Choosing Trout Flies Simplified: 2 Super-Easy Methods

Choosing Trout Flies

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From today onwards, you’ll never have to carry several fly boxes when fishing again. You’ll be able to bring everything you need in your fishing vest without making it feel like a backpack!Meanwhile, you’ll still be able to catch as many fish, if not more.

How the Three Color Attractor and Six Color Imitator approach allows me to catch trout at any time of year

I have 15 years of expertise. It has taught me that there are a few distinct hues of attractor and imitator flies that trout will despise. I was able to throw so many flies from my tackle box using this method, which made fishing much quicker and more pleasurable. I no longer have to keep track of those pesky aquatic insect charts.

The three attractors and six imitators are all you need to entice trout to bite all year.

Let’s get down to business, shall we?

Trout Flies

Why did we get so many flies?(A quick history)

Although we have records of the art of fly fishing dating back to the Roman Empire, most fly fishing historians believe that the technique was truly perfected by the English who saw large brown trout feeding on mayflies in their local chalk streams.

The English people were ingenious and enterprising, and they used hand-forged iron hooks that they then wrapped with bits of fur and feathers in order to make an fake insect that looked enough like a genuine insect to deceive the trout into striking it.

According to Dame Juliana Berners in her Treatyse on Fysshynge Wyth an Angle, who published the Boke of St. Albans in 1486, they invented long “spey” rods made of several woods and silk fly lines and leaders constructed from animal intestine.

The heritage of this practice is still with us today, and most any contemporary book on fly fishing you pick will instill in you the notion of “matching the hatch.”

As a result, biologists have compiled exhaustive lists of the family, genus, and species of aquatic insects found in numerous countries’ trout streams, which fly fishermen have used to generate local hatch charts.

Today, novice fly fishermen are instructed to consult these local hatch charts and choose a fly selection based on the species, size, and color of the insects hatching in that location during a specific month.

However, this can result in fly fishermen carrying numerous fly boxes in their fly fishing vests, which are filled with all of the different fish patterns listed on their local hatch chart.

What if there was a method to streamline the process of fly selection so that a single fly box could contain generic dry-fly, nymph, or streamer patterns that allow you to catch trout anywhere in the world at any time of year with just one cast?

A Fly Fisherman’s Odyssey

fly fisherman’s odyssey

Many beginning fly fishermen, including myself, followed the standard approach of obtaining a local hatch chart before setting about gathering all of the many distinct fly patterns listed, which naturally necessitated the purchase of numerous different fly boxes to store them.

I would then spend some time looking at the air over the stream and the bankside foliage as well as the current to see if I noticed any flies hatching, which I would then capture and record its genus, size, and color each time I went fly fishing.

Following, I’d select a fly from my large fly stock that would match the one I’d just caught according to the instructions.

As a result, I eventually had to carry four or five different fly boxes full of various dry fly patterns, making my fly vest so weighty and cumbersome that I felt like I was wearing a backpack rather than a vest!

I discovered, however, that there were many fly patterns in my fly boxes that I never utilized despite them being recorded on my local hatch chart.

I’ve been fly fishing for almost fourteen years, and I’ve spent another twelve learning everything I could about the subject through reading every book on it that I could get my hands on. After a while, I came to the conclusion that rather than keeping what I knew to myself, it would be better if others were able to learn about the sport from me.

So, I decided to pursue being a professional fly fishing guide and instructor, which allowed me to spend several hours each week on the stream watching the trout’s habits as well as the insects they consume.

I also discovered, as I studied more and gained additional knowledge and expertise, that a lot of what I had read in all of those fly fishing publications simply did not apply to the southern Appalachian trout streams where I fish.

I eventually made the decision to discard all of my prior fly-fishing knowledge and develop my own approach for selecting flies.

Instead of carrying a fly shop’s worth of flies in my vest, I now carry only four fly boxes with my dry fly patterns, nymph patterns, terrestrial patterns, and streamer patterns.

The Three-Color Attractor System

The Three-Color Attractor System

So, in an effort to simplify my approach to fly selection, I began with the fundamental information that trout flies are usually divided into two categories: “attractors” and “imitators.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with these words, a “attractor” fly is a fly pattern like the Royal Wulff (created by another angler named Lee Wulff) that is created.

It employs vivid hues that “attract” the trout and cause them to strike the imitation fly even though it doesn’t exactly resemble any natural insect in any trout stream anywhere.

An imitation fly, on the other hand, is a fly pattern like Light Cahill that is created using a much more subdued color scheme to mimic a natural aquatic insect.

I learned this technique while observing that trout in our local southern Appalachian trout streams appeared to be strongly drawn to the colors red, yellow, and green. The Three-Color Attractor System was created as a result of this information and observation.

My Three-Color Attractor System employs fly patterns that are mostly red, yellow, or green, such as:

  • The Royal Wulff (one of the most successful attractor flies ever created) has a red floss body and green peacock herl wings, enhanced by white Polar Bear fur for the wings.
  • The Carolina Wullf, which uses yellow floss instead of red, is a good example.
  • The Tennessee Wullf, which uses green floss or the Humpy design in red, yellow, and green.

