21 Best Dry Flies For Trout (2023 Buyer’s Guide)

I’m going to let you in on a secret about dry flies for trout that other websites don’t want you to know. Often, the most recommended trout dry flies you see on-line are not the ones that river guides and top angler use.

But don’t worry, while other websites show you all the same generic dry flies for trout, I’ll show you the better dry flies for trout that top trout guides and top anglers are using.

When considering dry flies for trout, the best dry flies will closely imitate insects like mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis, and often the best dry flies for bigger trout are the sparsley-tied ones.

However, at times, the best dry flies are attractor patterns that can resemble multiple types of insects. Let’s find out why and which flies are the most effective dry flies for trout fishing.

Guide Dry Flies VS Generic Dry Flies For Trout

One of my guide dry flies for trout and the Natural it's supposed to imitate.
My guide fly and the natural it’s supposed to imitate.

Look into the dry fly box of an average or new fly angler, and then look into the dry fly box of guides and experienced anglers and you will see very different trout dry flies.

I’ve looked into many guides dry fly boxes, as well as top competition anglers boxes, and even a world champion competition fly anglers box, and they all use very different dry flies than the rest of the fly fishing community.

There are two reasons for this. Testing and sharing!! Guides and competition anglers constantly test out new flies in all sorts of conditions. When they find great dry fly patterns they share them with their guide buddies or the rest of their fly fishing team, and sometimes with some lucky clients.

There is also a reason why regular anglers mostly use generic dry flies for trout.

Many of the dry flies recommended on other websites are flies that those websites can make commissions on.

And, the ones the stores recommend to fly anglers are the ones they can sell. I know guys that work in fly shops, and the flies they sell in the stores are not the same as what’s in their fly boxes. Just saying!!

I’m not saying generic flies are bad flies, but if they were truly great dry flies for trout, guides and competition anglers would have boxes full of them, but they don’t!!

What Is A Dry Fly?

A natural dry fly from my local river.
A natural dry fly from my local river.

A dry fly is an artificial fly that I’mitates floating insects that trout feed on.

It is mostly fly anglers that use dry flies since fly fishing is the best method for presenting dry flies to trout.

Insects are a huge part of a trout’s diet but only 5 % to 10% of the time trout will feed on the surface. In some warmer areas of the south, the numbers might be higher and you might have an insect hatch year-round.

Guide Tip: I’ve heard some guys ask me how they are supposed to remember all these flies. My response is don’t worry about what they are called, simply follow local hatch charts, have a similar fly in your box for that time of year, and then take whatever fly in your box looks closest to what you see.

I promise you that the trou

Top 7 Best Dry Flies For Trout

If I had to narrow down my dry fly patterns to only 8 dry flies for trout, these would be them.

  1. Elk Hair Caddis – It’s a classic but it works well to imitate caddis.
  2. Stimulator – A great attractor pattern and a good fly pattern when you want to imitate an adult stonefly.
  3. Mayfly Dun – The best all-around mayfly dun pattern
  4. Comparadun – Good mayfly pattern when a low profile fly is needed for picky large trout.
  5. CDC Spinner – My best all-around spinner pattern.
  6. Beetle – A great summer pattern in the northern parts of the country but also good throughout the year in warmer climates.
  7. Hopper – A must-have and guide favorite for big trout in areas with grasshoppers.
  8. Ant – Another must-have seasonal fly pattern in areas with ants.

I have a lot more than this listed below because in some areas these flies won’t be good.

Guide Tip: When in doubt, go lighter, and go smaller than what you see.

What I mean is. what we as anglers see is not what the trout see. We are looking down at flies on the surface, and the trout are looking up at them.

In many cases, the back of an aquatic floating insect is darker, and the belly is lighter or a different color. As a fly tier, I try to match the belly of the natural insect and not the back, and for this reason, many of my flies are lighter in color than what others use.

As an example see the two images below of the same green drake fly from my local trout river.

