Best Fly Fishing Flies Reviewed & Rated for Quality

When people think of fly fishing, they usually think of the rod, the line, and of course, the fish. However, there’s one aspect of fly fishing that’s just as important as those other three: the fly. This may confuse the uninitiated since it’s widely agreed upon that fishing uses bait. This is true, but a fly is bait of a different stripe. Whereas bait is what you use to catch bigger fish by mimicking the appearance of smaller fish, a fly is meant to look like, well, almost every type of food that a fish eats; small fish, bugs, worms, and all kinds of other stuff depending on the type of fly you’re using. This means you have a better chance of catching a wider variety of fish.

Featured Recommendations

The Rainbow Warrior
  • The Rainbow Warrior
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Hand-Tied
  • Price: See Here
Blue-Winged Olive
  • Blue-Winged Olive
  • 3.6 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Chemically Sharpened
  • Price: See Here
Hare's Ear Nymph
  • Hare's Ear Nymph
  • 3.9 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Perfect Imitator
  • Price: See Here

Different fish like different things, and will be suspicious of others if it isn’t native to their habitat, even if it is technically edible to them. As such, you need to make sure that you have plenty of flies to work with, so that you can properly plan around every type of food that the fish you’re going after prefers. The following entries can be considered the 10 best flies to start out with for maximum effect.

 

10 Best Fly Fishing Flies

 

1. The Rainbow Warrior

1. The Rainbow Warrior
The Rainbow Warrior presents an odd subversion of the usual expectation when it comes to a fly fishing fly. Mostly because “rainbow” is very apt, the tungsten rainbow warrior is every color of the rainbow rolled into one. And obviously, no such creature exists in nature. One would think this would render the rainbow warrior useless, and yet fly fishermen everywhere love it. And that’s because this fly has two little secrets to its design.
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Contrasting colors

The rainbow warrior isn’t just comprised of random colors, it’s comprised of colors that clash with each other. Most Rainbow Warriors are bright green with harsh red stripes and adorned with white and blue tufts at the tip. These contrasting colors, whether in colored or clear water, have been shown to promote strikes from fish.

Easy to spot

By which this means a good deal of bait can be lost in the murkiness of certain bodies of water. Dull greens can blend in with the gunk of a lake, and even certain bright colors can be glared by the sun. But the specific blend of colors a rainbow warrior implements make it instantly spotted by any fish around. Combine that with the clashing colors and it’s essentially irresistible to a hungry trout.

Cost and Value

The best thing about fly fishing flies, in general, is that, if you aren’t buying a set, you’ll be spending a very little amount of money. You can buy a Rainbow Warrior fly for pretty cheap on average.
Pros

Contrasting color palette

Doesn’t get lost in the color of the water

Guaranteed catch if used while trout are feeding

Cheap even by fly fishing fly standards

Cons

The dead of night may hinder its ability to draw fish in, if the moonlight isn’t that bright.

2. Blue Winged Olive

2. Blue Winged Olive
Anyone who knows about the cycle of blue winged olive insects will probably be a bit skeptical about it being so high. After all, if the fish know when their prey are likely to show up (typically the end of September or partly into October) wouldn’t they be less likely to be fooled? Well, while that is when Blue winged olives are more likely to hatch in droves, they still hatch in bursts all year. Ensuring that this excellent fly model always has a place on the water.
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Design

It may seem odd to give trout so much intellectual credit as to think they know when a different species is going to hatch down to the day. However, they are at least intelligent enough for basic pattern recognition, and that is enough to not be fooled by lesser models of fly. However, with its trimmed back hackle, giving it a low-floating effect, the blue-winged olive is better at fooling its targets.

Size

The size of the fly is important, as it needs to match the size of the creature it’s trying to imitate, or if it isn’t trying to imitate, it needs to be small enough to make the fish think it can eat it. Little olive duns have a very specific size to them, and thus the fly is sized to that exact specification.