I use three different color combinations of Elk Hair Caddis flies and Stimulator flies (even though both are technically defined as imitator patterns) in sizes 12, 14, and 16 to round out my Three-Color Attractor System.

I utilize attractor flies at times when no insects are hatching to entice the trout to take my nymphs. It’s also useful to remember that because my three-color system may be applied to nymphs, you may use it with success on fish that will not react to a dry fly in order to help you find actively feeding fish that won’t respond.

You might use a Royal Wulff nymph, a Pheasant Tail Sulphur nymph, and a green Golden Ribbed Hair’s Ear nymph to make a three-color attractor system, or you could go with a Firebug nymph, Tellico nymf+, and Prince nepthys.

You might also want to try adding a few Serendipity nymphs in red, yellow, and olive as well as a few Copper John nymphs in red, copper, and green.

The Six-Color Imitator System

Six-Color Imitator System

Attractor patterns are highly successful at catching trout during non-hatch periods because trout are sight feeders and learn to differentiate between the family and genus of various aquatic and terrestrial insects that occur in their region due to a concept called the “Food vs. Energy Equation.”

During the hatching of mayflies, caddis flies, damsel flies, dobson flies, and stoneflies, for example, they become rather picky.

Flies that have been conditioned to various foods may be more difficult to train due to their lack of interest in insects with which they are not yet familiar (imitator patterns). Many frustrated fly fishermen, therefore, have tried in vain to invent realistic fly patterns that resemble these creatures known as “imitator” patterns and with an almost infinite number of options.

I’ve developed a second fly selection method I call the Six-Color Imitator System in contrast to utilizing a local hatch chart and then purchasing hundreds of distinct fly patterns to imitate the numerous species of aquatic insects that reside in a specific region’s trout streams.

I began by noting that the vast majority of flies I see on our local trout streams, regardless of family or genus, tend to be one of six distinct hues: cream, yellow, green, grey, brown, or black. To include the Light Cahill, Sulphur Dun, Blue Winged Olive, Female Adams, March Brown , and Black Gnat fly patterns in sizes 12 , 14 , and 16 after making an initial contribution.

In addition, since the most swiftly flowing streams in the Southeast include large populations of Caddis Flies, a variety of Elk Hair Caddis patterns in cinnamon, yellow, olive, gray, brown, and black is highly useful. Plus, my Six-Color Imitator System can also be used to nymphs by adding a Light Cahill nymph, a Pheasant Tail Sulphur nymph (a green Golden Ribbed Hair’s Ear nymph), an Adams nymph (a March Brown nymp), and a black Golden Ribbed Hair’s Ear nymph.

I can generally figure out which fly from my Six-Color Imitator System resembles the hatching insects sufficiently enough to fool the trout without having to rely on carrying a surplus of distinct fly patterns by checking the family, genus, size, and color of the flies that hatch on uncommon occasions when I do actually come across a hatch.

Terrestrial and Streamer Fly Selection

Terrestrial and Streamer Fly Selection

Despite the rich variety of May Fly nymphs, Stone Fly nymphs, Dobson Fly nymphs, and Caddis Fly larva I’ve observed in our local trout streams, I’ve only seen a hatch of any insect coming off on our local waters a few times during the day.

In reality, I seldom see a hatch fall off after daybreak or just before nightfall. In addition, during the day, I rarely capture May Fly, Stone Fly, or Dobson Fly nymphs or Caddis Fly larvae in my seine.

As a result, I’m led to conclude that southern Appalachian trout streams usually have very little nymphal displacement during the day, thus terrestrial invertebrates, forage fish, crustacean, and even mollusks are vital foods for our local trout.

So, it’s also a good idea to have a tiny fly box that contains grasshopper, cricket, yellow jacket, cicada, beetle, ant, and inchworm imitations in addition to the Three-Color Attractor System and the Six-Color Imitator System.

The Black Gnat and black Humpy patterns are also used to deceive common House Flies, which seem to be present in every location.

Trout also feed on forage fish like Darters, Dace, Sculpins, and even juvenile trout. I recommend that you have Black Nosed Dace patterns, Conehead Muddler Minnows to imitate Sculpins, Royal Wulffs, and/or Spruce Flies to imitate juvenile Chubs, Enrico’s Trout Streamer to imitate juvenile Smallmouth Bass, both Dark and Light Edison Yellow Tigers as well as Black Ghosts and Mickey Finns on hand to imitate attractor flies.

Finally, it should be mentioned that trout consider crayfish to be steak-like, so bringing a variety of tiny crayfish imitations is also a good idea.


Choosing Trout Flies Simplified

If you’re a novice fly fisherman just getting started and overwhelmed by the many different fly patterns accessible, or if you’re simply one of those fly fishermen with too many flies to handle, my easy approach to trout fly selection may be helpful.

The entire dry fly approach may be kept in a single 18 compartment box for the bigger flies and a single 12 compartment box for the smaller ones. You may also use this technique to cut down on your fly choice considerably by incorporating it with nymphs and steamers.

Shane Baker

Shane Baker

My name is Shane Baker and when I am not with my family or working here I am out fishing! I caught my first fish when I was 6 – it was a trout at a stocked pond here in TX. Ever since fishing has been a passion of mine!

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