The best flies all have something in common—they are simple, easy to tie, and realistic enough to fool the wariest fish. But throughout the history of fly fishing, flies have always been limited by available materials. Luckily, in 2021 there are more materials than ever, resulting in truly innovative patterns.
It can be intimidating to determine which flies catch fish and which flies catch fishermen due to the abundant materials and patterns available. I dissected many new patterns that hit the market in 2021 based on materials, durability, and fishability. One of my top picks is sure to help every angler trick their next fish of a lifetime.
Best New Dry Fly for Wary Trout: Antonio’s Adult
- Materials: CDC, Coq De Leon, Squirrel Body
- Available Sizes: 15, 17, 19, 21, 10, 12, 14
- Colors: BWO, March Brown, PMD
Why it Made the Cut
A simple but effective pattern that can imitate most mayflies and fool the wariest of trout.
- Extremely realistic mayfly imitation
- Easy to see and floats high on the water
- Offered in a variety of colors and sizes to match the hatch
- Fishes best with floatant made for CDC
- CDC can start to become tattered after several fish
I stumbled upon this style of fly years ago fishing for wary Zebra Trout in the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain. After several days of fishing, it quickly became a go-to when nothing else was working. The CDC wing created an incredibly realistic mayfly imitation and worked in both hatches and spinner falls. It was designed by Umpqua signature tyer Antonio Rodrigues as a competition pattern in Europe. Umpqua has finally made it commercially available to the US markets and with great success. The CDC split wing lands softly on the water, is easy to see, and creates a super-realistic-looking bug that tricks the most educated fish.
Best New Fly for Stillwater Fishing: Balanced Leather Leech
- Materials: Jig Hook, Tungsten Bead, Ultra-suede Tail, Simi Seal Dubbing Body
- Available sizes: 10
- Colors: Black/Chartreuse, Peacock, Purple
Why it Made the Cut
Umpqua has brought the most realistic and effective balanced leech to the market. Balanced leeches offer horizontal presentations to stillwater fish that are incredibly effective.
- Jig style patterns ride hook up and avoid snags
- Tungsten beads allow the fly to sink fast
- Tail and body create lots of movement
- Only one hook size
If you have spent any time fly fishing, you surely know about the infamous wooly bugger. It’s a super-effective fly that imitates a wide range of different prey items for fish, one of which is a leech. The balanced leech style takes that to a new level.
Balanced leeches are a relatively new trend. They use a pinhead and tungsten bead to bring the weight towards the eye of the hook and create a horizontal presentation. This particular version goes one step further and incorporates a durable suede tail that swims like a real leech when fished under an indicator. Available in three color options, there is a pattern for every situation. Whether fishing for trout, bass, or any other stillwater fish, having a realistic leech pattern is a necessity.
Best New Fly for Bass Fishing: Chuckwagon
- Materials: Rubber Legs, Dumbbell Eyes, Furled Dubbing Body, Jig Hook
- Available Sizes: 2
- Colors: Black/Purple, Chartreuse, Dirty Olive
Why it Made the Cut
Bass fly fishing is finally becoming mainstream, and Umpqua’s long rod version of a bass jig will keep your lines tight.
- Fishes like traditional bass jigs
- Big profile with lots of movement
- Available in common bass fishing colors
- Holds water when casting
With bass fishing as popular as it is, fly fishing is beginning to establish itself as an effective way to target them. Umpqua has brought numerous bass ties to the market, so it’s no surprise one of their new patterns made the list. It offers a stealthy approach to even the most pressured bass by imitating popular bass fishing techniques.
The Chuckwagon fishes like conventional jigs but lands softer and has more movement than traditional lures. The combination of rubber legs and dubbing hold a bulky profile that moves freely in the water. Available in popular bass fishing colors, fish can’t seem to resist it. Swim it back or crawl it on the bottom—the Chuckwagon is sure to hook more bass.
Best New Fly for Permit: Danger Muffin Crab
- Materials: Deer/Rabbit Dubbing Body, Laser cut crab claws, dumbbell eyes
- Available Sizes: 02, 04, 06
- Colors: Ghost Tan, Golden Brown, Sandy Olive
Why it Made the Cut
This delivers everything a permit fisherman would want in a fly and has proven itself from the Bahamas to the Florida Keys.
- Sinks fast and lands soft on the water
- Extremely realistic looking crab imitation
- Tied on a jig hook, making it ride hook point up
- Available in smaller sizes only
Permit fishing is one of the hardest, most technical forms of saltwater fishing. Many go their whole lives without landing one, and for good reason—permit are smart. A big part of solving the puzzle is fly selection. In recent years new materials have allowed tyers to make more realistic crab imitations.
The Danger Muffin Crab from Umpqua creates an incredibly lifelike crab pattern that is heavy and sinks fast. Available in multiple sizes and a number of different colors, it imitates a crab perfectly. The laser cut claws combined with the body create an extremely lifelike fly that swims like a real crab. The body has a perfect mottling color, using a combination of deer hair and rabbit fur dubbing that adds to its realism.
While originally created for permit, this pattern is very versatile and can be used to target multiple species. Whether it be redfish, bonefish, or even striped bass, fishing this very realistic little crab pattern seems to trick just about any crustacean-eating fish. Be sure to throw a few of these in your saltwater box for when the fish are extra spooky.
Best New Fly for Innovation: Chocklett’s “Rubber Leg Changer”
- Materials: Rubber Legs, Game Changer Body, Articulation Shanks, Tungsten Stonefly Head
- Available Sizes: 6
- Colors: Black, Brown, Golden Stone
Why it Made the Cut
A truly innovative pattern from the mind of Blane Chocklett. The famous game-changer fly pattern is now in nymph form. This stonefly imitation moves like no other and is deadly on trout and bass.