A Green drake on my hand with a dark back
A Green Drake Mayfly Dun on my hand, notice the a dark back.
A green Drake underbelly.
Notice the light belly of the Green Drake, this is what the trout see and this is the color I try to match when tying this pattern.

Types Of Dry Flies For Trout

There are 6 types of dry flies for trout, and anglers that know when and where to use them will be more successful.

1. Emergers

An emerging mayfly in my hand
An emerging mayfly in my hand. Also known in the fly fishing world as an emerger.

Emergers are mayflies in transition from a nymph to a dry fly and are often found floating on the surface of the water as their wings dry enough for them to fly.

Fished effectively, emergers can be very effective at taking large trout.

2. Duns

An emerging Dun Mayfly
Mayfly duns have darker wings as seen this freshly emerged mayfly dun.

Duns are the immature adult version of mayflies and are often found on the water shortly after the nymphs have emerged. Trout love mayfly duns since they are abundant.

3. Spinners

Spinner mayfly
Spinner mayflies usually have clear wings

Spinners are the mature adult stage of mayflies and are when they are ready to drop their eggs on the surface of the water.

These adult insects will drop to the water in large numbers all around the same time, this is called a spinner fall and it usually occurs at dusk, and sometimes at dawn.

A Rusty Spinner dry fly pattern is a good imitation.

The sheer volume of the spinners and their predictability makes the spinner fall the time many anglers will fish and do very well with big brown trout and rainbow trout.

4. Attractor Dry Flies

Attractor flies are flies that are big bulky and stand out. They don’t imitate a natural bug very well but they could be seen as many things to a trout. They can be a great fly when no insect hatches are occurring.

They are also a good option for new fly fishers and for guys with poor vision since they stand out and float high.

5. Terrestrial Flies

Terrestrial flies are popular with guides, but not so much with regular anglers. Terrestrial flies are non-aquatic insects that live near the river. Insects like grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, or any flying or crawling bug.

6. Prey Dry Flies

I’m not exactly sure what to call these so I call them prey dry flies. Prey flies are flies that imitate swimming prey like mice, frogs, salamanders, lizards et. Basically, anything that might swim across the river or lake is fish food for big predator trout.

In fact, at certain times of the year, anglers will specifically target huge trout using mouse patterns with very good success. These are not must-have flies, but they are sure fun to catch fish on.

A simple deer hair mouse pattern can be great at dusk and give you quite a thrill.

Matching The Hatch

The underbelly of a caddis.
When I match the hatch I tend to go lighter and smaller at first. And, I always try to match the belly color of the natural insects the trout are feeding on.

You may have heard of “matching the hatch”. This is when you put on a fly that resembles the bugs you see on the water.

Matching the hatch well improves your chances of catching trout, however, it is not always necessary.

As an example, if all the trout are rising to the surface and eating black size 18 flying ants, and you cast out a size 12 yellow stonefly, you probably won’t catch any trout if the trout only want ants.

 log with a lot of Sulfur mayflies on it.
One mayfly on the water is not a hatch, but lots of mayflies in the air, on the water, and on banks and logs is a hatch. This was the hatch of Sulfur Mayflies on my local river.

However, at times, there are so many ants on the surface that getting the trout to grab yours can be difficult since it gets lost in with all the other ants.

This is when I have seen a big attractor pattern work since it does stand out.

What I’m saying is that most of the time you want to imitate the natural insects on the water, but, it may pay off to present the trout dry flies that stand out.

3 Dry Fly Fishing Tips From Guides

I’ve had die-hard dry flies guys come out on guide trips during crappy weather and when not a single trout is willing to rise. These guys refuse to try anything but dry fly fishing which, honestly, I’m fine with that, because whatever floats your boat!!

But it’s these guys that made me a smarter dry fly angler and forced me to think outside the box and to try different dry flies and different dry fly presentations to get these non-active fish to bite.

When the fish are not rising for natural insects, they are not looking up. And if they are deep, they just won’t see your fly. Follow these tips for more trout.

FYI, these tips can be effective at any time, even if the trout are feeding heavily on the surface.

