29 Best Trout Flies: Modern Flies Used By River Guides

My nymph fly patterns
Nymph flies can come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. These are from my fly box.

Fly fishing guides and competition anglers catch 10X to 20X more trout than the average angler, so then why do they use different trout flies than what most websites say are the best trout flies? In this article, you will find out what trout flies the guides and competition anglers are using and why they differ from what most anglers use.

Most websites will tell you the best trout flies are generic trout flies like the Hares Ear Nymph, the Prince Nymph, Pheasant Tail Nymph, Stonefly, Caddis, and even Woolly Buggers, and for dry flies, they will tell you the best trout flies are the Adams, Royal Coachman, and Elk Hair Caddis.

These can all be good trout flies, but as a river guide myself who has multiple river guides on staff, and who has had the opportunity to fish with many other fly fishing guides and top competition fly anglers, I don’t see these generic flies in their boxes.

There are reasons for this and I will tell you why.

Why Websites Don’t Recommend The Best Trout Flies Used By Guides

I have had the opportunity to look into their boxes and discuss the most effective trout flies with guides and competition fly anglers. I’ve even looked into the boxes of a world champion fly angler and the head coach for Fly Fishing Team USA and their boxes look very different from the average fly anglers box.

These top anglers just don’t seem to have the same flies that all the websites say are the best trout flies.

Even, the books and articles that are written by the world’s best modern-day fly anglers also don’t have the same generic trout flies that most websites claim are the best trout flies.

Why is that? Why are all these websites and articles recommending the best trout flies but the experts aren’t using them?

I would think If those recommended trout flies were really as good as they say they are, wouldn’t the best competition anglers and the best guides have boxes full of them?

There are three reasons why most websites DO NOT recommend trout flies that fly fishing guides and competition anglers use. I’m about to change that. NO BS, just great flies, and ones that river guides actually use.

#1. The simple truth is that many websites and even magazine articles are written by non-guides, and some or most of them are just average anglers at best.

They source their info from other websites recommending the same “BEST TROUT FLIES”. It’s basically a case of “monkey see monkey do”.

#2. The other reason is that those websites can’t make money recommending the flies that guides and top competition anglers use.

This is because river guides like myself and competition fly anglers use flies that are very different from the average angler. Often, they are custom tied and these flies are not sold on Amazon or other affiliate websites so these websites can’t make a commission recommending them.

One of my simple but effective trout flies
One of my simple yet very effective trout flies.

#3. The hard thing about recommending the best trout flies from river guides and competition anglers is that many of these guides and competition fly anglers use unique custom-tied flies and they all have their own personal favorites or best trout flies that work for them.

One thing I can tell you is that guides and completion anglers spend a ton of time testing flies.

If they find a more productive fly than say an “Adams” or a “Hare’s Ear Nymph”, they ditch the less effective flies.

Although you may not be able to buy these hot guide flies that I will show you below, you or someone can tie them for you, or just find a fly that is similar in size, shape, and function and it should work about the same.

The trout flies that I recommend may not be the exact fly a competition angler or guide uses since they often have slight variations, some will be the same and some might be very similar and should work equally as well.

best Trout flies used by guides
The left two rows are not the original Frenchie fly pattern which is a very effective guide and competition fly. Instead, I tied them using dubbing as the body instead of pheasant tail. This makes them similar but not exact. I do this because these are more durable and to be honest, they are easier to tie and just as effective.

River guides, and sometimes competition anglers will use what is known as guide flies. The definition of GUIDE FLIES is: Easy to tie, yet still very effective.

A new guide I trained many years ago called me up after a week of guiding and he asked me how I keep up with all the fly tying because his clients were losing up to 20 flies a day and when he got home and had to tie like crazy just to have enough for the next day.

I told him two things.

First, it’s his job to teach clients how to avoid losing their flies, it’s a valuable lesson for them and any fly angler.

Second, I said to use guide flies. I explained to him what guide flies are and he has boxes full of them.

Best Trout Flies By Catagory

As a guide, one of the first things I do when I get to the river is to assess the conditions and then try to make an educated guess of what the best type of trout fly will be.

If I see rising fish, I will consider a dry fly over a nymph, but, if it just rained and the river is flowing fast and slightly off-colored I know this is a good time to catch big trout on streamers or a nymph.

All-day long I will try to determine what the fish are doing and feeding on and what the best trout flies are based on what I see.

That is why it is important to have a good selection of flies. Dry flies, nymphs, and streamers, are all important if you fly fish for trout.

