Trout Fishing MVP's--Nymphs and Wets

Stock your boxes with our Most Valuable Patterns, and you'll be ready to play any trout in the country.

Field & Stream Online Editors

You stand in the river, hearing the water gurgling around your waders. It's roily from the muddy banks and cold from recent rains or snowmelt, and you think: Finally, spring. The landscape is mostly a wash of browns and grays- except that which is hidden in the depths in front of you. So you swing the rod, knuckles red on the grip, and cast a tuft of hair, fur, and thread into the currents, hoping to coax a bit of color onto your line.

The first trout of the season is always improbably pretty. It glistens and throbs in your hand, a slab of multihued muscle. If you put it back in the stream, you'll forget how it looked; if you keep it for dinner, it will fade to pewter. So you savor the moment, and the fish, for what it is--a transient, intimate, almost secret encounter with nature. And you know that if you're lucky, you'll have more encounters like these. But you don't think about exactly when, or how many more times, it will happen. Because as you stand there in the river, wet hand going numb, you realized that you love this sport so much you'll be fishing for trout for the rest of your life.

So in celebration of the new season, we bring you this book of trout. Reading it will make you a better fisherman. But the stories, photographs, and artwork here will do much more than that-- they'll make you better appreciate every single trout you catch
-Mike Toth


TROUT FISHING MVP'S
I'm a fly freak. I can't set foot in a stream unless I have every pattern a trout might conceivably eat-or at least as many patterns as I can cram into my vest.

But the truth is, a handful of patterns, chosen carefully for color, silhouette, and size, would catch just as many trout. Selecting these few out of the thousands available, however, is the trick.

That's why we've done it for you. The following list of top flies contains fewer than three dozen patterns-able to fit into two or three boxes, yet sufficiently varied to fool most trout.

Most of the patterns are nymphs and wet flies, as trout do roughly 80 percent of their feeding on underwater organisms, but there are plenty of dries as well. No matter the type of pattern, they are all here because these tried-and-true ties work. They might not ace every test the trout give them, but they'll pass most with flying colors.

Nymphs and Wets
Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear, sizes 8-20, plain and bead-head. Hare's Ears are hands down one of the best patterns you can use. Their rough-edged, indistinct shape, and brownish-tan coloration makes them resemble half the aquatic insects in a trout's diet.

Pheasant Tail, sizes 14-20, plain and bead-head. With its combination of fiery chocolate pheasant-feather fibers and bright copper wire, this elegantly simple pattern creates alluring highlights that trout can't seem to resist.

Red Fox Squirrel, sizes 14-16. I like the gold bead-head version, tied with a soft-hackle collar. Because its pinkish-tan dubbing matches a slew of light-colored aquatic insects, it is a deadly pattern for searching unfamiliar water.

Muskrat, size 10. It's tough to find a simpler fly. It's also tough to find one more effective, especially if the waters you fish contain big, gray nymphs like dragonflies or hellgrammites. Weighted with lead wire and dead-drifted deep, Muskrats have saved me from many a fishless day.

Prince, sizes 10-16, plain and bead-head. From the brawling rivers of the Rocky Mountains to the intimate limestone streams of Pennsylvania, few nymphs are as versatile as the Prince. The little flashes of white from its V-shaped tails and "horns" add to the time-honored combination found in its brown hackle, peacock body, and gold rib.

Brassie, sizes 18-20. Most people think of the Brassie as a Western pattern, probably because it was devised to match the South Platte's midge hatches. It wks equally well in the East. A Brassie, suspended on a light dropper under a big, bushy dry, often catches trout that rise to dries but refuse them.

Copper John, sizes 14-16, bead-head. The Brassie's newfangled cousin deserves a spot alongside its relative on my list. CJs combine peacock herl, copper wire, brown goose biots, Flashabou, and a bright copper bead into a compact, trout-catching package that gets to the bottom faster than the Spanish Armada.

Long-Tailed March Brown, sizes 10-14. When March Brown, Gray Fox, or Light Cahill mayflies are hatching, no nymph pattern I've tried has been as effective as Harry Darbee's ageless tie. Essentially a Hare's Ear with long wood-duck tails and a turkey-feather back, it matches the robust natural nymphs perfectly. Orange-tinged tail fibers will trigger even more strikes than Darbee's original yellow ones.

Green Weenie, size 12. Humans might not like Green Weenies, but trout gobble 'em up. With just a few turns of fine chartreuse chenille around a hook shank, this fly imitates the green caddis larvae found in so many Eastern and Western streams.

