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Experts’ Top Ten Dry and Wet Flies

by Philip Monahan

Have a question you want answered? Email it to us at ask@midcurrent.com.

Question: How do you organize your fresh water fly boxes? Do you have a Top-10 list of dry & wet flies that you’ll always carry?

Mark C., Chattanooga, TN

Tungsten Anato-May Fly

Answer: There are lots of ways to organize your flies: by season, by species, by kind of water, by fly style, by color, and so on. Experts will obviously disagree on both of Mark’s questions, so here’s a sampling of responses from guides, writers, and fish bums of every stripe.

Brian O’Keefe, traveling photographer

“I am a walking fly shop, so picking 10 patterns was like Hugh Hefner looking in his little black book. I like modern flies but there are days when a high-vis parachute Adams or a simple woolly bugger gets the job done just fine.”

O’Keefe’s Top Ten
Fly Pattern
Style
Sizes
Quigley’s Hackle Stacker Flag Dun (BWO)
Dry Fly
8
Tilt Wing Dun – PMD
Dry Fly
16
CDC Midge Adult (black)
Dry Fly
20
Kingrey’s Better Foam Caddis (tan)
Dry Fly
16
Chubby Chernobyl (gold)
Dry Fly
8
Morrish’s Hopper (golden)
Dry Fly
8
Morrish’s Tungsten Anato-May – Hare’s Ear
Nymph
16
Silvey’s Submerger Caddis (olive)
Nymph, Emerger
14
Beadhead Chironomid Larva (red)
Nymph, Emerger
12
Garrett’s Bellydancer Zonker (natural)
Streamer
4

Tom Rosenbauer, author of the Orvis Fly Fishing Guide

For a comprehensive look at fly-box organization, listen to Tom’s 15-minute podcast on the subject here.

Rosenbauer’s Top Ten
Fly Pattern
Style
Sizes
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Nymph
16-20
Hare’s Ear Nymph (black tungsten bead under thorax to eliminate flash)
Nymph
8-18
Copper John
Nymph
10-16
Parachute Adams
Dry Fly
12-22
Eck Caddis
Dry Fly
15-20
Orange Stimulator
Dry Fly
8-16
Baetis Comparadun
Dry Fly
16-24
Griffith’s Gnat
Dry Fly, Emerger
16-24
Rabbit’s Foot Emerger (in pink, olive, tan, or sulfur, depending on season)
Emerger
14-18
Black Tunghead Woolly Bugger
Streamer
4-10

John Merwin, fishing editor of Field & Stream

John organizes all his trout flies by size and kind in six boxes:

  1. Standard-size dries
  2. Standard-size wets/nymphs/emergers
  3. Oversize dries (big drakes, variants, etc., by themselves in a deeper box so hackles don’t get maimed)
  4. Small dries (sizes 18 – 26)
  5. Small wets/nymphs (sizes 18 – 26)
  6. Streamers

For a more comprehensive list, see John’s “25 Best Flies.”

John Merwin’s Top Ten
Fly Pattern
Style
Clouser Deep Minnow
Streamer
Black Woolly Bugger
Streamer
Black Ghost
Streamer
Zonker (white)
Streamer
Elk-hair Caddis
Dry Fly
Adams
Dry Fly
Royal Wulff
Dry Fly
Griffith’s Gnat
Dry Fly, Emerger
Muddler Minnow
Streamer
Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph
Nymph

Buzz Bryson, Fly Rod & Reel contributing writer

“I keep the flies in boxes…. Other than that, I am not particularly organized. OK, I do have a nymph box, a terrestrial box, a streamer box, a midge box, and 2-4 other dry fly boxes. But I don’t organize by time of year, species, water, etc.

  1. All the trout stuff is in my vest.
  2. All my bass stuff is in a big box or two, in a small shoulder bag.
  3. All my saltwater/striper stuff is in soft, flat bags called Finsport streamer wallets and carried in a bigger shoulder bag with reels/leaders/etc.
  4. I also have bonefish/permit flies in boxes. But I don’t obsess about organization — nor do I hesitate to ‘borrow’ from friends who spend much more time than I do tying and filling their boxes!”
Buzz Bryson’s Top Ten
Fly Pattern
Style
Ant
Dry Fly
Beetle
Dry Fly
Royal Wulff
Dry Fly
Blue-Winged Olive
Dry Fly
Generic emergers (in a variety of colors/sizes)
Emerger
Pheasant Tail
Nymph
Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear
Nymph
Woolly Bugger
Streamer
Matuka Muddler
Streamer
Clouser Minnow
Streamer

Bryan Gregson, professional fish bum, water-rights activist,
and blogger

“I carry about 10 to 15 fully loaded boxes at all times. I organize patterns by hatch, and insect stage. So all Blue-Winged Olives will be in the same box, but adults, emergers, and nymphs are in separate compartments. Beadhead nymphs are kept separate from standard patterns. My streamer box is chock full of all articulated monsters.”