The Best Trout Flies For Nymphing

Nymphing has been my specialty for a long time and I love it because it consistently produces large fish from any size river.

When nymphing I recommend traditional style indicator nymphing which is what most anglers use, or I recommend and I personally use Euro Nymphing methods which is what you will see most competition anglers using.

Both methods have their pros and cons and the anglers that are good at both methods and know when to use them will catch 10X more trout.

For information on indicator fishing check out Indicator Nymphing: 13 Tips From River Guides and for Euro Nymphing methods check out Euro Nymphing: A How-To Guide.

Now on to the best trout flies for nymphing.

Pheasant Tail Nymphs And 2 Great Variations

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is one of the best trout flies
The standard pheasant tail nymph is proven to be one of the best trout flies ever. Click on the picture to buy on Amazon.

1: The Pheasant Tail Nymph is one of the few traditional nymphs you will see mentioned on other websites and you might still see it in some guide boxes for the simple reason that this is and always will be a great fly.

The Pheasant Tail Nymph comes with or without a bead-head and can also be tied as a flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph. All these versions can be very productive.

The Pheasant Tail Nymph can be a great trout fly when tied the traditional way but it is more common for guides and competition anglers to use variations of it. Some of these more modern variations are even better than the original and I will discuss them below.

Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph

2. The Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph: This is a guide and competition-level fly tied by expert fly tier Davie McPhail and it is one of the most effective and best trout flies that I have ever used.

Tied as is, it represents many brown nymph species that you would find in a river or stream.

I have also tied this fly pattern in an all-black version which replicates a black stonefly nymph quite well.

I have seen this fly in other guide boxes and used by competition fly anglers. I have also shared this fly with many guides and clients and it’s proven very effective.

The Frenchie Nymph

This Frenchie fly is my most effective and best trout fly
This is how I tied my first Frenchie Nymph and how I still tie them today. Although there are many variations, this is my most effective version. Photo courtesy of Region Fishing Store, click “Check Price” to see more:

3. The Frenchie: An all-time favorite of many anglers, their guides, and completion anglers.

I believe this fly was invented by one of the USA’s best competition anglers Lance Egan and it’s a fantastic nymph.

It is basically a legless pheasant tail nymph with a hot spot.

Since it is so effective it is now very popular and you can purchase this file at many fly shops or online.

When I first heard about how good the Frenchie fly was and then I saw how basic of a trout fly it was, I thought there is no way this fly would be better than the original.

I was a believer that a good fly for trout needed to have the shape and size of a real nymph. It should have a silhouette that resembles a nymph and that means, legs, a thicker upper section or wing casing, and a nice tail. This silhouette can all be found on the original Pheasant tail but not on the Frenchie.

Let me just say, I was wrong. The Frenchie is one of the best trout flies ever created and it was so effective that it became my most effective and favorite fly that year, both for small and large trout.

It also became a favorite trout fly of many of my clients and other guides that I shared it with.

After lots of thought as to why it is so effective, I have determined that the Frenchies’ thin profile gets down fast and stays down in the strike zone.

And since trout sample all kinds of stuff that they shouldn’t put in their mouths, stuff like bark, seaweed, leaves, twigs, and pebbles, they sample the Frenchie too when it drifts by them.

I have seen and tried the Frenchie in many variations using different hot spots or collars, as seen in the video, but I almost always find the original to be the best. I also find that thinner is better than thicker.

I have also done well with a black and tan version of the Frenchie Nymph, and instead of using Pheasant Tail as it was meant to be tied, I also use dubbing for the body since it makes the fly more durable.

Hare’s Ear Nymph Variations

A standard Bead Head Hares Ear Nymph is one of the best trout flies.
This is a standard Bead Head Hares Ear Nymph from Region Fishing Store. Click the pictures to see more of their great trout flies.

Hares Ear Nymph:

The standard Hare’s Ear Nymph is often on many top ten lists as one of the best trout flies, however, I rarely use the originally tied version anymore and don’t see it in many guides fly boxes or competition anglers’ fly boxes.

Instead, you will often see variations of the original Hares Ear Nymph simply because I think they work better.

I’m not saying the original version of the Hares Ear Nymph or the Bead Head Hares Ear nymph are not good flies, it’s just that based on my experience there are a few variations that I have found to be much more effective.

The DM Hares Ear Nymph

The DM or Davie McPhail Hares Ear Nymph:

This is a very effective variation of the Hairs Ear Nymph but it’s thinner and Davie has added legs. I find this fly to be a lot more effective than the traditional Hares Ear Nymph.

Add a bead head of gold, silver, or copper and it can be even better.

