True…most of us got our fly fishing start using dry flies! It’s hard to beat the excitement of actually seeing the fish surface to take a fly. This method is still seen as the “epitome” of fly fishing for most in the sport.
If you want to see more top-water trout action, check out this list of the best dry flies for trout.
In this article, we’ll discuss the 15 best trout fly patterns, where to buy them, and some specific tips and tactics to help ensure your success.
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A Quick Guide to Dry Flies for Trout
What Exactly is Dry Fly and When Should I Use it?
A dry fly is a fly that you fish on top of the water’s surface. The point is to keep it floating or “dry” like a natural adult fly or terrestrial (hopper, ant, etc) would be.
We’re trying to imitate the aquatic (born from the water) and terrestrial (born on land) insects we see buzzing around and landing on the water.
What Should I Keep in Mind When Buying Dry Flies for Trout?
Cost – You can run up a good bill buying them but cheap ones might fall apart quickly or not work well. A quality fly might cost more but last longer…unless you snag a tree!
Shape – With mayflies, midge, and caddis, I prefer thin bodies. Terrestrials and stoneflies can be fatter. Too thin on hackle and the fly won’t float. Too much and it looks chunky and gives a bad profile. Try looking from below the fly (trout’s point of view) to see what a fly looks like.
“Bugginess” – It’s harder to define but basically I don’t like things that look too realistic or polished. It should have some fuzz in the dubbing, body segmentation, some irregularity to the wings. You don’t want it to look sloppy though.
What are Different Types of Dry Flies?
There are 4 main types of aquatic insects; mayflies, midge, caddis, and stoneflies. Dry flies are attempting to suggest the adult forms of these.
There are also terrestrials like grasshoppers, moths, ants, beetles, etc. These are what dry fly patterns for trout are trying to imitate.
Are Dry Flies Better than Nymphs?
No. They just represent a different stage of life of the same aquatic insects as nymphs (aside from terrestrials).
One might argue that dry fly fishing is the “epitome” of the sport but it’s also very limited.
Trout eat subsurface (nymphs) close to 90% of the time.
Top 15 Best Dry Flies for Trout
The following list is broken into types of dry flies for trout.
The “etha” foam wing pattern comes in a variety of colors including PMD and Sulphur. The cut-out wing pattern gives a realistic look but the more traditional body, hackle, and tail allow it to still look buggy and not too rigid.
I especially like the BWO pattern though because, as BWOs are a cool-cold weather mayfly, the river is often at low-flow stages (fall-winter-early spring). The Etha wing gives a realistic, upright wing profile to help fool picky fish in low/slow water.
Easy to see, floats well when dry.
Parachute hackle helps land softly in slow/still water situations
Gives the realistic “sailboat” look to your mayfly.
Still looks “buggy.”
Won’t work for every situation.
Foam wing gets saturated after a while and won’t float well.
It’s always good to have some variation in your fly box. Add these for variety without breaking the bank.
No matter how often I use this fly or how “bored” of it I get…it keeps producing. The purple color is off putting to some but for many rivers, it’s an absolute rockstar.
Make sure your Purple Haze has a thin body and plenty of hackle to help it float. The purple is a great color and can imitate a variety of mayflies with a hint of an attractor note.
Purple color is somewhat “attractor-ish” but close enough to the real thing.
Doesn’t float well after a while.
This isn’t anything new but, if you don’t have any in your box, you should. It’s a great “all-around” go-getter to use during a mayfly hatch or when the bugs aren’t moving much. In a heavy hatch, the purple often helps this fly stand out in the crowd.
The CDC Biot Comparadun is a must for any fly box! This one happens to be a Sulphur Dun variation but it works for PMDs too.
The silhouette of this pattern is what makes it so deadly…a thin body, long and sparse but firm tail fibers, and a full upright wing.
The Comparadun wing pattern works very well for the mayfly dun stage (live mayflies floating on the water’s surface like little sailboats) and for the spinner stage (post-mating mayflies that are dying or dead on the surface film with splayed wings).
