top ten early season flies

One of my buddies just called me and told me to email him my top ten favorite early season trout flies for western Wisconsin and the Driftless Area. I replied by asking him if he was talking about just nymphs. He said, no...nymphs, dries and streamers. I responded, asking him if I could email him a list of twenty. He said no, just ten. Now I know how the guys on ESPN feel when they have to compile a Top Ten list of basketball or football players. What gets left off? What makes the cut? One memorable outing with a particular fly doesn't qualify it to be in the top ten. Likewise, a big fish doesn't qualify a pattern, either. It has to produce under an array of conditions across a broad range of water types. It has to work on one river and on another stream fifty miles away. I did emphasize to said friend that he could ask this question to thirty anglers and he'd undoubtedly receive thirty different lists. Some people are dry fly aficionados and will fish only dries. Others love "bobber" fishing. Obviously those lists would contain more flies in those respective categories. This is my list, not necessarily the right list, but my list (in no particular order).

1. Zebra Midge (18s and 20s)
2. Pink Squirrel
3. Scuds (orange and gray/tan)
4. Wooly Buggers (conehead and beadhead)
5. Copper Johns (red and copper, 16s and 18s)
6. midge dries (Griffith's gnat, Charlie's Secret Attack Midge, etc.)
7. the Beverly Hills Ninja (pearl glass bead, zebra midge body with a starling soft hackle, tied on a Tiemco 206BL)
8. Pheasant Tail nymphs (black and natural, 14s through 20s, with and w/out beads)
9. Marabou Leeches (natural gray and black)
10. The 20 Incher

Honorable Mention :
-San Juan Worms (red, wine and purple)
-Rainbow Warrior (size 18)
-Hare's Ear
-Prince Nymph

The Hare's Ear and Prince belong on every list. New materials and innovative tiers have given us more and more unique and dare I say, fun, patterns. The 20 Incher is a relatively large nymph, equally at home on a steelhead river as it is a spring creek, but even small inch trout find it irresistible. The San Juan and orange scuds belong in every box for spring-time run-off and dirtied water. A couple sizes of small dark dries will cover most of your surface work for either midges or small stones. Soft hackles are deadly and the Beverly Hills Ninja is the best I've found for early season fishing. I'll fish them either near the bottom tandem with a heavier fly or in the surface film when fish are rising and being finicky. They've saved my tail on many occasions when fish are actively feeding on midges or stones and won't take my dries. Give me these fourteen flies in a couple different sizes/colors and I know I can catch fish in March and April. Stop into the shop and check out the huge orders we just got in from Umpqua and Rainy's. Tons of new trout flies to get you ready for this coming weekend.


Anonymous said...

We disagree.
-Charlie and Bart

ns said...

I knew you would...rascals.

ns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ns said...

Sorry, that last comment of mine had a lot of typos. Anywho, I was wondering if you disagree on behalf of your status as an Umpqua Professional? I do think the Barteaux Minnow is applicable as a trout fly.

trouthound said...

what are your picks for spring browns , and bows for lake michigain run? I'm new to lake fly fishing , took my son out 2 year ago and used spawn for a short time we had fish feeding boils all around and caught 2 browns , on spawn . would have like to get them on the fly rod.

trouthound said...

ps one brown spit up a 9" trout

ns said...


For steelhead and lake-run browns it's tough to beat nymph and egg patterns in the spring. A stonefly nymph paired with a chartreuse or orange egg is deadly. Use a ball-style indicator and be ready to adjust your weight with split-shot. Swinging streamers can also work very well as the water temps warm. Try egg-sucking leeches, wooly buggers or sculpin patterns. It's all about putting in time. We'll sometimes go several times in a row without so much as a grab. Keep working at it and it will pay off. Nothing beats a fresh steelhead on the fly!