This is almost a combination of a pheasant tail nymph and a hairs ear nymph. Either way, it’s very effective.

Sorry guys but this is one fly that you will either need to tie yourself or have someone tie it for you.

Tag Hairs Ear Nymph

I believe tag-style flies were invented by European competition anglers and now tag flies have quickly become many fly guides and competition anglers’ best trout flies and are one of my most effective trout flies.

The tag refers to the bright-colored tail and believe it or not, it works. My preference for tag color is light pink and orange tails, but I have done well with yellow, white, and red.

I have been using tag flies for about 5 years and they are excellent for all trout. You can buy them from The Fly Fiend, or you will either need to tie them yourself or have someone tie them for you.

The best trout flies book that is all competition flies
Secret Flies is the best book I have ever seen on the best trout flies from top competition anglers.

The first time I saw this style of fly was in a book called Secret Flies of the Czech and Slovak Fly-Tiers.

This book features top flies from over 20 competition anglers and is a fantastic book if you can get your hands on a copy.

This book is hard to get and it might become a collector’s item someday and worth a lot of money, so get it while you can.

A little tip for you guys. If you want to buy this tag fly or you want custom tied flies that are competition quality, one of the best tyers and websites is The Fly Feind. I have used many of his flies tied by him. I am not affiliated with him at all, he just ties amazing flies and has a great selection.

The Walts Worm and Sext Walts Worm

Walts Worm and Sexy Walts Worm are great spring trout flies
The Walts Worm and Sexy Walts Worm are great spring trout flies. Click on the picture to see both of these flies being tied.

The Walts Worm is a simple but very effective pattern used by guides and competitive anglers.

The sexy Walts Worm is a flashy version with a red or orange hotspot and is used by many great anglers.

This is a great imitation for some caddis, cased caddis, and crane fly larva. As it becomes more beat up it can resemble other nymphs. Whatever it looks like to a trout they love this fly.

As far as I am concerned, the Walts Worm and the Sext Walts are two of the best trout flies available and a must-have fly in anyone’s box.

If you are interested in purchasing these flies click the links. Walts Worm and Sexy Walts Worm.

You can also get it at the Fly Fiend.

Blow Torch Fly

The Blow Torch is one of the best modern trout flies available,
The Blow Torch fly is one of the most effective modern trout flies available. See how this one is tied on YouTube by clicking on the picture.

The blow torch is a new but popular fly with guides and competition anglers.

I believe it was designed by top competition angler Deven Olson.

I have been using this fly over the last few years and it is excellent for all species of trout and in all types of water.

It has also become a favorite steelhead fly for me and my clients.

The Lint Fly – Scud / Isopod

The lint fly
The Lint fly is my personal creation and it works great on big trout in rivers that have isopods or scuds.

The Lint Fly imitates an Isopod or scud and it got its name after my client landed a big 25 inch brown trout and said he can’t believe a size 18 fly that looks like lint from his belly button could catch such a big trout.

He asked me what the name of it was and I said it doesn’t have a name, however, from this point on I will call it the Lint Fly.

Since you can’t buy the Lint Fly, there are very similar and as effective patterns such as the Diamond Dub Scud or an almost exact copy of the Lint Fly is the Wood Duck Scud.

Instead of wood duck for the back, I use is mottled Turkey feather and the body is made of a blend of Hares Ear Dubbing and deer hair which is trimmed short and to shape after tying. The deer hair looks a lot like legs.

I also use a 4x to 6x tippet to rib the fly and hold it all together.

Stonefly Nymph

Stonefly patterns are important to have in your box and you will find variations of stoneflies in a fly guide’s boxes.

I always have small tiny black stoneflies like the “Two Bit Hooker” for early in the spring, and will also have brown stoneflies and golden stoneflies for later in the season.

APD Caddis: Caddis Larva and Pupa

My Personal caddis Pupae pattern is a great trout fly.
My Personal caddis Pupae pattern is a great trout fly and has been responsible for many large trout over 20 inches..

Most rivers have caddis so having a good caddis larva and caddis pupa pattern is important.

The picture is my personal APD Caddis and it is a very effective fly for me and the clients and guides that I have shared it with.

Since it’s a custom-tied fly that you would need to tie yourself and one that you cant buy, the closest and still very effective fly is the McPhail Caddis Pupa or the Super Stretch Caddis Pupa.

Other Great Nymphs

One of the best nymphs not mentioned yet but is a must-have in any fly box is the San Juan Worm in red, pink, and brown.