The upright CDC (Cul de Canard feather) is easy to see for most fisherfolks. CDC is naturally oiled so it doesn’t need floatant.
Slim, long profile.
No need to add floatant.
Realistic segmentation, works for dun or spinner stage.
Biot body can unwrap after abuse.
May need to switch flies after CDC becomes saturated.
This is another must-have for your fly box. Again, it’s important to have a variety of body and wing shapes even for each different hatch. Yes, trout can be THAT pick!
The Get er Done May just might be one of the best looking mayfly patterns around. It’s not a cheap pattern but the attention to detail is fantastic.
The tail is perfect. The body segmentation is amazing. The spot of dubbing adds great shape and floatation to the thorax. The wing hackle is well wrapped.
The PMD and olive (BWO) colors are spot-on. The Adams variation works great for a multitude of other dreads from brown drakes to mahoganys. It’s also a barbless pattern so there’s no mangled fish faces with this fly.
Comes in BWO, PMD, or Adams which covers a wide variety of mayflies.
Barbless circle hook saves fish faces.
Realistic shape, segmentation.
Not as wallet-friendly.
Biot body can unwind after a while.
Needs floatant after a while (might as well put it on right away), you’ll lose fish with a barbless hook unless you keep good tension the whole fight.
I wouldn’t call the Get er Done May a necessity, but definitely a “nicety.” That feeling of shelling out a little more cash upfront will dissipate when you’re on the water and nothing else is working.
Birchell’s Hatching Midge isn’t complicated but it’s steps above the Griffith’s Gnat. This updated take on the Klinkhammer adds a few nice features to the old standard.
The fuzzy tail/shuck represents an emerging midge. The curved body helps the back end of the fly dip below the water’s surface. The biot body gives realistic segmentation.
Comes in small midge-esque sizes, great body shape, great visibility for a small fly.
Very nice body segmentation.
Small is generally hard to see.
Needs floatant or dry shake often to keep afloat but that’s the name of the game.
This is a more realistic option than Griffith’s Gnat. Sometimes that’s better. Sometimes not. But this is a deadly midge pattern, nonetheless, and works great as a trico (black) or a small BWO (olive) too!
The Spotlight Caddis is one of those “when the traditional stuff isn’t working” kind of ties. Everyone knows and loves elk hair caddis but, sometimes, fish get tired of them. Elk hair floats high on top of the water too and, often, you need a fly that rides in the surface film instead.
The Spotlight Caddis has a wonderfully buggy look to it and imitates emerging caddis well. The extended drop-body gives an emerger look and realistic curve to the fly. Don’t forget to get different colors in this one to cover the many, varied types of caddis hatches.
Comes in multiple colors to cover different caddis species.
Extended “emerging” body type.
Rides down into the surface film.
Very “buggy” looking.
Caddis are often moving and fluttering on the water’s surface but this one isn’t going to twitch or “skate” well without sinking.
This is a more specific-stage pattern that looks great and gets eaten when emerging adult caddis are on the menu.
October or fall caddis are large, erratic bugs that trout love! This pattern has great coloration, has a foam body to keep it floating while twitching, dragging, or skating.
It also is balanced out with natural hairs and hackles which make it look more “buggy” and less rigid. The elk hair lends a great wing look, the hackel wrap gives a leggy look, and both aid the foam body by adding float.
Buggy looking and great floatation.
Color is somewhere between realistic and “attractor pattern, and it can imitate small stoneflies too.
It’s also buoyant enough to support a heavy dropper nymph.
Not many except your day will suck if October caddis are out and you don’t have one.
It’s a little more pricey vs other patterns.
October Caddis are an overlooked hatch in general. These giant fall-hatching caddis are a big piece of protein for tout. When the real deal hits the water, they skitter, kick, and swim like crazy bringing trout chasing from afar. The takes can be awesome!
So don’t be afraid to slap the water with this pattern and add a lot of movement!
I’m sorry… you just can’t have a “top trout flies” list without mentioning the workhorse of dry fly fishing.
