Filling Your Fly Box for the First Time


There they sit, quietly organized in small cubbyholes, full of muted promise. But is that fly designed to catch more anglers than trout? After all, the purple, gold ribbed bead-head nymph with a flash of red sure looks good to the human eye! New fly guys must resist the temptation to sample everything at the buffet and stick to a narrow selection of productive flies until experience on local water dictates change.

At first principles, the effective presentation of any fly overwhelms type, size or color. Time spent practicing will produce a higher catch rate than blowing your paycheck on an extensive collection of flies in every make, shape, and color. If you have more than 2 fly boxes (one for dries, one for nymphs with streamers mixed in) to hold all your flies, you probably have some that you will never use. Granted, there are exceptions to everything, and if you hit that window on the stream when trout feed on a particular insect at the exclusion of all others, you may wish that you had carried the entire selection from the fly store to dump into the stream and see what works. For 99% of your encounters with trout, a small collection of fly patterns in different sizes will do just fine. As you gain experience and familiarize yourself with the guidance contained in Hughes’ Handbook of Hatches or Meck’s Matching Hatches Made Easy, broaden your perspective and the contents of your fly box at a pace that matches your budget.

It goes without saying you should chat with the experts at the fly shop on what general patterns work best in your local water. If there is no fly shop in your area, check on fly fishing online forums to get advice from other anglers. Even those who will not offer a location will freely comment on what worked. For most purposes, grab these essential patterns in sizes ranging from 12 to 20:

Dry flies:

  • Mayfly Patterns: Adams, Blue Wing Olive, Light Cahill
  • Caddis: Elk Hair Caddis in tan, olive or brown
  • Terrestrials: Hopper, Ant
  • Griffith Gnat
  • Mosquito
  • Humpy for rough water situations


  • Wooly buggers in green, brown and black


  • Prince nymph
  • Pheasant tail
  • Hare’s ear

Once you stock your fly box, the most important thing to pay attention to is to match the size of the fly with what is hatching. Later, as you gain experience in the nuances of your local water, expand your selection to include wet flies, emergers, spinners, and various specialized nymphs as appropriate.

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