Soft-hackles, sizes 14-18. I don't fish many traditional, feather-winged wet flies, but I'm extremely fond of soft-hackled wets like the Partridge and Orange, Grouse and Green, and the March Brown Spider. Tied sparsely, they provide impressionistic imitations of many emerging caddisfly and mayfly species. They can be fished deep, in the surface film, or anywhere in the middle.

San Juan Worm, size 10. In red, pink, or tan, size 10 San Juans are the secret weapons I pull out when nothing else seems to work. Dead-drifted in swift or calm water, they often come through. Glo-Bugs, sizes 10-12. Especially deadly on stocked trout, Glo-Bugs are every bit as effective as the yellow, red, and pink salmon eggs they imitate. They don't stink, either. A skilled tyer can crank out two dozen an hour.

Bitch Creek, sizes 4-8. With its black chenille body, orange chenille thorax, and white rubber legs, the Bitch Creek imitates several species of big, dark stonefly nymphs. The naturals lack those wiggly white legs, but the trout don't seem to mind.

Heartwell's Hellgrammite, sizes 2-8. This is the trout-catchingest hellgrammite pattern I've ever encountered. The trout it catches aren't small, either. Twenty to 30 wraps of 1-amp lead fuse wire gets this fly down to where the big ones lurk.

About the Artist
This month's cover image, as well as the paintings of fish and angling gear that appear with the trout stories in this issue, are by Connecticut artist James Prosek, who is something of a trout story himself.

Born in 1975 in Easton, Prosek still lives in his hometown, close to the reservoir where he caught his first trout when he was 9 years old. Although a friend first brought him fishing, Prosek's naturalist father first introduced him to the works of John James Audubon, whose paintings of birds in the early 1800s are the standard to which much wildlife artwork is held today.

Prosek loved fishing, and a warden who befriended him taught him much about the outdoors, but Prosek didn't realize that trout would be central to his future until his father showed him an article in Yankee magazine about the blueback trout of Maine.

"I didn't even know that the species existed, and I wanted to learn more, but I couldn't find any book that covered all the trout in North America," says Prosek, who was 13 at the time.

That missing title eventually led to Prosek's landmark book Trout: An Illustrated History, which was published by Knopf in 1996--one year before Prosek received his B.A. degree in English from Yale University. Inspired by Audubon--who shot many of the birds he painted to better capture the details--Prosek traveled thousands of miles to research, fish for, and paint watercolors of every trout subspecies on the continent.

Prosek's second book, Joe and Me (William Morrow & Co.), was about his relationship with his warden friend. The Complete Angler (HarperCollins) and Early Love and Brook Trout (The Lyons Press) followed soon after. His fifth book, due out later this year, is tentatively titled Angling the 41st Parallel. The premise: to fish the trout waters across the globe that intersect the latitude at which his hometown is located.

Prosek also sings and plays rhythm guitar and harmonica for Troutband, a folksy blues-rock group that he modestly describes as a "coffeehouse band" that originated at Yale. But the band's CD, All Wet, is professionally done--from the music and mastering down to the paintings of twin brown trout on the disc.

Has anyone ever called Prosek a modern Renaissance man? "No," he admits. "But I don't think I'm going to business school any time soon."

Don't be fooled; Prosek has his own Web site. If you haven't already guessed its name, go to www.troutsite.com.
--Mike Tothf in 1996--one year before Prosek received his B.A. degree in English from Yale University. Inspired by Audubon--who shot many of the birds he painted to better capture the details--Prosek traveled thousands of miles to research, fish for, and paint watercolors of every trout subspecies on the continent.

Prosek's second book, Joe and Me (William Morrow & Co.), was about his relationship with his warden friend. The Complete Angler (HarperCollins) and Early Love and Brook Trout (The Lyons Press) followed soon after. His fifth book, due out later this year, is tentatively titled Angling the 41st Parallel. The premise: to fish the trout waters across the globe that intersect the latitude at which his hometown is located.

Prosek also sings and plays rhythm guitar and harmonica for Troutband, a folksy blues-rock group that he modestly describes as a "coffeehouse band" that originated at Yale. But the band's CD, All Wet, is professionally done--from the music and mastering down to the paintings of twin brown trout on the disc.

Has anyone ever called Prosek a modern Renaissance man? "No," he admits. "But I don't think I'm going to business school any time soon."

Don't be fooled; Prosek has his own Web site. If you haven't already guessed its name, go to www.troutsite.com.
--Mike Toth