The Best Flies

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First of all, I don´t sell anything much except a book or similar from my private collection occasionally.  Lots of beginners look on here for flies and tackle, and people are always asking me what are the best flies. This is a difficult question to answer, but for a beginner a good basic selection is important.  I will ignore the question of price or quality here, as it would go too far, but as a rule, very cheap flies will not be of the best quality. This is simply not possible.

Many people, and not just beginners,  ask me how to go about selecting a set of flies, especially when they are just beginning fly-fishing.

This is often a very difficult question to answer, depending, as it does, on so many variables. It is however possible to give a basic list of a few general patterns which will catch fish almost anywhere under more or less any conditions. It is not necessary to know anything about entomology, or any other "ologies" for that matter, in order to catch fish. Which is just as well, as beginners simply do not have this knowledge.

Comprehensive knowledge of these things takes a lot of time and application to attain, and because of this is hardly possible for many anglers. This type of knowledge will of course make things easier and more enjoyable in the long term, but at the start one simply does not have it, and is consequently bound to adopt a course of action to circumnavigate it, at the same time still catching a few fish if possible. Few things are more disheartening to a beginning angler than continually failing to catch anything, this is probably the main reason many give up before getting properly started at all.

Most anglers I know are only able to fish occasionally, as work and family circumstances allow, and do not have the time to concern themselves with all the information and factors, which may or may not affect the hatching insects,or the fish, on their chosen day. Having arranged a trip, sometimes well in advance, they are obliged to fish no matter what the conditions, or pack up and go home, which for most is not a satisfactory alternative. In many cases, not much is known about the chosen venue, and pattern selection is reduced to pure guesswork. The following list of patterns, when used correctly, should catch fish almost anywhere. They are effective for the simple reason that they are fairly good imitations of a large number of fish food items common in many places. Fish may be caught on these patterns almost anywhere at practically any time.

On occasion, a specific pattern designed to imitate a specific insect, or special behavioural pattern, may be more effective, but on most  waters, such occasions are fortunately quite rare. When the basic pattern selection is carefully chosen, then one may use these with confidence, adapting the styles and techniques as required for specific conditions, and catch plenty of fish, which after all is basically the object of the whole exercise.

Large boxes containing hundreds of patterns are not a lot of use to the beginner, as he rarely knows which one to use anyway, and the choice of artificial patterns leaves him reeling in confusion, and often fishless. Far better to have a limited selection on which one may rely, and fish these confidently. Most experienced anglers have a set of patterns that they use most often, and of course their lists of the best general patterns will often differ from those given.

Knowing why some of these patterns are effective is also useful, if only insofar as bolstering ones confidence in the pattern. Some of the reasons are given below with the pattern.

Arguably the single most effective small insect imitating pattern is the "Gold Ribbed Hares Ear". This pattern is simplicity itself, it is basically just a pinch of well mixed Hare´s fur spun on to thread, wrapped around a hook shank, and ribbed with wire. There are countless variations, with thoraces, legs, wings, tails, and what have you, made of almost every material known to man. However, the simple basic fly of ribbed fur is very effective indeed. The fishing technique may be varied using this fly to imitate a veritable host of creatures, all of which fish eat avidly.

This fly is also often simply referred to as the "Hare's Ear", or "GRHE". Hook: Practically any hook size or type from size 6 to 20 may be used for this pattern. The most useful sizes are however usually 16 to 12 in either short or long shank hooks.Thread: Light yellow thread waxed to facilitate dubbing. Body: Well mixed Hare fur.Traditionally this is taken from a Hares ear, however as very few fish have attended courses in the anatomy of small land mammals, the body fur does just as well. The fly may be tied in various shades depending on how the fur is mixed. I usually carry a light, a medium, and a dark pattern. Rib: Fine gold wire.