  1. If no fish are rising, use an attractor pattern.
  2. If no fish are rising, try imparting movement to the fly to try and make the trout look up. Twitch a fly by jiggling your rod tip can work, also, skating a fly or also known as dragging your fly across the surface film can be good.
  3. If no fish are rising, they are not looking up, therefore fish in shallower water. It’s easier to entice a fish to hit a fly in 2 feet of water because the dry fly is close to them than it is to catch a trout on a dry fly when the trout is 6 feet down on the bottom.

Guide Tip: When no fish are rising, my most effective way to entice trout to rise is to move into the shallower riffles and skate or drag caddis flies across the surface. The key is to dangle the fly over their heads longer.

At times and in a spot I’m sure a trout should be, I’ll even leave the fly in the same spot for 10 to 20 seconds. I’ll even drop it down a foot and drag it back up a foot.

How To Keep Dry Flies Floating Longer

Unless I’m using an emerger pattern, in my experience, a high-floating dry fly catches more trout than a half-sunk fly. The higher the dry fly sits on the surface, the more trout will hit it.

Unfortunately, dry flies will eventually absorb water and this will cause them to sink. To prevent this or to keep my dry fly floating longer and higher I use fly floatants.

In a nutshell, I apply a gel or liquid floatant, and then a dry powder floatant before my fly even hits the water. Once my fly starts to sink, I will use a desiccant powder to remove the water, and then repeat the process of a gel combined with a powder floatant.

For more on this, check out my article on The Best Dry Fly Floatants.

Bushy Dry Flies VS. Sparse Dry Fly Patterns

Guide Tip: Bushy dry flies float much higher, however, the bushier the dry fly the less it imitates the actual insect which can prevent larger wiser trout from biting. I have bushy dry flies for fly fishing and I primarily use them for smaller trout or stocked trout.

I also have sparsely tied dry flies which don’t float as well, but they fool big trophy-sized trout.

How To Fish A Dry Fly For Trout

Dry fly placement is critical.

I have watched clients target 8 to 10-inch rising trout for over 30 minutes and not be able to catch the fish. They simply are not placing the fly in a spot that makes the fly drift naturally in the strike zone. I’ve seen guys really struggle with this and they get so frustrated.

The problem is they often blame the trout, saying it just doesn’t want my fly. In some cases, yes, that is the problem, but based on my observations, it’s often not the issue.

The simple truth is that when dry fly fishing your fly MUST be in the right spot and it MUST be moving at a natural speed.

Avoid these common mistakes:

  • If the fly drags anywhere within 20 inches of the trout it can spook the trout.
  • If the fly is too far to the left or right the trout will not grab it.
  • If the fly lands too far upriver it can drag prematurely and spook the trout
  • If the fly lands on top of the trout or lands anywhere in the trout feeding zone it can spook the trout.

So how do you dry fly fish for trout?

You want your dry fly to land perfectly upriver and in line with the trout. You want it far enough upriver that it will drift into the trout feeding zone, but not so far upriver that it will drag in front off or over top of the trout. And then repeat, over and over until the trout takes the fly!

Tips and Tricks For Dry Fly Fishing

You want to be prepared to do this multiple times since trout won’t always hit every single insect that drifts over them. They will often let a few go by before they grab the next one.

Guide Tip: The way to catch fish with a dry fly is to improve your casting accuracy. Casting accuracy is very important.

I mentioned watching the client get frustrated after trying to catch 1 rising trout for 30 minutes or more. When they are ready to give up, I’ll make one or 2 casts at that fish and almost always I will catch that trout on my first cast. I don’t do this to show off, I do this to show them that a rising fish can be caught and that casting accuracy is very important and so is getting a perfect drift.

The reason catch the fish is that my fly lands in the perfect spot to give me a perfect drift past the trout. I’ve been dry fly fishing for over 37 years so my accuracy is very good.

My goal when catching the trout my client could not catch is to encourage them and to show them that with practice it’s not really that hard to catch any rising trout.

