Fly Fishing with Trico Patterns

10 Best Trico Patterns (Nymphs, Dries with an Easy Fly to Tie)

No other insect hatch brings more trout to the surface than a July, August Trico hatch. The Tricorythodes is one of the smallest mayfly species around and is one of the trout’s most beloved meals. While experiencing the Trico hatch and the boiling waters around you can also lead to some of the most frustrating fishing sessions of your life!

Any rise means setting the hook with tricos
Any rise means setting the hook with tricos

Why? I couldn’t tell you; many say it’s because the trout have too much to choose from, but others say that the trout are super picky in these hatches. Whatever the answer, I like to have a few patterns that I know work and that I am confident in fishing before, during, and after a hatch.

I’ve got another article on Trico’s 👉 Big Trout on Tiny Tricos – Tips and Techniques

In the below article, we will go through some of our favorite Trico imitations and discuss why and how to fish them. These are, of course, all subjective, and please feel free to chop and change the list to suit your needs. We will also include an Step by Step of one of our favorite dries for you to tie.

Favorite Trico Nymphs

Trico and a matching nymph
Trico and a matching nymph

The Trico Nymph is one of the smallest and mostly preyed upon nymphs in the trout’s diet. There are numerous ways to fish the nymph, whether you are fishing it as a suggestive pattern or as a pattern on a dropper. The fly tends to catch loads of fish if fished in the correct way.

One of the most popular ways to fish the nymph stage of the fly is when the spinner fall is happening. For those who don’t know this, this is when the adult female fly has laid her eggs and tends to die off. Hence the name spent spinner. This is a great time to fish spinner-style, dry, but more on this later.

What I tend to do is fish a dropper nymph below a Comparadun Trico with a high stick method. This works wonders as the small nymph just breaks the surface of the water and becomes more noticeable than the spent flies in the surface film.

There are obviously other ways and flies that you can use, but this works well and can be applied to many situations.

1. Beaded Copper John

Copper John Nymph
Copper John Nymph

The Copper John is just one of those fly patterns that work and will always prove to be a killer pattern to fish. Developed by John Barr in 1990s, Its artificial look wasn’t taken too kindly, but almost all critics come around to the pattern at some time or another.

It’s one of my favorite patterns to fish as a single larger pattern/ suggestive pattern, some may call it. It also works very well as a point fly on a euro rig when fishing with a small nymph as a dropper. During a hatch is when I feel a beadless version of the fly really does come into its own. Having the copper to make up the body gently breaks the surface and is in the perfect zone for the fish when they are homing in on the spent spinners in the surface film.

My preferred sizes are a #16 to #18 only, as I can’t really get a good body taper on anything smaller than a #18. I haven’t really needed to either, as this pattern works most of the time.

2. Small Black Nymph

Small black trico midge
Small black trico midge

Ok, so there is nothing really special here just the fact that this is one of my favorite patterns to have for any tricky situations. Dirty water, I’m covered. Finicky trout, I’m sorted, and with its ease to tie, it is a no-brainer to have in the fly box.

I like the beadless version but do add a little lead to the thorax for the heavier versions. The lead gives extra weight and a good taper to the pattern. Something that a Trico nymph has. If you see a live version, you will see that it is often shorter and stubbier than some of its other family members.

I fish this pattern as a dropper flies under a larger, more noticeable dry.

3. PTN – Pheasant Tail Nymph

Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph
Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is a classic. It was first tied by Frank Sawyer, who changed the world with his thoughts and applications to the fly-fishing world. While dry fly fishing was the strict norm, Frank thought of below the water and what the fish would eat below what we could see. Trout made up to 90% of their diets from the bottom, so in those early days, Franks’s thoughts were seen as both revolutionary and intimidating.

Long story short, the PTN is a great pattern to have in the beaded and non-beaded versions. They work on rivers and on still waters. I fish the natural browns and keep to the Trico nymph size of #16 or #18. Remember, the main thing with Trico imitations is to match the hatch.

4. Micro Mayfly

Micro Mayfly
Micro Mayfly – image Umpqua – link

A great pattern to have for most occasions. Its popularity amongst anglers is a sure sign of its effectiveness. Tied in a size 18 in a slimmer version than usual, it is the perfect imitation of a Trico nymph. A touch of red in the abdomen is also a great addition.

5. Midge Emerger

RS2 Emerger in size 20
RS2 Emerger in size 20 – photo credit UMPQUA

Ok so this is where things get interesting. This emerger is something I’m spending more and more time fishing in the tougher conditions. What I mean by tougher conditions is fishing for smart trout. So, we all know those fish that just won’t eat.

They have either been fished for too much or just aren’t hungry. This is the fly I throw at them. It’s a subsurface pattern, more a wet fly, if you want to be specific. I like to fish it behind a dry pattern as I use the dry as an indicator for a eat. I like to keep them in #18 in black and grey.

