Brook trout conjure up all sorts of wonderful imagery in the minds of fly anglers. From the far-flung locales of Labrador, to the Appalachians on the East Coast, the thought of getting into brook trout anywhere in North America usually captures the attention of fly fishers at least once in their career.
Brookies tend to demand a slightly different approach than other trout. For one thing, brook trout just simply aren’t piscivorous, meaning that they don’t focus on eating other fish as a major part of their diet. Once brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and lake trout all reach a certain size, their diet primarily becomes other fish. Brook trout stick to scuds, leeches, and midges throughout most of their lives.
Knowing their diet should help you tweak your approach to catching brookies. Now, in most mountain streams where you’ll find brookies, they readily throw themselves at dry flies (with the same reckless abandon that cutthroat are often accused of having). Here in the Rockies, where I live and fish, brookies in the mountain streams aren’t terribly picky when it comes to the flies I throw at them.
Fly Fishing for brook trout summarizes so many things about fly fishing. Finding those cool, clean streams that are shaded by poplars and cedars. If you’re looking to read about the techniques I use to chase brook trout read this article – How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout
However, the brook trout in lakes and ponds do get picky – especially when they’re big. I have a few secret brook trout lakes around here where the brookies grow over 20 long on a regular basis, and they get infuriatingly picky. A few months ago, I was fishing one of these lakes with a good buddy of mine. The brookies were aggressively feeding on emergers, but between the two of us, we couldn’t find a fly that they’d eat. These fish were literally jumping fully out of the water to snag bugs, but wouldn’t so much as glance at my Griffiths gnat that floated a few inches away.
So, with all this in mind, it should be pretty apparent that fly selection is key to catching big brook trout. That’s why we’re dedicating so much space today to discussing 17 of the best brook trout flies. We’ll also go into detail on how to fish these flies.
So, without further ado, let’s look at the flies.
1. Bunny Leech – Amazing Everywhere
Bunny Leech: While this list isn’t ranked, by any means, if I had to pick just one fly to use for brookies for the rest of my angling career, it’d be a bunny leech, probably tied in black. These are absolutely stellar flies that imitate a wide variety of aquatic insects and invertebrates. Tied in sizes from a 10 all the way up to a 4, the bunny leech is one fly that’s a mainstay in my fly boxes year round, and not just for brookies. This is really a do-it-all pattern that just gets the job done.
2. Caddis – Elk Hair Rules
Caddis: What else can I say about this fly? The elk hair caddis is one of the most effective flies of all time, especially since caddis are so abundant in trout streams across the world. For the high mountain streams where brookies live, it’s hard to beat a caddis as the top fly in a dry-dropper rig, or even just fished alone. Brookies will throw themselves at it with reckless abandon, so long as you get a good drift.
3. Micro Marabou Leech – Easy to Make Dozens
Micro Marabou Leech: If you prefer to fish for brookies on stillwater, and do so under an indicator, you absolutely need a Micro Marabou Leech. This pattern takes the classic marabou leech, and shrinks it down to fit on a size 12 or 14 curved nymph hook. Bounced or stripped under an indicator, it’s a deadly pattern for big brookies. Like the heading says, if you enjoy tying flies a little bit these can be turned out by the dozens.
4. Ice Cream Cone – Irresistible
Ice Cream Cone: Perhaps the most recognized chironomid pattern in existence, the Ice Cream Cone is the other must-have pattern if you’re fishing for brookies on stillwater, under an indicator. The Ice Cream Cone imitates the big, high-protein snacks that are chironomids as they rise to the surface. Big brook trout just can’t resist these.
5. Prince Nymph – Fished Deep
Prince nymph: The Prince is a fantastic nymph, and has been a mainstay on fly store shelves for years for a good reason – it just catches fish. I like to have a few Prince nymphs in my box for when I’m fishing a dry-dropper rig on streams and rivers.
6. Zebra Midge – Brookies Can’t Resist
Zebra midge: The zebra midge might be the best nymph ever tied. It works in stillwater, rivers, for any variety of trout. It just flat-out gets fish in the net, and brookies can’t resist it. Earlier this summer, hiking through the high country of the Rockies, a buddy and I caught fistfuls of small brookies on zebra midges.
7. Brassie – Draws Out the Big Brooks
Brassie: The brassie is my go-to when the zebra midge just isn’t heavy enough to get down in the deeper holes on some of these streams. Every year, I’m always surprised by a big brookie or two that comes out of the deepest hole in a stream. There are some larger brookies that will move, if you give them enough incentive. And that’s exactly what the Brassie does.
8. Griffith’s Gnat – When You Need to Go Small
Griffiths gnat: This is a go-to fly for when smaller bugs are hatching, and you’re not entirely sure what they are. Or, even if you do know that the bugs are size 22 blue-winged olives, not everyone has those on hand. But we can all have a Griffiths gnat or two, tied in size 18, available. These work to imitate midge clusters, midges, small mayflies, and even small caddis at times. There are very few instances where I’ve been fishing a Griffiths gnat during a dry fly hatch, and not put fish in the net. On high-country streams, the Griffiths is as good a bet as any dry fly.
9. Olive Woolly Bugger – What’s Not to Love
Olive woolly bugger: Woolly buggers have arguably caught more fish than any other fly, period. They just look fishy, for one thing. And the variety of hackle, feathers, and body materials available to today’s tiers means that putting together a flashy, attractive olive bugger isn’t all that hard. I go with olive here, instead of black, because I seem to have more success for bigger brookies on olive-colored streamers. I’m not sure why that is, and my evidence to back it up is completely anecdotal, but then again, so is most of what we claim to know about trout.
