Every guide – and every angler, for that matter – has his favorite flies, flies that put trout in the net time and time again. Photo Credit: Bob White
In March, I was on the Green River with the father of modern fly-fishing writing John Gierach, acclaimed outdoors artist and Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame inductee Bob White, and two of the best guides I know - Charlie Card and Ryan Kelly, both of whom live in Dutch John, Utah, and make their living guiding the Green. John, Charlie and I shared a boat the first day. As we rigged up, Charlie lifted the lid on one of his drift boat’s compartments, revealing an underside covered in foam and flies.
John was visibly surprised, which says something for a guy who’s seen most of what fishing has to offer. “That’s a brilliant way to store flies,” John commented.
Charlie just nodded, said thanks, and tied on our flies.
When most anglers think of killer fly patterns, they think of massive collections like this one belonging to guide Charlie Card. Photo Credit: Bob White
When most anglers think of killer fly patterns, they think of the massive collection John saw in Charlie’s boat. But as impressive as Charlie’s fly collection is in number, he’s one of the few guides I know to back it up with a broad assortment. Everyone else ties for their specific waters, which makes sense. Why bother tying up Sex Dungeons for high-mountain spring creeks where trout don’t surpass 15 inches?
That’s why John’s reaction was such a compliment to Charlie. John’s been around the angling block a time or two, and he has a list of favorite flies. I reckon I have just under an eighth of John’s amount of fishing experience, but I’ve developed my own favorites, as well.
These are flies that, time and time again, work all over the American West during spring. Whether I’m in Montana doing a story on the Big Hole, or out in Western Nevada looking for cutthroat trout, I know these flies will put trout in the net.
I couldn’t find a picture of this fly, and I can’t find the box they’re in, either. But that’s alright since it’s technically not a fly.
I love egg patterns this time of year because rainbows are spawning everywhere. The other trout in the creeks and streams key in on the roe, and all you have to do is set up shop in the right spot.
This fly came to be when I ran out of glo-bug yarn one evening. Instead, I threw a size 16 nymph hook in the vice, wrapped it in 0.01 lead wire, and tied in a piece of scud backing at the bend of the hook. I grabbed a clump of salmon-peach ice UV dubbing, wrapped it in a general egg shape, pulled the scud backing tight, whip finished and glued it in place with some UV resin.
The whole fly takes about two minutes to make, and it seems to work better than a glo-bug.
“Ryan’s Special Midge” is named after angler Ryan McCullough. It’s a size 26 parachute midge that works in nearly any spring hatch. Photo and Fly-Tying Credit: Spencer Durrant
My buddy Ryan McCullough doesn’t have a name for this fly, so I named it after him. He has a talent for tying absurdly small flies – I have a few #32s kicking around that he did up for me – and his size 26 parachute midges are special.
For one, they work in nearly any spring hatch. Once the bigger bugs start coming off, they’re not as effective, but in the spring it’s hard to beat this dry fly if the fish are being picky about what they’ll rise to.
This fly is made with a base of lead on both hooks, and uses a mix of marabou feathers, zonked rabbit strips and jumbo UV ice chenille. The hooks are joined together with 20-pound braid. Photo and Fly-Tying Credit: Spencer Durrant
I don’t have a name for this streamer, but “The Mess” feels appropriate. It’s not a complicated pattern, but it takes a few minutes to tie. I lay down a base of lead on both hooks, join them with 20-pound braid, and then use a mix of marabou feathers, zonked rabbit strips and jumbo UV ice chenille. The end result looks like a pile of fur on the tying desk but swims outrageously well in the water. This year alone “The Mess” hooked some of my best early-season browns.
“Lance Egan’s Frenchie is a killer bug year-round,” said guide and angler Spencer Durrant. “But I really love it in a size 18 for the year’s first baetis hatches.” Fly tied by Lance Egan. Photo Courtesy: Fly Fish Food
I’m lucky to know renowned guide and world champion fly fisher Lance Egan personally, and the guy behind this fly is just as nice as the pattern. The Frenchie is a killer bug year-round, but I really love it in a size 18 for the year’s first baetis hatches. Those small, dark bugs look a lot like the Frenchie when in nymph form, and the bright dubbing and hotspot thread collar really seem to do a stellar job of attracting the trout’s attention.
Fly-fishing guide Spencer Durrant recommends tying “Squirmy Wormies” with a heavy bead since the Squirmy has a tendency to come out while fishing muddy waters. Photo and Fly-Tying Credit: Tightline Productions
I’m not afraid to admit my love for the Squirmy Wormy. It’s fabulous. It’s effective. It’s as much a fly as a glo-bug!
Kidding aside, it’s funny how anglers turn their noses up at this fly because it’s pink and not made from “traditional” materials. If we all used traditional materials, you could kiss your poly-wing parachute post flies goodbye, and any of that killer ice dubbing, too.
I tie mine with a heavy bead since the Squirmy comes out more often when I’m fishing muddy waters. It’s a great fly for the bottom of a “hopper-dropper” rig, and it’s the first fly I fish when the water’s off color. It’s almost a guarantee you’ll run into that kind of water fishing in the spring.
I have a few more flies I could add to this list, but even a fishing writer has to keep a few secrets, right? In all reality, these flies are effective when fished correctly. I have them all in my boxes, and you should think about filling up a box or two with these patterns, as well.
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