There are a large number of  ways of dressing this pattern. Most of them work quite well! The addition of lead wire under the body makes a good weighted pattern. This fly imitates a host of nymphs, drowned flies, freshwater shrimps, various water lice, and just about anything else you can think of in this size and colour. It may be fished "dead drift", or "worked" and the actions may be varied so as to imitate an unbelievable number of creatures. It will work in still or running water, and may be fished dry, as an emerger (semi-wet), wet, or weighted.

Our second pattern is the "Greenwells glory". This fly was originally tied as a representation of an "Olive". Olives of one type or another are present just about everywhere at most times of the year. Also this winged pattern is a fairly good representation of dozens of other flies and insects.

Hook: Size 16 to 10 normal shank hooks.  Thread: Light yellow thread heavily waxed. The thread should become a green olive translucent colour when waxed. Body: Thread. Rib: Fine gold wire. Hackle: Furnace hen hackle. Wings: Originally Hen blackbird primary quill was used, but Starling dyed brown olive is excellent. The fly works when tied with just about any grey/blue feather as well. Starling, Duck, and various other feathers may also be used. Plastics such as Antron or HI-vis, and similar stuff also work as wings. Again there are a large number of ways of dressing this pattern. Sparsely dressed patterns are invariably far more effective by the way. Many commercial patterns are overdressed, (meaning too much material is used), making them far less effective, they may look attractive in the box, but they catch far fewer fish.

Pattern number three is an old Yorkshire pattern the "Snipe and Purple".  Hook: Size 18 to 12. Sizes 16 and 14 being usually most effective.
Body: unwaxed  purple silk. Hackle: Snipe. Starling hackles may also be used. A dark smoky grey blue hen hackle will also work, but is not quite as good as the others.

The pattern is a good imitation of a large number of flies and other insects. It is extremely successful when fished as a buzzer (chironomid), imitation, often even more so than most complex modern patterns, and is also a good pattern to imitate a number of other insects. It was originally designed to imitate the "Iron Blue Dun", which it also does admirably. The fly must be kept sparse. Overdressing makes it far less effective. The thread body may also be varied in colour as desired; Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, and Brown are all effective.

Our last! pattern is the "Woolly Bugger". This fly imitates a large number of larger food items, and because it is very mobile and lively in action may provoke a fish to take it even when nothing even remotely similar is evident.  Hook: Size 10 to 4. Size 6 to 8 long shank hooks are most popular.
Thread: To suit body colour. Body: Lead wire over wound with Chenille in Black Brown or Olive. Tail: Marabou, same colour as body. Rib/body hackle: Hen or soft cock hackle palmered down body, same colour as chenille. Rib: Gold or silver wire or tinsel. Often synthetic materials are added to give more "flash". Bead heads or floating heads are also sometimes very effective. Several dressings are shown in the photos below. Depending on size and colour this fly imitates almost anything from leeches to crayfish! Large olive nymphs, damsels and similar, small fish, tadpoles, and various other creatures may also be imitated very well with this pattern.

I would be quite confident of catching fish almost anywhere with this very basic pattern selection. Give it a try, you may be surprised. If you are not sure which pattern to use first just try one after another. Use the Hare's ear for say half an hour, and then the Greenwell, and then the Snipe and purple, etc, varying retrieve speeds and actions until you are successful. After a while you will know what you are trying to imitate, and may base your selection more on knowledge and experience. Don't forget to examine the stomach contents of the fish you catch by the way, place the stomach contents on a shallow white plate, add a little water and stir gently to separate the indefinable mass, this will tell you more about fish feeding habits than all the books you can read!

GRHE   Dressed fat                                       Greenwell´s Glory                       Snipe and Purple                        Woolly Buggers           

By the way, you may not have noticed, but Trout were not mentioned anywhere in this article. This is because these flies may be used to catch virtually any species of fish, not just Trout. Carp, Bream, Roach, Dace, Chub, Pike, Perch, Grayling and a host of others may be caught with these patterns.If you start with these, or similar flies, and learn how to use them properly, you will soon be catching fish! The above are all wet flies by the way, to be fished sub-surface.

Tight lines!  Mike Connor                                                                   

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