Courtesy of Umpqua Feather Merchants
Money Bugs by Kirk Deeter Wonder what flies the fish are biting on this year? We did. So, like handicapping horses, we “followed the money,” and asked Umpqua Feather Merchants, the largest producer and distributor of flies in the country, what the hottest-selling bugs of this season are. In some cases, says Umpqua, age-old standards are still leading the field. Yet in others, hot innovations have made a splash. Granted, there are “show” flies and “dough” flies. These are the money bugs that are proving their worth with professional guides and weekend warriors from coast to coast. And if you’re in the process of a mid-season “reload” of your fly box, it probably wouldn’t hurt to double-up on some of these options: Parachute: Hot Colors: Olive and Adams. No surprise here. The parachute dry fly has a profile that cleanly replicates adult mayflies, and its white post makes it highly visible to anglers. The Adams variety has been a do-anything, match-almost-any-hatch pattern since its development in upstate Michigan in the early 1920s (it was named after Judge Charles Adams). It is judicious, in any regard, to have a healthy supply of parachute Adams flies in all sizes in your box. If I had to pick only one dry fly to fish a mayfly hatch, anywhere, any time…this is the pattern I’d pick, and it’d be an easy choice.
Randall Kaufmann’s Stimulator
Randall Kaufmann’s Stimulator: Hot Colors: Orange and Yellow. The “Stimmie” might have claimed its fame out West, but this is now a go-to staple in many regions, if only because it is so versatile. It works like a charm as a terrestrial during hopper season. Smaller sizes fool caddis-eating trout. And it’s called a “Stimulator” for a reason…sometimes when no hatch is on, trout still can’t refuse this morsel on the surface. The yellow variety can be fished to match golden stoneflies (like a Yellow Sally). The Stimulator is often my go-to fly as the dry component of a dry-dropper rig. It’s easy to see from a distance in most currents, it rides high for many repeated casts, and it gets bit often.
Ralph Cutter’s E/C Caddis
Ralph Cutter’s E/C Caddis: Hot Color: Olive. Cutter’s caddis is another versatile bug, but it’s best used as a bread-and butter pattern for any river where caddis are the main course on the trout menu. The added details beyond its traditional hair wing, like the tail/shuck and hackle, help it to float better than other patterns in zippy river conditions. Trout also clearly dig the way the added hackle and tail fibers oscillate in the water.
Ed Schroeder’s Parachute Hopper
Ed Schroeder’s Parachute Hopper: Color: N/A It seems like there are almost as many grasshopper imitations these days as mayfly patterns. But a lot of pro guides think this one stands a cut above, likely because it’s white post makes it extremely visible for anglers. Its sleek taper and legs also seem to turn trout on. During hopper season, if the trout you chase won’t eat a Joe’s Hopper, or a Whit’s Hopper or a B/C hopper (and that’s rare), they’ll still often get fooled by a Schroeder’s.
Don Puterbaugh’s Foam Caddis
Don Puterbaugh’s Foam Caddis: Hot Colors: Black, Tan, Olive. One of the most reliable adult caddis (dry) patterns, the Puterbaugh Foam Caddis is quite buoyant and durable. It’s also versatile, sometimes fooling selective trout that are keyed on small terrestrials, like black ants.
Craig Mathews’ X-Caddis
Craig Mathews’ X-Caddis: Hot Colors: Tan and Olive Matthews’ X-Caddis is a winner by virtue of its simplicity. This bug has a streamlined body and traditional elk hair wing, which make it a solid option in situations where the trout are more selective and finicky.
Dave’s Hopper: Color: N/A Dave Whitlock’s hopper pattern is a time-proven standard, and it can be fished both as a dry (it’s great for hopper-dropper rigs), and below the surface. Fishing “drowned” hoppers often turns big brown trout in deep runs, and Dave’s pattern is especially deadly for this approach.
Mike Lawson’s Hi-Vis Foam Beetle
Mike Lawson’s Hi-Vis Foam Beetle: Color: N/A Just because trout are on a terrestrial bite doesn’t necessarily mean hoppers are the way to go. Many smart anglers size-down and choose beetle patterns. This one is great because the orange foam on its back still helps the angler get a visual bead on it at a distance – important because beetle eats are often subtle sips that barely dimple the river surface. This particular beetle pattern also produces on many of the classic smallmouth bass fisheries from Indiana to Pennsylvania.