Cost and Value

The blue-winged olive is considered cheap by fly standards, so unless you buy in high quantities, it should be taken as a surprise if the price cracks into the double digits.
Pros

Sized to match the target of imitation perfectly

Designed specifically to fool the eye of the targeted trout

Chemically sharpened, high carbon hook

Premium materials

Cons

Pattern isn’t perfect and won’t fool every fish

3. Hare’s Ear Nymph

3. Hare’s Ear Nymph
Now here is a classic among flies, and for very good reason. The hare’s ear nymph, and the entire hare’s ear lineup, is one of the most universally acclaimed flies in the business, for many reasons. One of the most obvious is its appearance. Whether it’s the classic design or the flashier gold ribbed variant, the hare’s ear has cemented its place in the collective tackle box of fly fishers everywhere.
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Versatile

Every fly comes in different sizes, but what makes the Hare’s Ear so remarkable is that in different sizes it can pass for different categories. It can be a caddis fly, a nymph, a mayfly, a scud, a stonefly, and whatever else you may need. The sheer versatility of the Hare’s Ear is staggering, and is the biggest secret behind its popularity.

Perfect Imitator

The reason that this fly can be used in so many situations is because the Hare’s Ear is technically designed to not look like any specific bug. But it’s also designed in such a way that, with a bit of tweaking, can look like any fly you need it to. It looks like nothing, and thus it’s free to look like anything.

Cost and Value

If you go after the gold ribbed variant of the Hare’s Ear, it may ratchet up the price a bit, but not by too much, and besides that, it won’t cost you anymore than your average fly.
Pros

Versatile in its use

Can appear like any insect needed

Made of sturdy premium materials

Gold-Ribbed version is easy to keep track of

Cons

You need to buy multiple Hare’s Ears in different sizes to get the most out of it

Body may need a bit of brushing with a toothbrush for max effectiveness

5. Zebra Midge

5. Zebra Midge
Fly fishing is considered smaller scale than normal “spin” fishing as it is, but sometimes you need to go even smaller still. That’s where the Zebra Midge comes into play. This famous little fly is considered one of the best for catching the notoriously picky tailwater trout, but what is it that makes it so good? There are two little secrets to this little fly.
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Smaller size

Even the larger sizes of the Zebra Midge are small compared to other flies, but don’t take that to mean it’s less effective. In fact, the small size makes it perfect for fish that prefer smaller meals. Like humans, fish get full, and won’t always be in the mood for a full course meal. So a smaller bite will entice them more during those periods.

Detailed design

When it comes to making believable bait, any hunter or fisherman will tell you the same: the devil is in the details. So the best flies will put as much little detail into their design as possible to appear as the fish/insect/plant they need to. The Zebra Midge is outfitted with cdc tufts that simulate the appearance of gills and wings. Making the illusion all the more believable.

Cost and Value

Among fishing flies at least, the Zebra Midge can be pricey. However, the value of this fly more than makes up for the initial cost of buying.
Pros

Small size makes it more enticing

Careful details to better sell the illusion

Tailwater trout can’t resist

Stays useful even when dead drifting, fishing under the film, or even lifting

Cons

Bit pricier than its peers

Hooks have a tendency to break

5. Zebra Midge

5. Zebra Midge
Fly fishing is considered smaller scale than normal “spin” fishing as it is, but sometimes you need to go even smaller still. That’s where the Zebra Midge comes into play. This famous little fly is considered one of the best for catching the notoriously picky tailwater trout, but what is it that makes it so good? There are two little secrets to this little fly.
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Smaller size

Even the larger sizes of the Zebra Midge are small compared to other flies, but don’t take that to mean it’s less effective. In fact, the small size makes it perfect for fish that prefer smaller meals. Like humans, fish get full, and won’t always be in the mood for a full course meal. So a smaller bite will entice them more during those periods.

Detailed design

When it comes to making believable bait, any hunter or fisherman will tell you the same: the devil is in the details. So the best flies will put as much little detail into their design as possible to appear as the fish/insect/plant they need to. The Zebra Midge is outfitted with cdc tufts that simulate the appearance of gills and wings. Making the illusion all the more believable.

