream confidence can be a significant asset.  One thing that I have always done to help myself gain confidence when learning a new skill is to find and emulate the experts in the particular field of interest.  Fortunately, the world of fly fishing is blessed with a significant body of people who, if not experts, are certainly credible sources of advice regarding the many facets of fly fishing.

It is with this in mind that I finally decided to do some research to quell at least one of these nagging concerns.  Specifically, I set out to build a list of top fly patterns for pursuing trout.  To that end, I decided to distill the collected knowledge offered by several notable personalities and to present it in a summarized set of statistics.  When I considered how I should develop such a list, I immediately imagined some of the most prominent names in fly fishing gathered around a campfire, discussing their individual lists of favorite flies

The data used to build this sample was gathered from eight published works -- cited at the end of this article -- which range from general fly fishing introductions to discussions of fishing small streams.  While this is by no means an exhaustive review of the fly fishing literature available, it does represent several credible and experienced authors and these books represent conditions and assumptions that will likely address the majority of trout angling situations.

The patterns are listed from most popular (most often recommended) to least often.  A mark appearing in the column under each author's name indicates an explicit recommendation for that pattern appearing in the referenced work.  While gathering the data, over 110 separate patterns were recommended, with a total of 217 individual votes for the various patterns.  In the interest of keeping things simple (or at least digestible), I have limited the list of winners to those patterns that received votes from at least half of "the panel".  Interestingly, this limits our list to an even dozen top patterns:

Pattern Name Category Robert
Alley
John
Gierach
Jimmy
Jacobs
Don
Kirk
Lefty
Kreh
Bill
Mason
Tom
Rosenbauer
Dave
Whitlock
Score
Ant, Black Terrestrial 8
Adams Dry   7
Elk Hair Caddis, Tan Dry   7
Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph   7
Muddler Minnow Streamer   7
Light Cahill Dry     6
Royal Wulff Dry       5
Pheasant Tail Nymph       5
Zug Bug Nymph       5
Woolly Bugger, Olive Streamer       5
Hendrickson Dry         4
Dave's Hopper Terrestrial         4

Works Cited
Alley, Robert. 40 Best Trout Flies. Portland, OR: Frank Amato Publications, 1997.

Gierach, John. Fly Fishing Small Streams. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1989.

Jacobs, Jimmy. Trout Streams of Southern Appalachia. Woodstock, VT: Backcountry Publications, 1994.

Kirk, Don. Fly-Fishing Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains. Birmingham, AL: Menasha Ridge Press, 1996.

Kreh, Bernard "Lefty". Presenting the Fly. New York, NY: Lyons Press, 1999.

Mason, Bill. Sports Illustrated Fly Fishing: Learn From a Master. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1994.

Rosenbauer, Tom. The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide. New York, NY: Lyons & Burford, 1984.

Whitlock, Dave. L. L. Bean Fly Fishing Handbook. New York, NY: Lyons Press, 1996.

~ Andy Engle


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