Fly fishing for brown trout puts anglers in contact with one of the most beautiful fish on the planet. In this article, we'll go over the best flies for catching brown trout. We’ll cover a wide range of flies and how to use them, but let’s start with a brief introduction to this incredible fish.
Brown trout grow up to 22 inches and feature a golden- or olive-brown body with silver-ringed spots of black, yellow, and orange. The brown trout’s native range extends from Europe to Asia and northern Africa, but they have been introduced into lakes and streams on every continent except Antarctica. Brown trout are opportunistic carnivores, eating any food source that provides more energy than it takes to consume. They focus on insects and insect larvae, worms, and fish eggs, plus more substantial prey like crayfish and minnows.
What are the most popular flies for catching brown trout? This section presents fourteen of the best — a collection of flies that covers the entire water column, from deep holes to shallow riffles.
Here are five of the most often used flies for catching brown trout that are feeding on the surface.
The Grey Wulff is a bushy, high floating fly that’s easy for trout and anglers to see. Originally tied to imitate Gray Drake hatches, you can use this fly (in sizes 10 to 16) all summer long to represent adult mayflies and a large range of winged insects. Read more about this fly.
Caddis flies, also known as sedge flies, emerge during the warmer months and a size 12 to 18 Elk Hair Caddis creates a perfect imitation. There’s typically a slow, steady hatch that occurs throughout the day, so cast this fly whether you see rising trout or not. The Elk Hair Caddis is incredibly buoyant, enabling an effective presentation even in rough current. Read more about this fly.
In sizes 10 to 20, the classic Adams fly is a time-tested imitation of an adult mayfly, caddis, or midge. With a soft landing and a drag-free drift, your presentation will sit high on the surface to create a natural-looking target for hungry trout. Read more about this fly.
This Pale Morning Dun imitation with an iridescent tail is a proven winner for catching rising trout. The PMD Sparkle Dun in sizes from 10 to 20 can be used to fool fish that are feeding on light-colored mayflies. It drifts well and the deer hair wing adds visibility.
In the class of flies known as terrestrials, there are great imitations of spiders, grasshoppers, and beetles, but one of the most effective terrestrial flies is the Parachute Ant in sizes 10 to 20. When presenting this ant, try for a drag-free drift, but add a few subtle twitches to help trigger a feeding response.
When aquatic insects transform into flying insects, there’s a moment when they emerge from the water in a state of great vulnerability. Here are three popular emerger flies that catch brown trout.
Compared to other emergers, the Klinkhammer is a high floating fly, but it’s designed so that the body portion remains submerged during your presentation. In sizes 12 to 16, it’s a dead ringer for an insect that’s struggling to escape the surface film. Anglers closely track this fly’s highly visible post while easing it through riffles and pools. Read more about this fly.
When trout are actively feeding but not breaking the surface, cast an RS2. This subtle offering will briefly linger on the surface and then slip a few inches underwater. In sizes 16 to 22, the fly’s minimal profile and partially developed wing attract opportunistic brown trout feeding on newly hatched mayflies.
A Buzzer is a midge pupa imitation that’s highly effective in current and still water angling scenarios. Fish this minimalist fly near shallow water vegetation in rivers and lakes that support midge hatches. With hatches extending into winter months, the Buzzer can be a go-to subsurface fly all year long but be sure to match the hatch with sizes ranging from 10 to 14. Read more about this fly.
Trout do most of their feeding subsurface, so anglers use eye-catching nymph patterns to imitate the tiny aquatic prey that makes up the fish’s diet.
A classic pattern, the Pheasant Tail Nymph in sizes 12 to 20 is a great imitator of a mayfly nymph. In current, bounce it on the bottom and lift the fly sporadically to imitate the movement of live prey. On lakes, present this fly near feeder streams and outflows. Use a floating line and a weighted leader and slowly strip the fly just below the surface. Read more about this fly.
Using a beaded fly can help you effectively fish a narrow strike zone at just the right depth, and the Gold Bead Hare’s Ear nymph is one of the best. In sizes 8 to 18, it can be used to imitate caddis larva and pupa, scud, and a variety of other aquatic insects. Read more about this fly.
Casting a dark, rubber-legged Stone Fly in sizes ranging from 6 to 10 allows anglers to present a large meaty target that hungry brown trout can’t resist. Even when stoneflies are not present, trout can mistake this fly for an oversized mayfly nymph, a hellgrammite, or even a small crayfish. Read more about this fly. Read more about this fly.
Streamers imitate larger prey like baitfish, leeches, and crayfish. Here are three streamers that regularly trick hungry brown trout.
Effective in still water and current, a Bead Head Wooly Bugger (sizes 6 to 12) is ideal for tempting deep brown trout. To get this fly into the strike zone, use sinking line, add weight to your tippet, or use a weighted leader. You can bounce this fly on the bottom or strip it near fish-holding cover and current breaks to trigger vicious ambush strikes. Read more about this fly.
With a fish-like profile, the Muddler Minnow in sizes 6 to 8 successfully imitates a struggling baitfish. When the trout you’re fishing for are deep, use sinking line or a weighted leader. As with most streamers, it’s up to the angler to impart movement with the rod tip or by using a stripping presentation. Read more about this fly.
The sculpin is a baitfish that’s not a great swimmer but it’s able to hug the bottom in fast current. You can fish a Sculpin fly using slow, steady strips, but because of how this prey swims, a better presentation is to bounce a size 2 to 8 Sculpin fly on the bottom and periodically lift it with a sharp, upward movement of your rod tip.
Here are three more brown trout flies that might not make a list of classics, but they’re effective, nonetheless.
Natural fly-tying materials are buoyant, but nothing floats better in swift current than a foam fly. The Chernobyl Ant in sizes 8 to 12 is a great attractor pattern and an eye-popping target that tempts big brown trout. You can also use this fly effectively in lakes—simply aim for visible cover in shallow water and twitch the fly to impart a lively action. Read more about this fly.
Egg patterns in sizes 10 to 16 catch a lot of trout, and the Y2K Egg has a couple of popular enhancements—a fluttering wisp of egg sack is included, and there’s a bead head to help get the fly into the strike zone. Trout may think it’s a real fish egg or one of the hatchery food pellets they grew up on, or this bright morsel may simply prompt a reaction strike.
The final fly we’ll cover is a terrestrial. The San Juan Worm is an often-overlooked fly, but it deserves a place in your fly box. Trout love worms and can’t ignore this eye-catching imitation. In sizes 10 to 14, this earthworm lookalike can be fished in lakes and streams. In still water, use a strike indicator and cast near visible cover to entice hungry brown trout. Read more about this fly.
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