Cost and Value

Among fishing flies at least, the Zebra Midge can be pricey. However, the value of this fly more than makes up for the initial cost of buying.
Pros

Small size makes it more enticing

Careful details to better sell the illusion

Tailwater trout can’t resist

Stays useful even when dead drifting, fishing under the film, or even lifting

Cons

Bit pricier than its peers

Hooks have a tendency to break

6. San Juan Worm

6. San Juan Worm
The San Juan Worm can be considered a rather underrated fly, which is a shame, because as the placement should tell you, it’s one of the best. Most anglers get all wrapped up in the fine details, that they forget the pure simplistic effectiveness of the San Juan. This is one fly that has more than earned its place in your tackle box.
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Universal Appeal

One of the most common underwater creatures is the aquatic worm. Almost every body of water on the planet has some amount of aquatic worm living in it. This means the San Juan Worm can be used in any body of water, because the food it imitates is something that every fish has consumed at some point.

Simplicity is key

The thing about worms is that, they aren’t complex creatures. Their bodies perform very basic functions, and thus have very simplistic appearances. As such, if one wants to imitate a worm for bait, then it needs to embody that simplicity.

Cost and Value

A single San Juan Worm won’t cost you more than a dollar at any retail fishing shop. However, some stores sell them in bundles because of this, and that can add onto the price.
Pros

Can be used in any body of water

Simplistic design makes it easy to work with

Cheap if you only want to buy one

Doesn’t need any extra accessories to work

Cons

Can be pricey in bundles

7. Pheasant Tail Nymph

7. Pheasant Tail Nymph
The Pheasant Tail Nymph shares a few characteristics with the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear. Like the Hare’s Ear, it uses a bright color palette to keep better track of it while out on the water, and it shares some structural design choices for added effect. However, there are certain aspects to it that set it apart from the Hare’s Ear. The following are the two most important.
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Dietary Imitation

The main appeal of any Nymph style fly is that they imitate a food source that isn’t imitated as well in other areas: the subsurface food source. Seeing as how these are one of the most common food sources in a fish’s diet, any tackle box should have at least one nymph, and it should definitely be the Pheasant Tail.

Durable

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is a tough little sucker that will go for a while before finally breaking. And even that’s assuming that you get a bite every time you throw it out. Even just getting 2 out of three will add years of life to this little fly.

Cost and Value

Due to their high quality, these flies are a bit more expensive than your average fly, usually cracking at least over $5. Not a lot by normal standards, but for a fishing fly, it can be a lot.
Pros

Imitates a commonly found food source for added effect

Will last you longer than other flies

Armed with a high quality mustard hook

Excellent craftsmanship

Cons

Pricey

8. Bead Head Wooly Bugger

8. Bead Head Wooly Bugger
Another consumer favorite, the Wooly Bugger is another fly that immediately jumps into people’s minds when they hear the term fly fishing. Partly due to just how silly the name is, admittedly, but the Wooly Bugger genuinely is a great fly, deserving to be in any self-respecting fly fisherman’s tackle box.
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Underwater Versatility

If the Parachute Adams is the go to fly for above-the-surface fishing, the Wooly Bugger is the go to fly for under-the-surface. In different sizes it can imitate everything from Minnows, to Crayfish, to Leeches.

Longevity

With other, more generic hooks, you have to worry about the hooks snapping off from the force of a fish bite, or the streamer unraveling from overuse. But because of how well the Wooly Bugger is crafted, that will never happen with this fly.