The thing just gets eaten. Its foam body floats well, rubber band legs add great movement (whether you’re twitching it or they’re just gyrating in the current), it comes in too many colors combos to list, and it’s really easy to see.
It covers a huge range of insects, comes in a ton of colors and sizes.
Floats nymph droppers extremely well.
Fish love them. Fisher-folks love them. Fish may see way too many of these and stop eating them. For a while anyway.
The “Water Walker” is an updated version of so many foam stonefly patterns. To be honest, ther are so many that it sometimes gets tiring seeing so many new foam flies in fly shop bins.
So why this one?
Because it’s a bit stripped down. Because it’s “leggy.” There’s enough to the fly to make it look real buggy without having too much foam or fluff. The leggs are extra long and realistic which add really, really great movement.
Floats well, many colors to cover varying stoneflies…and even hoppers.
Simple enough to catch fish and not just fisher-folk at a fly shop.
Sits low in the water.
Sits low in the water.
Yes, sitting low is both a pro and a con. Pro…sitting lower makes it look more realistic. It looks “crawly.” That also means that it’s harder to see the profile as it’s drifting. It also means it will begin to saturate and sink faster than a Chubby. Dead drift or twitch this pattern.
This one has been around for a while. Well, at least the classic stimulator has. The Crystal Stimulator is not that new either. But when you need less “matching the hatch” and more of an attractor, these are really hard to beat.
It’s mostly an attractor pattern but small sizes work as caddis or yellow sallys. Mediums for various stones. Large ones for big stones like salmonfles and golden stones.
Multiple color options.
Works as an attractor or for caddis or stoneflies.
Old-school(ish) but still effective.
Not always effective for bigger, well learned fish.
Doesn’t float well with a dropper that has any weight unless you’re using a rather large version.
This is one of the best flies for brook trout. It’s also great for most small or high-mountain lakes, streams, or ponds. It can also simulate a variety of hatches like caddis and a variety of stoneflies from salmonflies to yellow sallys.
This is a simple ant pattern with realistic looking segmentation and high visibility with the white “wing” post. The furry body lends a buggy look and the grizzly hackle looks like moving legs from below (a trout’s point of view).
There’s no foam on this one though so I recommend using floatant before you begin with the parachute ant. Also, keep your dry-shake handy to dry off the fly from time to time. This will keep it riding high and dry without getting saturated.
Realistic looking from below (when it’s floating on the water).
Not the best floating fly.
Can’t fish with a dropper.
When it comes to dry fly fishing, the ant is often overlooked. This pattern works great in the heat of summer, especially when there isn’t much of a hatch, and especially when (but not limited to) when the sun is bright.
The Hi-viz Beetle is another one of those underrated or forgotten about dry flies. This one has a nice, thick foam body for floatation, a bit of yarn dubbing on the belly for a “buggy” feel, andl legs that move well in the current.
The Hi-viz indicator on the back makes it really easy for fisher-folks to spot. Because this fly is small and black, it can really disappear in the slightest glare or riffle. Thanks to the orange indicator, that won’t happen.
Legs and belly give a “buggy” look.
Hi-viz indicator makes it easy to see.
Won’t float at all after water saturates the foam.
Just change to a new beetle instead of fighting it.
Like ants, beetles are an unsung hero. Trout love them. So many days are spent trying to find the perfect fly to match what’s going on but, sometimes, what’s going on is that we have caddis or mayfly tunnel vision.
Sometimes, the small terrestrials like ants and beetles are what’s on the menu. There’s just no “hatch” to tell us so.
Well, there you have it!
The perfect dry-fly box for any trout angler! I know that specific areas will have specific ideas of what’s included in the “perfect” fly box but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better list than this to fish trout anywhere from Montana to Maine.
Don’t forget, each fly description has a direct link to that fly so you don’t have to go searching yourself. Save time, frustration, and even a few bucks by clicking the links and getting yourself some of the best dry flies for trout.
Leave a comment below and tell us what you think! Feel free to add some of your best trout dry flies to the list!