The Skinny: This lead-eyed bucktail is the world’s best pattern because it looks and acts like a small jig when stripped through the water. Its prime color combination is chartreuse over white, and it works on everything from trout and bass to stripers and redfish, in sizes 2/0 down to 10. The best retrieve is fast. It’s also the only pattern name to have become a verb. To “Clouser” your rod means to hit and probably crack your tip with the weighted fly because of your sloppy casting.
No one fly catches all the fish all the time. That’s a fact of flyfishing, and it’s why there are thousands of different patterns. Fish, ever whimsical, sometimes refuse to eat on Friday the fly they ate on Tuesday. Fishermen, ever inventive, constantly create new patterns to compensate. Despite this, some standard patterns have evolved. Tested by time, water, and fish, these are the flies that work more often than not. Most are trout flies because the majority of flyfishermen target trout. That’s why my top 20 list leans in that direction. Compiling a top-flies list invites argument, I know. Meet me at fieldandstream.com to join the fray. -- John Merwin