Cost and Value

In bundles, the Wooly Bugger may cost you a pretty penny, and in singular doses, it’s still rather expensive as singular streamer flies go. Still, any fly fisher will tell you that it’s more than worth the cost.
Pros

Professionally hand tied

Adorned with a bead that sinks the fly lower for bigger fish

Craftsmanship that makes for a longer lifespan

As versatile underwater as the Parachute Adams is above

Cons

Pricey

9. Royal Wulff

9. Royal Wulff
Contrary to common belief, the Royal Wulff did not originate from artist Lee Wulff directly, but from a variant on the Royal Coachman known as the Quack Coachman. Wulff then adapted the design, and the Royal Wulff was born. With Wulff’s name behind it, and the genuine use it provided, the Royal Wulff became a rousing success to this day.
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Easy to Spot

One of the main frustrations for new fly fishermen is keeping track of their flies once they’re out on the water. It’s easy to lose them in all that water, especially if there’s fog or some other anomaly. The white wings that come with the Royal Wulff make it easy to spot out on the water. For both you and the fish.

Tough under pressure

One of the worst things in the world for a fly fisherman is losing your fly because it broke under the sheer force of the fish latching onto it. Whether it’s because the line snapped or the fly just wasn’t that durable, the fact is that you’ve lost a fly. The Royal Wulff, however, is design in such a way and with such materials as to make such a thing happening impossible.

Cost and Value

The Royal Wulff is actually pretty cheap for its quality, if you aren’t buying in bundles. This means you can have one of the best flies on the market for relatively cheap.
Pros

Easy to make out against the water

Can take on fish twice its size without breaking

Strong mustard hook foundation

Hand crafted with premium materials

Cons

Hackles can be too long

10. Caddis Elk Hair

10. Caddis Elk Hair
Considered the second banana to the Parachute Adams, the Caddis Elk Hair is a more specialized version of the Parachute Adams. Whereas the Parachute Adams has proven effective against any type of fish it’s gone up against, the only fish the Caddis has consistently caught are trout. But with that said, the trout fall for it every single time. Why is this? There are a few reasons actually.
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Realistic Appearance

The Caddis Elk Hair has almost always caught any trout that has laid eyes on it, because the Caddis Elk hair doesn’t just imitate the type of insects that trout eat, in this case the Caddis fly, but it practically looks identical to a fish swimming underwater. Every fine detail is crafted to make it as realistic looking as possible.

Realistic motion

Not only does the Elk Hair Caddis look like a real caddis fly, but once on the water, it acts like one too. Once it hits the water, the fly will bob up and down, near perfectly simulating the movement of a caddis fly trying to get off of the water. No trout can resist.

Cost and Value

When the trout are in abundance, the price can go up from demand. So be sure to get this as early as you can, as it should be a staple of every fly fisher’s tackle box.
Pros

Perfectly simulates caddis fly behavior on the water

Realistic appearance to fool any trout

Almost always catches trout

Distinct colorization makes it easy to spot on the water

Cons

Not very effective with fish other than trout

Fishing flies are one of the most important tools in a fisher’s toolkit. Hopefully, this list has helped you to understand better as to why, but to sum up: a fishing fly is your best bet at catching certain types of fish, especially in bodies of water unsuited for spin rod fishing like fast-moving rivers. They perfectly mimic the appearance of different fish’s food sources, drawing them in to bite, wherein the hooks inside seal the deal. There are different types, and some are better than others for certain situations (good luck catching a bass with an Elk Hair Caddis) but the truth remains the same. This is one of the most storied and fascinating aspects of fly fishing, already a storied and fascinating sport. So if any of these interests you, it’s highly recommended that you seek them out, find a good place to fish, and just have yourself a quiet, wonderful afternoon.

Criteria Used in Choosing the Best Fly Fishing Flies

Presentation

The presentation of a fishing fly refers to the ripple effect, sound, and general impact they have upon hitting the water after casting. The presentation of your fly is incredibly important because the idea of a fishing fly is to replicate the appearance of whatever insect or fish your fly is supposed to represent as much as possible. So you need to make sure your fly doesn’t hit the water too hard. Many things determine the presentation of the fly, most of which will be on this list, but the important thing to remember is that subtlety is key when fly fishing, so your presentation should always be considered.