I’ve said this many times, and it’s almost 100% accurate, “If I can see them, I can catch them!!”

Best Dry Flies For Trout

A live spinner and a Dry Fly Spinner
A live mayfly spinner and one of my custom tied dry fly spinner patterns.

These are great dry flies for trout fishing that anglers should consider.

Guide Tip: I use the same simple mayfly pattern for all the different mayflies in my area since they are all basically the same shape.

I have been very successful with this for over 20 years. I simply change the color and size to match the natural. This means, the same pattern I use for a size 18 BWO also works for a size 12 March Brown.

I’ll even chop the tops and bottom hackles flat and the same mayfly then becomes a spinner just like the one above. Don’t overthink it guys!

Mayfly Imitations

1. Mayfly Dun Pattern

This is my most effective mayfly pattern and it’s my most versatile pattern if you tweak it slightly.

If I had to choose only one mayfly pattern, this would be it, and every angler should have plenty of these in their fly box.

It is sparsely tied which makes it a better imitation of the real mayfly and this is great for bigger trout that won’t touch a bushy pattern.

But, you can easily add a second hackle feather to make it bushier to ride higher which is better in faster ripples and rapids.

I have even trimmed the top and bottom hackles off and left the side hackles and it becomes a good spinner fly pattern. I have also tied this with no wing, just the hackle and it can work equally as well and be much easier to tie.

You can see how versatile this fly pattern is.

I change the size and color to match any mayfly species and when tied small it is a great Blue Winged Olive imitation. I also use it as a March Brown, Gery Fox, Pale Morning Dun, Beatis, and just about any mayfly on any river.

Guide Tip: If you cut a v-shape into the hackle your fly is more likely to land up write and sit upright. Without it, some flies roll or sit sideways on the water.

2. Comparadun Mayfly Pattern

The Comparadun Mayfly is another great fly that you will find in many guide fly boxes.

It is a great big trout pattern that can be tied very small, or large. This is a must-have fly and should be in any serious fly fisherman fly box.

Tied with CDC or deer hair, or elk hair and all will work.

Like the Mayfly Dun, you can change the color and size to match all the different mayflies near you.

I use the Comparadun tied small to imitate very small mayflies like the BWO and Tricos.

Guide Tip: Many dry flies are tied with the wings spread apart. However, when a mayfly is drifting on the water, almost always the wings are together and straight up. I’m not really sure why fly tyers tie dry fly wings apart but a single wing works equally well and is much easy to tie.

CDC Spinner

This is a fantastic dry fly to initiate any mayfly in the spinner stage. Just tie it in the sizes and colors to match the hatch on your river.

The Rusty Spinner is another version that works and one that you can buy online or in the stores.

For very small spinners to initiate flies like the BWO or a Trico, consider the DM Small Spinner or something similar.

Guide Tip: When tying very small flies, especially mayflies and some nymphs, instead of using dubbing for the body which creates bulk that makes the fly disproportional, I simply make the body out of tying thread.

Wyatt’s Deer Hair Emerger

I don’t fish emerges as often as I fish with duns.

The reason is simple, emergers sit very low in the water and are very hard for my clients to see, and at the same time, if there are emergers on the surface, soon after there are also duns on the surface, or there are nymphs below the surfaces, and both are easier to fish with.

However, at times, the big trout only want emergers, and if that’s the case I will fish emerges.

To help my clients with detecting bites, I will often add a micro swivel about 24 inches up the tippet and tell them to set the hook if anything raised within a 24-inch radius of that indicator.

You can also use emergers with a post like the Pheasant Tail Emerger Parachute, or ones with wings like the Wyatt’s Deer Hair Emerger

Adams Fly and Parachute Adams

This Adams pattern is one of the best flies for trout
The Adams pattern is one of the best dry flies for trout especially in faster water.

The Adams Fly in the standard dry fly pattern or in the Parachute Adams pattern represents many different types of mayflies and it can be a great general-purpose mayfly for all trout species.

The thick hackle gives the fly more buoyancy.