- Swims like a real stonefly
- Can be fished like a nymph or a streamer
- Sinks fast with the tungsten stonefly head
- Only available in size 6
Modern fly design and Blane Chocklett are synonymous with each other, and his 2021 pattern is just as revolutionary. Tied off the articulated game-changer style chassis that Blane popularized, the Rubber Legs Changer is tied with a new micro-spine system that creates shorter and smaller articulations. This allows for a smaller pattern that can imitate stoneflies effectively using a technique originally designed to mimic baitfish.
The addition of rubber legs adds even more wiggle to this pattern—something trout can’t seem to resist. Another key feature is its tungsten bead head. The Flymen Fishing Company’s Nymph-Head Evolution Stonefly is designed to look exactly like a real stonefly, adding even more realism to this pattern. The tungsten head allows the stonefly imitation to get down fast and stay in the strike zone longer.
This pattern is exceptionally unique and effective, helping push fly design forward. Not only is it very realistic, but it is incredibly versatile. Fishing it dead drifted as a traditional nymph produces lots of takes. However, depending on the situation, it can be stripped like a streamer or swung like a wet, producing exceptional results. Be sure to add the Rubber Legs Changer to your box and give it a try.
Having worked in fly shops and traveled the world fishing for the better part of the last five years, fly design is something I am very familiar with. I’ve tied commercially for shops and know what it takes to make durable flies that catch fish. When creating a new pattern, it must solve a key problem and find its niche. Patterns that do this are super effective and withstand the test of time.
I based my selections on the following criteria:
- Innovation: It must be innovative and use materials in a unique way and solve a specific problem to set it apart from others.
- Durability: Flies must be able to withstand multiple fish without falling apart.
- Materials: What goes into making the fly? Do the materials set it apart from others?
- Realism: Does the fly look like the thing it is trying to imitate?
- Fishability: How does the fly look in the water? What is the action, and does it catch fish?
- Available sizes: What sizes is it available in, and are they the proper size for the target species?
- Color options: What color options are available, and do they match what they are trying to imitate?
Things to Consider Before Buying a Fly
Walking into a fly shop can be intimidating. Knowing what fish you are after and the conditions you’ll be fishing are important to know before making any decisions. This can help you narrow your decision down and avoid staring at the endless bins of flies wondering what to get.
Buying flies online can be tricky too. Avoid flies that catch fishermen rather than fish. Just because it looks cool doesn’t mean it will necessarily catch fish. Look for patterns that fit your style of fishing and if possible, see them in person first. This will help you choose the correct size and color for the fish you are targeting.
Know the species you are after, find flies that imitate the local food source for the time of year you are fishing. If you’re fishing for trout, think dry flies in the spring as many bugs are hatching. In the summer, terrestrials are usually a good bet. Fall and winter you will want to gravitate towards nymphs and midges. Applying this thought process to whatever species you are targeting will help you catch more fish.
Is the fly you’re looking at designed to catch fish or fisherman? Some of the most basic patterns can be the most effective. Flies that imitate a variety of different things are always a good choice to produce lots of fish. Don’t fall for flies just because they look flashy.
Knowing the conditions you plan to fish like water temperature, turbidity, depth, and flow are all important things to consider when choosing a fly. Deeper water calls for heavier patterns and dirty or tinted water calls dark flies like black and purple.
Pick a fly that works for the style of fishing you like to do. If you enjoy streamer fishing, find patterns that cast well and have good motion in the water. If you prefer euro nymphing, look for heavy flies with sleek profiles that will get down in the water column fast.
Q: What flies should I have in my fly box?
When choosing flies, it’s important to know the fish you are targeting, do your research before and figure out what kind of prey they prefer. Once you have a general idea of what imitations you should need, start building a fly box with various imitations. I typically have multiple sizes of the same fly and a variety of patterns to choose from. This helps you properly match the hatch. It never hurts to stop in at local fly shops and ask what is working. Fly shops will have local patterns tied specifically for the water body you are targeting and the intel needed for a successful outing.
Q: How do you store dry flies?
Flies can be expensive, so choosing the right box is important when it comes to storing them. Dry flies are especially susceptible to damage if not stored properly. There are two options when choosing a dry fly box: compartment-style fly boxes or slotted boxes specifically designed for dry flies.
Compartment-style fly boxes allow you to store multiple of the same pattern in a compartment. The space in the compartments prevents dry fly hackles from becoming pressed down and keeps the flies in the same shape you bought them in. The slotted dry fly boxes work by angling your dry flies so the hackles don’t touch the bottom of the box, keeping them true to shape.
Q: How do you store articulated flies?
Articulated flies can be hard to store in traditional fly boxes. Long flies with lots of articulations like to move around and can become twisted in a regular fly box. The best way I have found to store them is in boxes made specifically for articulated flies. These boxes feature hooks that hold onto the articulations, pulling them tight and preventing them from twisting with other flies. When picking out an articulated fly box, it’s important to consider the size of the box. If you plan on fishing larger flies, choose a box that is big enough for the flies. Other flies like steelhead flies can fit in smaller boxes better suited to fit in a pack and carry all day.
Choosing the right fly is possibly the most important decision when it comes to catching fish. The right fly can be the difference between a great day and a poor one. Match the hatch and change patterns depending on the conditions. These five new flies will help steer you in the right direction and catch more fish. But remember a little research and trial and error is the best way to determine the best pattern for you.