Weight

There are three weights you must consider when putting together the perfect fishing rod. There’s the weight of the rod, the weight of the fishing line, and finally, the weight of the fly. The weight of the fly determines a lot, which may come as a surprise. After all, how can such a tiny object determine so much of your cast? Very easily, turns out, since you’ll be throwing that object out into the water, held up only by an incredibly thin string and the force of your throw. If the fly is too heavy, then it may alter its course in midair, or it may not go out as far as you need it to. However much your fly weighs should determine how far you plan on throwing it and how hard you’ll have to throw it in order for it to reach that distance.

Appearance

But getting it out there is only half of the battle. The other half is making sure it can fool the fish you’re planning to catch. How you determine this is simple: does it or does it not look like something the fish normally eats. In the case of trout, this may be the caddis fly, or aquatic worm, or some other insect or creature that the fish in question loves to eat. The fly needs to resemble these foods as long as possible until the fish bites down on it, letting you reel it in. How well the fly in question resembles the fish determines whether or not they can be included among the all-time great fishing flies.

Fly types

The question you should always ask before you attach your fly is: which one do I need? There are three different types of flies commonly used by fly fishers, each having their strengths, weaknesses, and proper time and place of use. They are as follows,

Dry Fly

This is the ideal fish for fly fishing for trout. Trout eat primarily underwater, but they also love eating insects by jumping out of the water and catching the food in its mouth in midair. So a dry fly makes for a fun experience since dry flies are called such by their ability to rest atop the water. So, a fish swimming below looks up, sees a delectable caddis fly, leaps out to eat it, and gets caught in your trap in the process. While trout can be caught with any of the three types, fly fishers prefer dry flies purely for the fun factor of it.

Nymph

Not only do trout primarily eat underwater but they have a particular taste for the early stages of insects including mayflies, caddis, or stoneflies. This stage is known as the nymph, and the fly fishing version of the same name is about the same size, and unlike the dry fly, is meant to rest near the bottom of the water, where the aforementioned insects spend the majority of their nymph stage of development. As such, when a trout comes swimming by for a snack, it’ll scoop up the fly and you’ll have caught it.

Streamer

When you fish with a streamer fly, make sure to have a heavier weight for the tippet. Because fish tend to hit streamer flies hard and fast. Streamers are meant to resemble insects that are fast and tend to get away easily. So the fish have trained themselves to attack the moment they have the bug in their sights and they can squeeze off an attack. The best way to fish with a streamer is by casting the line out into a lake, usually the part that looks like it has the most trout. You then strip your line in short or long pulls, causing the streamer to move and draw attention. Keep doing this until you get a bite.

Accessories

There are many things your fly may need in order to perform its function to its fullest extent. There are tufts, little extra bits of cloth or fuzz that help to sell the look of a specific type of insect. There are weights for when you’re using a streamer or nymph, for when you need to get the fly to the bottom of a particularly deep body of water for the best catch, and there are even things like fake wings to help you see the fly better when it’s on the water. How well these accessories help to strengthen the abilities of the fly is what separates them from the generic brand.

Hook strength

All of the above doesn’t mean a thing if the catch fails at the moment of truth because your hook snapped off in the fish’s mouth. The hook used to make the fly should always be considered a top priority, because it’s going to be what helps you bring the fish in after catching it. Most fish hooks are made of steel, so them breaking is unlikely, but it can happen under the right circumstances.

Durability

In a more general sense, the durability of the fly should always be a subject of interest. The reasons for this are fairly obvious.  Clearly we want the flies we cast out to actually work properly, not unravel as time goes on etc. In a majority of cases, however, this is not a problem. Manufacturers have been at this for a long time and know how to make these things to last.

Versatile

What does this mean? Well, look at the top spots on this article, one of the main pros of the entries up there is how they can be used in various different situations. The best ones can be used at any point in the year. And they can also be used against any kind of fish that’s looking for something to snack on. Versatility is king because that means you don’t have to spend as much on more flies.