The parachute post on the Parachute Adams fly patterns allows the fly to site lower on the water, which looks more natural, and the parachute post can be white, yellow, or orange which is great to help you see it.

This is one of those popular fly patterns that is a great fly in the dry fly box on any fly fisherman.

Royal Wulff – A classic dry fly

The Royal Wulff is buoyant and fly floats high which makes it great in faster water. I use it for any size trout but find it best for small to mid-sized trout. This fly is very similar to the Royal Coachman below.

Royal Coachman

A classic fly and a must-have if you fish brook trout. This fly does not necessarily imitate anything in particular, but it’s an attractor pattern that any hungry trout will eat and many trout anglers know it.

Elk Hair Caddis

This is a fly you will find almost anywhere, and in all fly shops and even in guide boxes. The reason is it is one of the most effective dry fly caddis patterns available.

Other variations include the CDC Elk Hair caddis.

I also use the Elk Hair Caddis on a tight line with a method known as skittering or skating a caddis where you drag, twitch, and even hope your caddis across the surface. This can be deadly effective and is often my most effective method when trout are not rising for bugs.

The Olive X-Caddis is another good caddis imitation pattern you should check out.

Griffith’s Gnat Fly

A great dry fly pattern to imitate small flies like the trico and the midge is called the Griffith’s Gnat.

At times midges are plentiful and trout will be selective and only eat these micro flies and this is when this fly is a good option.

This is a small fly and it can be tied in colors that match the midge. For many anglers, it’s very hard to see so some anglers, myself included will add an orange, red, or white post to help see it.

Ant And Flying Ant Dry Fly

A black ant, or brown ant, or what some will call a cinnamon ant without wings, or a fly ant version can be a great option when there are plenty of ants on the surface.

Even when no ants are around, an ant pattern can be a good option.

The Black Foam Ant is a popular pattern worth having in your fly box and one of my favorites in the Black Foam Ant by William Ensiferum.

Fishing ant patterns on small streams in later summer can be very good. The ant is a small fly so some ant patterns are tied with a colored parachute post to help the angler see it better.

The Stimulator

The Stimulator Fly is a bit larger of a fly that is meant to imitate stone flies, however, it can also imitate a grasshopper, large caddis, or adult helgramites. Most anglers know this fly and since it is so big it looks like easy prey to the trout.

The Kauffman Stimulator is a popular pattern and another great option is the Foam Body Stimulator.

This is an attractor pattern that can be tied with bright body colors like yellow, orange, and red. I’ve done very well on brook trout in fast water with this but it can also be great on brown trout and rainbow trout.

Beetle Dry Fly

Dry fly beetles are a great bait during summer in many areas but in year-round warm climates the beetle is good anytime. I use darker-colored black and brown beetles but have also done well on yellow and orange beetles.

One of my favorites is the Tim’s Beetle seen in the above video/image.

Davies Cricket Dry Fly

The Cricket is a great fly pattern for me from June to late September and I have had clients hook big cautious brown trout over 26 inches that refuse all other flies.

I even sometimes sink my cricket flies and nymph them. One of my favorite cricket fly patterns is the Davies Black Cricket.

Hopper Patterns

Hopper patterns like Daves Hopper can be fantastic dry fly patterns for big trout.

You’ll see guides and anglers casting at the grassy deep banks where trout are waiting for big meaty grasshoppers to fall in.

I use grasshopper patterns in the summer months but in some areas, grasshopper season is longer.

The Parachute Hopper is another popular pattern.

Dry Flies For Trout Discussion

Some of my favorite dry flies for trout are ones that I learned from clients and other guides. Some are also just variations that I came up with over the years.

If you have a question, comment, or would like to share one of your favorite dry flies for trout let us know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines


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    1. Hi Doug,

      That’s a tough question. In some areas flies will be bigger or smaller. In general, for most trout flies, sizes 12, 14, and 16 should do it, but it also depends on the pattern. as an example, most of my BWO’s are size 18 to 22, and my Drakes are size 4 to 8.

      Best of Luck