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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18 thoughts on “Top 10 Trout Flies For The American West

  1. I know there will never be an end to “but you left out – – ” BUT, you left out the good old wooly bugger !!


  2. I like your selection but I too would add the Wooly Bugger. I swear a box of these in different sizes and colours would catch trout, salmon, and steelhead anywhere in BC; including the salt water! Don’t leave home without them!

    • I fish the rivers here in Oregon for salmon, steelhead, trout, & bass in some inland rivers. I can’t even count how many time I have got out a wooly bugger and caught fish when all else has proven unproductive. One of the biggest steelhead I caught this spring was on a rusty colored wooly bugger !


  3. I was hoping the pheasant tail nymph would be on this list. Frank Sawyer, its inventor, kept things simple and was one of the great pioneers of upstream nymphing, but then he was a river keeper. There is a very interesting and effective variant called the “Cove Pheasant Tail Nymph” tied by one of England’s great stillwater anglers, Arthur Cove. Worth looking at and a great all-rounder.

  4. Gotta have the purple haze on there (purple parachute adams)! But I was glad to see the san juan was left off of this list haha

  5. To me you could change this list to the most effective flies to use – period.

    The qualifier (American West) is not needed.

    For the most part, I really agree with the pattens you have selected, and I am pretty confident that I could fish those patterns year round and catch fish. The streamer you start out with seems a riff on the Sanchez Double Bunny – great fly. Most of mine would be grey over white as opposed to the brown over white you have shown, but this fly is deadly.

    I think I would need to add a Wooly Bugger and Usual to the list. My choice would be to substitute them for the Stone Fly and Hopper. I also thought about adding in the Adams – but I do not think it is needed with the RS2 and BWO on the list already. Also, I live and die by the soft hackle, and have done well with them out west, but decisions need to be made.

    That said, I carry and fish 80% of the flies on the list so it is certainly a pretty good starting point. A couple of years ago I went west for a short conference. I planned on slipping out here and there for a bit of fishing. I could only take one rod and reel (9′ 6pc 5wt w/floating line) and two small fly boxes. My patters were very limited but were:
    1) Wooly buggers (bead head) – size 8 and 10 – olive and black;
    2) Elk Hair Caddis – size 14 and 16 – green, black and tan;
    3) RS2 – size 18, 20, 22 – various colors, mostly grey and olive
    4) Soft Hackles – size 14, 16, 18 – various colors
    5) Parachute Adams – various sizes
    6) GRHE – various sizes – with and without bead
    7) Pheasant Tail Nymph – various sizes
    8) Usual – Various sizes
    9) Zebra Midge – sizes 16, 18, 20 (red and black bodies)
    10) Double Bunny – size 2 and 4 – grey over white.

    Again we all have out thoughts and Ideas, but I solidly agree with list and carry and use

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  9. I like the patterns but you should have put a
    1. Prince nymph
    2.wooly worm
    3. Soft hackle
    You should really add those to your list

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  11. This discussion brings up the question…….. ” If you could only have one pattern for trout??”…… Easy answer for me…… Wooly Worm…. note Wooly Worm not Wooly Bugger……….

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