Gregson’s Top Ten Summer Dry Flies for Big Fish
Fly Pattern
Grumpy Frumpy
Bunny Midge
Parachute Adams
Palomino Caddis
Mouse
Cicada
Petite Sirloin Salmonfly
Parachute Hare’s Ear
Reflecta Caddis
Grand Hopper

William G. Tapply, contributing writer for American Angler, mystery novelist, and sporting writer

“Ever since I hung up my vest in favor of a fanny pack, out of deference to my creaky back, I’ve carried just two fly boxes with me.

One box I load up with imitations of what I expect to encounter on the specific river or pond that I plan to fish at a specific time of year. On Rocky Mountain rivers in the summer, for example, I bring my Pale Morning Dun/Sulfur box, with emergers, duns, and spinners in various designs to match these two prolific and dependable hatches. For the early season in the East, it might be Hendricksons and Blue-Winged Olives.

The second box, I keep filled with tried-and-true general favorites, flies that work when a big specific hatch isn’t going on, or for streams where matching the hatch isn’t crucial. These are the ten (+/-) flies (each in two or three sizes) that I carry in that box:

Naturally, I sometimes find myself without the fly I need. Often, by trimming and barbering some flies that I do have, I can make do. (It’s easy to make a spinner out of a dun, for example, by clipping Vees out of the hackle top and bottom.)”

Tapply’s Top Ten
Fly Pattern
Style
Adams
Dry Fly
Elk-hair Caddis (dark and tan)
Dry Fly
Foam Beetle
Dry Fly
Deer-Hair Ant
Dry Fly
Rusty Spinner
Dry Fly
Griffith’s Gnat
Dry Fly, Emerger
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Nymph
Hares Ear Nymph
Nymph
Soft Hackle Wet (dark and pale)
Wet Fly
Woolly Bugger (olive and black)
Streamer

Zach Matthews, editor of The Itinerant Angler Web site

“My boxes are divided into streamers, dry flies, and nymphs. Each is a full-size waterproof box. Additionally, I carry one a smaller box, labeled ‘Winter,’ which mostly holds midges, eggs, and traditional Atlantic salmon patterns for lake-run trout. Finally, I have a large yellow Cliff’s Bugger Beast full of huge streamers for boat angling.”

Matthews’s Top 10
Fly Pattern
Style
Size
CDC Elk Hair Caddis
Dry Fly
16
Madame X Hopper (or equivalent)
Dry Fly
12
Wilson’s Trout Crack
Nymph
16
Zach’s Sexy Egg
Nymph
8
Beadhead Copper John
Nymph
16
Zebra Midge
Nymph
20
Little Red River Sowbug
Nymph
18
Clouser Minnow
Streamer
6
White Zuddler Minnow
Streamer
2
Galloup’s Sex Dungeon
Streamer
2

Phil Monahan, MidCurrent columnist

“When I go on a trip, I pack fly boxes specifically for the rivers and hatches I’ll encounter. I love spreading patterns out on the dining room table and then organizing them into new groups. I like to organize flies by style (nymph, emerger, dry, spinner, streamer) because I find that it’s easier to remember where something is in my vest that way. Every trip I go on, I put the nymphs in the same pockets, for instance.

For everyday fishing near my home in southwestern Vermont, I carry just two boxes: one filled with dry flies to imitate the current hatch, as well as attractors, and the other filled with streamers for big browns in the Battenkill and the Hoosic.”

Monahan’s Top Ten
Fly Pattern
Style
Size
Parachute Adams
Dry Fly
12-18
Elk-hair Caddis
Dry Fly
12-18
Cinnamon Ant
Dry Fly
12-16
Rusty Spinner
Dry Fly
12-16
Pheasant Tail
Nymph
14-20
Flashback Hare’s Ear
Nymph
12-18
Beadhead Copper John
Nymph
16-20
Rabbit’s-Foot Emerger
Emerger
16-20
Gray Ghost
Streamer
2-6
Conehead Woolly Bugger (black and olive)
Streamer
2-8
MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at OrvisNews.com.
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