Lifecycle of Mayfly
Lifecycle of Mayfly

How to set up a fly rod for Trico Nymph Fishing

There is one thing to remember when you are Trico nymphing, and you are actively catching fish, the chances of the hatch coming on are great, especially in the warmer months. It is for this reason that having a dry fly rig ready to go is vital to your planning of the day’s fishing. If and when the hatch starts, you want to be ready and fish the start right through to the end of the hatch. 

Twos rod or one, this is the old question and one that has a varied opinions. Now from my side and for my water conditions I find it best to fish with one rod and change my rig and leaders as I need to. I need to be fast, so I have premade spools of rigs and flies that I can change as I need to.

Sure, if you have an open bank style environment then carrying a second rod is easier but most of the fishing I do is in overgrown river banks, and once you are in the water there is no exiting until the end of the beat which usually involves breaking down the rods and climbing out of the valley. For this reason, it is more practical to fish with one rod.

Nymphing Fly Rod Setup for Tricos
Nymphing Fly Rod Setup for Tricos

Currently, my new favorite rod is the Vision Hero 10′ 3wt. I love this rod! Designed ideally for nymphing, it has a beautiful soft tip and fishes a tight line dry dropper rig with such ease. I fish a 20-foot micro leader, then my 6x tippet. I then swap out my various rigs and leaders when I need too.

If I want to throw a classic single dry, then a quick swap to a degreased taper dry fly leader such as the Harvey Dry leader, and I’m ready to go. For the shorter more ‘close quarter’ fishing I don’t even change the leader out and fish the dry on my tight line leader with a small, beaded nymph as the dropper for extra weight. Weight is what the rig needs to function correctly.

I’m not one for overcomplicating matters, but I do enjoy the technical aspect of this, and one can dive as deep as one chooses to.

Favorite Trico Dry Flies

These little insects must be some of the most popular dry flies to tie and fish. I love them, and what’s even nicer is the fact that their imitations are super simple to tie but can be some of the most technical patterns to present to the trout.

Trico Dry Fly
Trico Dry Fly

So, what makes them so tricky? Well, firstly, matching the hatch will generally mean fishing a pattern no bigger than a size #18, and if you are anything like me and blind as a bat, then you will tend to struggle with tying them on and seeing them in the drift. There are a few things one can do to combat the blindness and the difficulty in seeing the small Trico dries drifting down the run.

Guides Tip– I like to tie in a small sighter if the pattern allows, so between the split wing of poly yarn, I would tie in a hot spot sighter, or alternatively, I would use a Hi-Vis color on the top part of the white wing for more visibility.
Each to their own, I see hotspot orange as the best in most conditions, while I have friends who see whites and yellows better. It all depends on you and your preferences.

Another tip I to build your leader with a sighter line in it. Most tippet companies make the sighter tippet these day for nymphing, and I like to use a piece of this in my leader to help me pick the leader up easier on the water. Again, certain colors work better than others. I like to use yellow for this purpose.

6. Trico Midge

Trico Midge Dry Fly
Trico Midge Dry Fly – image Fulling Mill – link

The Trico Midge is a great little pattern to have in the box. When you see the size of these flies, you will understand why I battle to see them in the water, especially on the margins of a faster run where the water is white and bubbly.

Tricos hatch from July to October
Tricos hatch from July to October

When the Trico hatch starts to kick off, it is important to have a fly that will cover most of the sizes of the file that is around, and this little patten does this best. In a size #18 in black with a white post is my favorite.

As mentioned earlier you can change that post to a hotspot if you want or a dab of skaffa wax will do. Just be careful not to clog the poly yarn fibers with the wax, as the pattern will sink straight away.

7. Black Gnat

Hi-Vis Black Gnat
Hi-Vis Black Gnat

The Black Gnat is an interesting little pattern. It isn’t specifically tied for the trico imitations, but it works really well when the tricks are in clusters. They tend to cluster up on windier days, and then they could pass as midge clusters drifting done the stream.

I always have a few in the box and tend to fish them whenever the going gets a little tough. They generally bring fish up and get them to eat. Fished in size #18 in blacks and tan browns are my two preferred colors. T

his particular pattern has a little more body to it, so you could also drift a little nymph or wet fly below it for a second option for the fish. I always like to fish a second fly if possible to give me that chance of more fish.

8. Trico Comparadun

Comparadun BWO Fly Pattern
Comparadun BWO Fly Pattern

Comparadun is in a league of its own. I love them! I’m not sure if it is the way they drift down the run or if it’s the way they look, but there is something about this pattern that I can’t get enough of. I tend to always revert to tying one even when I don’t need one.

I can’t explain it, and to be honest, I don’t think I need to. Those who know will know! It’s an awesome-looking fly with equally the same, if not more potent, on the water.