Jack Schlotter’s Foam Flying Ant
Jack Schlotter’s Foam Flying Ant: Hot Colors: Cinnamon, Black Ants are one of the most overlooked trout staples of all. And the right ant pattern will help you fool large fish, especially in runs where the big trout are wary. With this fly, the foam body and hackle help it ride high, while its white wing is a locator for the angler. Trail this pattern behind a larger terrestrial, like a parachute hopper, in a double-dry rig, at the end of summer. Black is the most popular shade, but cinnamon also works very well.
Jack Dennis’ ParaWulff
Jack Dennis’ ParaWulff: Hot Colors: Adams and Royal It’s a tall order to improve upon a standard, created by one of the icons in this sport, and that’s exactly how to describe the late Lee Wulff’s dry fly. But Jack Dennis added a parachute (horizontally-wrapped hackle) element to help the fly ride even higher and more visibly in some of the rough-and-tumble waters in his home region of Jackson, Wyoming. The Dennis ParaWulff is a great fly for suspending a nymph from, via an 18-inch tippet dropper tied to the hook-shank. That combo is particularly effective when you’re fishing pocket water and bombing seams behind rocks in heavy current.
Dave Sloan’s Outrigger Yellow Sally
Dave Sloan’s Outrigger Yellow Sally: Color: N/A The more you fish, the more you’ll come to respect and appreciate casting Sallies. This pattern tops many others, just because it tends to “jitter” on the surface, which is exactly the action stonefly-eating trout seem to prefer. No mystery here; you fish it straight up on the bubble lines and in the pockets where risers feed. It can’t hurt to run tandem Sallies, spaced a foot or two apart, when the hatch is really rolling.
John Barr’s Copper John
John Barr’s Copper John: Hot Colors: Copper and Red Have you noticed that all the previous flies on this list were dries? People apparently like to fish (and buy) dry flies. People who like to catch a lot of trout, however, fish nymphs, and the number one nymph in the world is the Copper John. Inventor John Barr once told me that he created the Copper John almost by mistake; he was trying to make a heavy nymph that would sink an emerger below a dry fly. He needed an intermediary – a fly that would sink fast, look, semi-natural (or at least attractive) – and he had no idea that trout would chew on this “anchor” like they do now. But do they ever…
Mike Mercer’s Micro Mayfly
Mike Mercer’s Micro Mayfly: Hot Colors: Olive and Brown California-based fly innovator Mike Mercer pounds out his living on some of the most technically challenging trout waters in the world, like Hat Creek and the Sacramento River. This bug reflects the sized-down, precise approach needed there. The bead head adds sink, and in some situations, might replicate an air bubble around an emerging bug. Fish it primarily as the dropper element on a double nymph or dry-dropper rig.
Mercer’s Biot Epoxy Golden Stone
Mercer’s Biot Epoxy Golden Stone: Color: N/A “Prime time” for a dry fly hatch – like the golden stonefly hatch – might last days or weeks, but remember, the window for fishing the nymph stage of those insects on some rivers might last for months (before and after). That’s why I fish this bug often. Use it as the top pattern on a double-nymph rig. Its yellow hue, flashy epoxy accent, and fast-sinking profile produce results. Size-up when the water is fast or dirty. This is as good an attractor nymph in those situations as you will find.
Lance Egan’s Tungsten Rainbow Warrior
Lance Egan’s Tungsten Rainbow Warrior: Color: N/A This is another much smaller attractor nymph that caught on in the West and is branching out exponentially. It doesn’t look like most naturals you’ll find in a river, but the flash and profile say “hello” to trout in milky waters especially. Use it as a dropper on a nymph rig, for sure; the tungsten bead will also effectively sink it as a lone nymph behind a dry. This is a really, really good “after storm” (or after sudden snowmelt runoff) trout fly.
Mercer’s Psycho Prince
Mercer’s Psycho Prince: Hot Colors: Purple, Orange Belly You can turn over 1,000 rocks in any river, and you’ll never see any bug closely resembling a Prince Nymph. But that sucker works. Now, how do you kick that pattern up a notch? Add an orange belly, or purple body color. It doesn’t matter what you’re chasing – marlin, bass, trout, tarpon, whatever – for some reason, in certain conditions, the color purple triggers the senses of fish in certain ways that produces results, even during the toughest bites. Therefore, this is a go-to fly when the chips are down, and you’re nymphing hard.
