Top 10 Trout Flies For The American West

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Johnny Spillane

I had a client come into the store the other day asking me to set him up with the best patterns for fishing the West.

He was planning on traveling around Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana this summer and his goal was to put together a selection of flies that would allow him to catch fish on every river. After setting him up with a fairly comprehensive selection of dries, terrestrials, nymphs and streamers, we started debating what the 10 best patterns are to cover all types of western trout water. We assumed you could fish the same pattern in different colors and sizes which I guess makes it a lot more then 10 patterns, but anyway this is what we came up with. Let us know what you think and send us your top 10!

#10- The Hair Sculpin


The Hair Sculpin is an awesome streamer. It moves, it can be tied in all different colors and sizes and most importantly it catches fish. You can throw it on a sink tip and fish it deep in lakes or my favorite, bounce it off the shore from a boat. It’s good livin.

#9- The Panty Dropper Hopper


The name alone makes this fly awesome. It comes in various colors and sizes and its got very realistic looking legs. If you fish anywhere that has hoppers, the Panty Dropper will get the job done.

#8- Zebra Midge


Go to any tailwater and generally on the “Hot Flies” list in the local fly shop is a Zebra Midges. They are super simple to tie and best of all they work. You can tie them in any color and size you want from a miniscule #28 to a #12.

#7- Parachute Blue Winged Olive


This is one of my favorites. It’s easy to see in the smaller sizes, it floats well and it is pretty durable for a dry fly.

#6- Royal Wulff


Royal Wulff’s are my go to fly whenever I’m fishing any small creek or river where the fish are not pattern shy. I don’t know what it is, but it always feels good when I tie one on. Maybe it’s the areas I’m fishing and the fact that fish will hit it with a recklessness that you just don’t see from fish that have seen thousands of flies. Whatever it is, I know I like it.

#5- Hare’s ear


Hare’s ears are a pattern that we use all the time. Tied fat or slim, big or small, they can be used to imitate tons of different bugs. You can tie them in various colors with different amounts of motion and they always seem to work.

#4- Pats Rubber Leg Stonefly


Pats Rubber Leg Stoneflies are damn near the perfect fly. They are incredibly easy to tie once you get the hang of dealing with the legs. You can tie them in different weights, colors and sizes and they will match just about any stonefly out there. For some reason the legs make them super fishy and trout pound them.

#3- RS2


Another great, versatile pattern, the RS2 tied in different sizes and colors will imitate just about any type of mayfly or midge. Fish it deep or just off your dry fly in the foam, it will work. You can use an RS2 year round on just about any river and catch fish.

#2- Elk Hair Caddis


Dead drift it, skate it or sink it, Elk Hair Caddis work anywhere there are caddis. Nuff said.

#1-Pheasant Tail


This is possibly the best fly ever created. It will catch fish on any river and it does not need much altercation to be effective. It is easy to tie, requires minimal material and catches fish hand over fist. While it is a nymph pattern and I’m sure all you dry fly purists are cringing, I don’t care. It works everywhere.


Tight lines,

Johnny Spillane

Gink & Gasoline
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10 thoughts on “Top 10 Trout Flies For The American West

  1. Excellent list…impossible (for me anyway), really, to limit to 10 patterns, but if a person wanted to, this list would make it possible. I would add a Grumpy Frumpy, JuJu baetis and a PMX…oh, and a Missing Link caddis.

    Thanks again for the list.

  2. Great list for Utah and Wyoming where I lived. In all truth, if the fish don’t hit any of these patterns, they ain’t gonna hit anything else either except maybe a traditional wet or two… They were my backup patterns and often produced for me.

  3. Very interesting information. I lived in Bond and McCoy, CO in the early ’60’s about 50 miles from Steamboat.

  4. The west has sow bugs and scuds I would have on my top 10 because they really put fish in the net for me better than a dry like the Wulff. They could possibly have a pink or orange hot spot

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