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Tom Rosenbauer’s 12 Essential Trout Flies

There’s a confusing array of trout flies available today. Many of them are redundant, and you don’t need that many patterns to cover most of the situations you will find in trout streams around the world. If you want to simplify your fly selection or are just starting out, here are a dozen I would not leave home without, and with this selection I’d feel confident on any trout stream I have ever fished. Don’t even think about saying “What about….” You probably have your own favorites. This is my list.

Dry Flies

Parachute Adams (Sizes 10-20)

It just works. It works during mayfly hatches, caddis hatches, and in smaller sizes midge hatches. People worry about using it during caddis hatches because it has tails. Yeah, and caddisflies don’t have hooks sticking out of them either but it just works. The color is mixed enough so trout seem to pick out what they want.

BWO Sparkle Dun (Sizes 14-24)

There are tons of small olive colored mayflies in the world. From late winter through late fall, they hatch in trout streams throughout the world. Don’t worry about what species they are—just know that you’ll see them. This imitates the stage trout prefer—an emerging mayfly with the shuck still sticking to its back end.

PMD Sparkle Dun (Sizes 10-22)

Like Olives, cream colored mayflies range across scores of species that generally hatch late spring through late summer.

Low Rider CDC & Elk Caddis (Sizes 12-18)

The Elk Hair Caddis is a decent fly but sometimes it rides too high. Bigger trout avoid skittering caddis, and this one works good enough for an emerging or spent caddis. Plus it still has the floating qualities and visibility of an Elk Hair Caddis. Plus I think trout eat this sometimes thinking it’s a moth.

Chernobyl Ant (Sizes 8-12)

You gotta have a foam fly. Pick one. This one works as well as any. For big western rivers it’s a great searching fly or hopper imitation. It works when big stoneflies are out and about. You can float heavy nymphs on a dry dropper arrangement with it. In smaller sizes it even works in mountain brook trout streams. You will be surprised the places these big ugly foam flies work.

Griffith’s Gnat  (Sizes 14-22)

It imitates a small beetle or other terrestrial. It works during midge hatches. It works during small caddis or mayfly hatches. If fish are sipping something invisible just put one of these on. You’ll catch trout.


Pheasant Tail  (Sizes 12-20)

It works during hatches, before hatches, and when there are no hatches. Don’t leave home without some. I like mine both with and without beads but find trout accept it better in heavily fished waters sans the bead.

Gold Bead Hare’s Ear  (Sizes 8-18)

Trout probably think it’s a mayfly nymph, caddis larva, caddis pupa, scud, or stonefly. All I know is that they eat it most days if they’ll eat any nymph at all.

Brown Sexy Stone (Sizes 6-10)

Some kind of rubber-legged stone is essential on most rivers. It also imitates large mayfly nymphs, baby crayfish, and hellgrammites.

Tunghead Zebra Midge (Sizes 16-22)

In some rivers, you need to go tiny with your nymphs—especially in tailwaters. Although this one officially imitates a midge larva or pupa, it works when trout eat small mayfly nymphs and caddis pupae as well.


Bead Head Woolly Bugger (Sizes 6-12)

Don’t fight it. Just load up your box with these. They imitate so many large trout foods, and they just seem to create that impression of life that aggressive trout find difficult to refuse. Don’t rule out fishing this fly dead-drift, under and indicator. Sizes 6-12

Olive Freshwater Clouser (Sizes 6-8)

I don’t think you need many streamers. When trout turn on to bigger food items they’re not picky, but at times you need a more baitfish-looking fly than the Woolly Bugger. Plus it’s good to have a light streamer and a dark streamer in your fly box. Sizes 6 and 8.