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What’s a leader?

A: A “leader” refers to a line between the fly line and the fly itself. This line keeps the fly held up in a certain way, and a certain manner, in order to better fool the fish when it hits the water. If you are, say, casting out a streamer, then you need to make sure that the streamer goes straight down and you can lead it back to your position, in order to lure fish to try and eat it. This is done by use of the leader. By pulling on the leader, you fool schools of fish into thinking that your little trap for one of them is actually a tasty morsel.

Q: I have at least one fly of each type and I’m ready to start fishing, which one do I choose and how?

A: This is a complicated question to answer because it’s dependent entirely on the situation you’re in. What type of fish are in the lake, what do they eat, and what type of insects frequent the lake the most. Summing this all up is referred to as “match the hatch”, a term referring to how you need to choose a fly that matches the behavior of whatever insect is in the biggest abundance at your fishing spot. There should be information regarding that at the nearest bait shop, but there’s also, of course, plenty of information to be found on the topic online.

Q: how many flies should I get before starting?

A: Whichever one you need the most for your nearest fishing source should be the one you get first, but generally, you should try to make sure that you have at least one of the three categories: a dry fly, a streamer, and a nymph. That way you have options when you start fly fishing in different bodies of water, for different types of fish. If you’re fishing on a lake, for instance, a dry fly may serve you better, whereas a nymph is better suited to streams or rivers.

Q: I have the money to buy my own flies, but instead I want to make my own. Is this possible?

A: Certainly! It will take some doing, but the necessary guides are all over the internet. Tying your own flies takes much practice, trial and error, and you will screw up many times before you succeed. However, when you catch your first trout with a dry fly that you tied yourself from your own string and hooks, there are few more satisfying experiences in the world. There’s something so fulfilling, knowing that you caught a fish using materials of your own creation and possession. So if you think you know how, you have the guides, equipment, and necessary ingredients, then by all means give it a go and see what happens!

Q: What’s mending and how do I learn about it?

A: Mending refers to a technique wherein the caster repositions the fly line on the water with the goal of improving the fly’s presentation to the fish. Now that sounds easy, but in practice it can be really difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you do it wrong you can actually end up giving away the entire game to the fish and scaring them off. Like with other techniques, guides can be found all over the internet. Enough practice and you’ll get it in no time.

Q: I know I need a leader, but how do I choose one?

A: Leaders come in 3 different varieties: knotted, knotless, or braided. A knotted leader is made via tying 4-6 lengths of mono together until you reach what’s called the “tippet diameter”, and it can be either 3X, 4X, or more. A skilled enthusiast will prefer knotted leaders as it helps them turn over flies better.

A knotless leader is a single strand of mono that tapers from butt to tippet. The fly fishing company Orvis has a method by which they use a heavier butt and a specialized taper that makes them cast better.

Finally, a braided leader is suppler, in order to reduce drag, transfer energy, absorb shock, and allow for faster, smoother tippet transition. The one you choose is actually just based on which one sounds more appealing to you. A braided leader, for instance, will have a better presentation on the water because it will help absorb the shock. If that appeals to you, then a braided leader will do wonders for you.

Q: I know what type of leader I want, how do I decide length?

A: Now this is actually the simple part. What length you choose depends on what type of body of water you’re dealing with. If, for example, you’re dealing with a slow moving stream, where a fish could easily spot the fly line, then a 12’ leader would be the best choice. If you’re using a dry fly on a calm lakebed, then 15-18 inches will be the leader of choice for you. Finally, if you’re using dry flies or nymphs on faster-moving water, then 9 inches is the best choice for you. Find a dealer with a wide array of leaders for you to choose from, and then pick out multiple leaders that you think you may need. The important thing to remember is that, as long as you know the criteria, there are no wrong answers.

Sources

  1. Orvis, Tom Rosenbauer’s 12 Essential Trout Flies
  2. Blue Quill Angler, FAQ
  3. Take Me Fishing, FAQ

 

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