Having given it much thought over the years, I think it is the wing, the way it splays open, and when tied correctly, the splay is almost elegant looking. Ok, sorry, back to why the pattern is so effective. Simply put, it just covers all the triggers a Trico pattern needs.

The only drawback, in my opinion, is the size. To get a good balanced Comparadun on a size #18 is tricky, not impossible, but tricky. That said, when you get it right, it’s a winner. I like them in sizes #16 and #18 in tans and blacks with a CDC splayed wing.

Below is a great SBS for those who want to go down the rabbit hole.

8. SBS Comparadun

This is also the pattern that I mentioned earlier. I fish this pattern with a

9. Rusty Trico Spinner

Rustys Spinner Fly Pattern
Rusty’s Spinner Fly Pattern

The Rusty Trico is a robust worker pattern that can get eaten plenty of times and keep going. This a great pattern to tie in a sighter and can be fished in many different sizes. I tend to fish a small version of this pattern as a sunken fly on a point with a dry dropper rig.

I find it works very well when the fish are sipping on the surface and ignoring all your other patterns. For the standard size, I tie them in two sizes, a size 16, and for the sunken versions, I use a size #18 or #20.

10. Female Trico Spinner

Female Trico Spinner
Female Trico Spinner

The CDC spinner is very similar to the above chubby Trico in many ways. It has the same profile and appearance and fishes the same as well. The only difference is the quill body that does two things differently.

The quill gives the body a thinner body and thus a thinner, lighter profile and, secondly, a more natural-looking abdomen. The visible segments work well in the clearer skinnier water where the trout could possibly see the fly closer up.

Fished in sizes #16 and #18 in grey or black.

How to Setup a Fly Rod for Trico Dries

Dry fly fishing is one of my favorite ways to fish a hatch. I often am in the mood towards the later part of the season, when all other methods and techniques have been exhausted. The single dry is the way to go.

Walking up onto those long deep glides, the ones you flag in the early season, for this exact reason. A single dry drift, a rising bow, and a gentle sip. All hell breaks loose thereafter. Those are the days that I live for.

As I mentioned earlier, I often just fish a dry fly on my tight line rig and have a great catch rate. It is just easier for me as I very quickly change back to a double nymph or dry dropper. On the days that I only fish a single dry, my setup is obviously very different from the nymph rigs.

Dry fly setup for Trico flies
Dry fly setup for Trico flies

Rods I tend to use a 3wt 8’6 Dry fly rod. It’s slightly shorter but casts like a dream.

Understanding the leader and what you want him to do is very important. In the tight line rig, your leader carries the flies, with the energy from the fly rod to the intended target or area of water. The weight of the flies is an important aspect of the functionality of the rig and its effectiveness.

With the dry fly leader, you, A, don’t have the weight of the flies to work with, and B, you don’t want the tight line contact to the dry. You want the slack and the line’s ability to move. It’s this very slack that will allow the fly to drift drag-free and look as natural as possible. As we all know, the DRAG is what kills the drift, and whether it’s from the fly or the line, we need to prevent it at all costs.

I like to fish a digressing tapered leader. 15 feet is good for me, to which I connect my tippet, about 6 feet of 6X. This leader is a combination of the Lefty Kreh 50/50 leader construction and the George Harvey leader build.

The only reason I do it like this is when I started building my own leaders. I never had all the required diameters for the Harvey-style leader. So, I had to improvise. The leader builds turned out really well and rolled just perfectly. A good dry fly leader is meant to land on the water with a few S curves and slack.

These can be taken up by the various currents on the surface while the fly drifts unaffected down the drift.

Guide Tip- On leader building, I like to boil my mono before I tie the various leader sections together. A general rule of thumb is to boil the diameter of the mono mm: min. An example of this is the butt section may be 0.30mm for a micro leader. I boil that section for 3min, then a 0.20mm piece for 2min.

The heat doesn’t alter the strength of the line whatsoever but rather gives it a lovely stretch to it. This is great when fighting larger fish on lighter tippets.

Looking to Learn the Tips and Techniques for the Fish You Love to Chase? I’ve Got You Hooked Up Below

Last Cast with a Trico Dry

So, there we have it, the famous Trico mayfly. The mayfly that has kept us guessing for decades and should keep us guessing for many more to come. It’s not so much the actual fly pattern that we don’t understand but rather why the fish are so selective when there are so many about is what gets me every time.

Even with the above ten fly patterns that I know work, you have days when the trout just seem to be smarter or not interested. It is on these days that I must remind myself that this is fishing, and if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it.

Tight lines!

Kyle Knight writer Guide Recommended

Kyle Knight

Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.

Sources and More

  • A big thanks for image use from Umpqua – World’s Best Flies – UMPQUA
  • Fulling Mill has provided permission to use pictures – Thanks – Fulling Mill
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