For more great nymphs and how to fish nymphs better, check out my page Fly Fishing With Nymphs and Best Nymphs For Trout

If you live around the Great Lakes Region, be sure to check out Jerry Darkes book Essential Flies for the Great Lakes Region

The Best Trout Flies For Dry Fly Fishing

Dry flies Float higher with a floatant, match the hatch.
The dry flies you use to imitate the naturals will work better if you use a floatant and keep them floating high. I have always found that high floating flies work better.

There are 4 types of dry flies to consider but there are thousands of dry fly patterns.

It is my experience that fly tyers and fly anglers overcomplicate dry flies with all the different patterns so I will try to simplify things and show you the type of flies that are most effective without needing hundreds of patterns.

When it comes to dry flies, you need:

  • Mayfly Dun Pattern
  • Mayfly Spinner Pattern
  • Caddis Pattern
  • Terrestrials
  • Stonefly Pattern
  • Attractor Patterns

Mayfly Dun Pattern

There are hundreds of mayfly dun patterns but you will often find the same type of patterns in the boxes of guides. I use the same three styles except that I change the size and the color to match the hatch.

The reason I do this is that for the most part, all mayfly duns have the same shape so there is no point in having a different pattern for each mayfly. A simple pattern like the Rough Olive seen in the above picture will imitate all mayflies if you change the body, wings, hackle colors, and the size to match the hatch.

I have tested this out and it works all the time. I’m not saying other patterns won’t work, I’m just saying that keeping it simple also works just as well.

Tie this fly with double the hackle for faster riffle water and it will float a lot better, or tie it more sparsely for slow flat water and you will fool more trout.

Comparadun Mayfly

The Comparadun Mayfly is another fly you will find in many guide boxes. Tied with CDC or deer or elk hair bot work.

Then change the size and color to match the hatch for all the different mayflies near you and you are good to go.

One thing I noticed about many store-bought dry flies is that they use cheap hooks and often they use hooks with a small gap. They are also tied with thick bodies which close up the gap and this makes it hard to get the hook set when a trout grabs it.

I use wider gap hooks for better hooking percentage and many guides will know this and tie their dry flies similar.

If you don’t tie your own flies and want good quality dry flies, check out The Fly Fiend, or Region Fishing. Two great North American fly-tying shops.

Elk Hair Caddis

The Elk Hair Caddis is a proven pattern when the caddis are on the water. This pattern is sold just about everywhere that sells flies because it is that good.

You will find variations of this fly in most fly guide boxes.

I have also done well with the CDC Elk Hair Caddis.

Stonefly

When it comes to stonefly patterns the stimulator is one of the most productive and readily available flies.

I tied mine in colors that match the underbody of the stoneflies in my area. This usually means tan or yellow bellies.

This fly is also a great attractor pattern if tied with bright colors like orange, and red.

Terrestrials

I always have grasshoppers, cricket, and beetle patterns in my box and there are times when these will be your best dry fly when there’s no hatch.

Make Sure you have these patterns:

Daves Hopper has been a proven fly and one that should be in all anglers boxes.

The grasshopper can be one of the most effective flies for guides during mid to late summer and you will often see guides targeting deeper banks for big trout.

Crickets, beetles, and ants also make up the bulk of terrestrial dry flies.

There are times of the year when trout will go crazy during an ant hatch.

Beetles are random and can be fished at any time from spring to fall with good success.

Attractor Patterns

Attractor patterns don’t really look like the natural aquatic insects, but they do get the trout’s attention and they can be excellent if faster water or when there is no hatch going on.

Flies like the:

Many years ago one of the top guides in my area told me his number one go-to fly was the usual. Even when all the other anglers were using more imitation patterns he would still out-fish them with the Usual Fly.

Fly Floatant

A good fly floatant is a must-have when using dry flies. I have always found that the higher a dry fly floats, the more bites I get.

The Shimazaki Fly Fishing Dry Shake Fly Floatant Original has been tested and proven to be the longest lasting and best fly floatant available.

More Dry Fly Patterns

There are many more great dry fly patterns including great ones like the Rusty Spinner. I discuss the best and most effective dry flies on my page Best Dry Flies For Trout

To Be Continued . . . .

It’s the middle of another very bust guide season and I am going to need to finish this article another time. The remainder of this article which includes the best streamer flies for trout will be completed sometime in 2022.

You could also check out our article for all the best streamer flies on our page, Best Streamers For Trout

The Best Trout Flies Q&A

If you have any questions, comments, or some great flies that you would like to share, let me and our readers know in the comment section below.

Tight Lines,

Graham

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