John Barr’s Bead Head Emerger
John Barr’s Bead Head Emerger: Hot Colors: BWO, PMD The Barr Emerger is to nymphs/emergers what the Parachute Adams is to dry flies. Versatile. Logical. This pattern comes in blue-winged olive and pale morning dun varieties. The BWO is a good choice in spring, while PMD is the midsummer choice. Fish them as the bottom fly on a tandem nymph rig, or, during a hatch, fish a dry (BWO, PMD or Adams Parachute), and trail this pattern to simulate an emerger, spaced on 18-inches of tippet beneath the dry. Sometimes having this fly ride in the film or just below the surface is best.
Chad Olsen’s Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear
Chad Olsen’s Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear: Color: N/A You knew not having a hare’s ear nymph on the list would be a serious omission, if not a downright foul. The hare’s ear nymph is a great caddis pattern, with built-in all-around attractor qualities as well. It’s especially productive in spring and fall: use larger sizes on top of a double nymph rig, and smaller patterns on the bottom. Use a size #16 as a dropper beneath a dry fly.
Gold Bead Crystal Bugger
Gold Bead Crystal Bugger: Hot Colors: Olive and Black Hard to argue against the Woolly Bugger as the best all-purpose streamer for fishing anything from trout in lakes or rivers to largemouth bass. The gold bead in this pattern, along with its crystal accents, make it more dazzling in dirty water; the bead head adds sink factor, and that translates to more options for the fly angler. Rip it off the banks with a hasty retrieve, or dead-drift it, leech-style, through deep runs to turn big browns any time of day.
Pheasant Tail: Hot Color: Gold Bead Same deal as the hare’s ear, the PT is an all-purpose nymph that has proven its worth for many years. The difference is that, while the hare’s ear is the go-to bug when the predominant river food source may be caddis flies, the PT is usually what to use when mayflies are the main course. Remember, when fish are eating mayflies on top, they are more often than not also picking off nymphs and emergers sub-surface. A beaded pheasant tail should be a staple in your arsenal for straight-up nymphing, as well as dry-dropper fishing.
Charlie Craven’s Juju Baetis
Charlie Craven’s Juju Baetis: Color: N/A Charlie is one of the best fly innovators on Colorado’s Front Range and beyond, and we recently featured his Juju Baetis on Flytalk.com. This bug’s streamlined, yet ribbed, body with a flashy wing case balances just enough natural texture with attractor accent to be enticing. It’s a straight-up dropper-nymph pattern that thumps rainbows and browns in places like Colorado’s Frying Pan and South Platte Rivers.
Tracy Peterson’s Tungsten Skinny Nelson
Tracy Peterson’s Tungsten Skinny Nelson: Color: N/A With a fuzzy thorax and ribbed body, the Skinny Nelson is a great bug to fish when trout are keyed into smaller sub-surface insects (in that size 18-20 range). This pattern crosses easily from the mayfly to midge realm, and the tungsten head adds fast sink-ability. Fish it at the end of your rig, in medium-paced currents where you see the occasional surface eat, or else early or late in the season, very deep.
San Juan Worm
San Juan Worm: Hot Color: Hot Pink Shame on you people who buy so many of these things that it’s one of Umpqua’s top sellers; it takes about 14 seconds to tie this pattern yourself. But nobody’s going to argue its effectiveness, particularly as an early season or high-water attractor nymph pattern. The worm might not earn the bite every time, but when it’s tied on a tandem nymph rig as the top (attractor) pattern, it will almost always turn trout heads. We saw this firsthand by scuba diving in the South Platte River and watching trout react by spinning to check out pink worms when we did the “Going Deep in the Name of Trout Research.” Click here to check it out.
Andy Burk’s Crystal Hunchback
Andy Burk’s Crystal Hunchback: Hot Colors: PMD, Sulfur Burk’s Crystal Hunchback is right up there with the Barr Emerger as a prime morsel for tricky mayfly situations. The flash here is in the rib through the body. Its curved shape makes the fly well suited for use as a deeply-dropped nymph, or lightly-suspended emerger in the film.
Tungsten Zebra Midge
Tungsten Zebra Midge: Hot Color: Black This fly is highly popular in midge factory rivers like the Colorado near Lees Ferry in Arizona. But it is also absolutely killer in small streams (almost anywhere) when used as a fast-sinking dropper below a dry fly. There admittedly isn’t much to this flyÂ¿black thread, a tungsten bead, and a wire rib. But it looks very “buggy” to trout. It’s always good to have some Zebras in the arsenal for those “less is more” situations, especially in winter, spring, and fall.