10. Adams – Created to Catch Brook Trout
Adams: Ah, the Adams. This fly is so fantastic, in so many different ways. It looks like a mayfly, a caddis, and can even pass for stoneflies in the right circumstances (I’m looking at you, Yellow Sally). As far as attractor patterns go for hungry brookies in the high-country, where the growing season is short and anything they can fit in their mouth is food it’s hard to beat the Adams.
11. Hare’s Ear – Old School Classic
Hare’s ear: This has become an old-school pattern, and I’m not sure how. Aside from a few Euro-nymphing inspired variations, I don’t see many folks using the hare’s ear as often as I do. This fly is a tried-and-true nymph that doesn’t let me down on any river. Brookies love it because it so effortlessly imitates mayfly nymphs. And, there’s a reason the pattern hasn’t faded into complete obscurity – it just works.
12. Frenchie – Colorful and Productive
Frenchie: Take the pheasant tail, add some extra color, and a ton of weight, and you have the Frenchie. Made popular by Lance Egan, this fly is a staple on the competitive fly fishing circuit, and should be a staple for anyone chasing brookies. Again, it imitates a wide range of aquatic insects, but it’s the slim profile and heavy design of the fly that make it ideal. When fishing swift pocket water, the ability to get down right in front of the fish is arguably just as important as your fly presentation. That’s why the Frenchie is a must-have for brook trout fishing.
13. Pheasant Tail – A Brook Trout Meal
Pheasant tail: When I first started tying my own flies, this one was the bane of my existence. Getting the pheasant tail fibers to wrap just so around the hook – not to mention the precarious wing case – gave me more headaches than I care to admit. Now, though, it’s an indispensable part of my fly box, and you won’t see me on the river without at least some variation of the pheasant tail. Brookies love these because, like the hare’s ear, the pheasant tail is an excellent imitation for caddis at a few different life stages.
14. Glo Bug – Trout Love Eggs
Glo bug: I don’t think I can count the number of brook trout I’ve caught on egg patterns. The glo bug is the most easily tied of egg patterns, and one of the most effective. Even when there aren’t any trout spawning, I’ve found brookies have an inclination to chase these. And when the brookies do start spawning, a glo bug beneath a bushy dry fly is all you need for a great day on the water.
15. BWO Cripple – An Easy Meal
BWO cripple: Blue-winged olives are a staple in the fly boxes of any angler. These bugs are plentiful in the spring and in the fall, and they’re also plentiful on many of the streams brook trout call home. While brookies will eagerly hit dry flies, I have found them to be picky during blue-wing hatches. That’s why cripples are a must-have fly. Often, when trout are eating what appears to be duns, they’re snacking on crippled bugs that have no chance of escaping.
16. BWO Emerger – For Surface Sippers
BWO emerger: I carry emergers for the same reasons I like to have cripples on hand constantly. When fish get picky, it’s usually because they’re keyed in on a certain part of the hatch. If it’s not the crippled or spent-wing stages of the hatch, then fish are likely ignoring your dun in favor of emergers. Remember, emergers sit in the surface film, struggling to free themselves and fly away. That makes them an easier target than a full-grown dun.
17. Zuddlers – A Flashy Streamer
Zuddler: This is a streamer pattern I’ve always had a soft spot for. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it stems from its efficacy for big rainbow trout on Utah’s Green River. Rainbows aside, the Zuddler works very well for brookies, especially in high mountain lakes. It’s heavy, flashy, and most importantly, durable. While I’ve noted that brookies don’t usually eat other fish, the Zuddler looks enough like a leech or a smaller invertebrate that brookies probably mistake them for such. Either way, this fly works, and it’s worth having a few on hand when you’re chasing brookies.
Why Fish with These Flies?
A lot of beginning fly fishers have questions for how to catch certain trout on certain flies. I often see newcomers to the sport posting on forums and in Facebook groups, asking what the best flies are for tiger trout, or brook trout.
While fly selection is certainly important, fly presentation is even more meaningful. More than once, I’ve hooked fish on flies that weren’t exactly a match for anything in the river, but they looked buggy and were presented well enough that the fish couldn’t ignore them.
So, with that in mind, what should you know about fishing dry flies and nymphs for brook trout? Let’s take a look at a few tips.
Fishing Dries to Catch Brook Trout
Brookies, while more spectacularly colored than other trout, don’t really require anything special as far as dry-fly presentations go. A well-presented dry will hook a brookie that’s hungry. Especially in the high country, you’ll see this truth play out dozens of times per day.
The key thing to remember is that you want a natural, drag-free drift on your flies. The only time I’ve found when that isn’t the case is the rare moment when fish are leaping fully out of the water after dry flies. In those cases, I like to “skate” my dries, meaning that I pull them across the river and against the current, creating a sizeable wake. For whatever reason, this triggers a predatory response from some brook trout, and they’ll smack the fly.
That happens very rarely, though, and it’s not something I’d tell you to bank on. Instead, focus on putting your flies in places where fish are likely to look for food. Slack water, seams, at the heads of riffles, and throughout pools and glides. The places where trout should be are the places you’ll catch brookies with dry flies.
Fishing for Brook Trout Using Nymphs
Rarely, if ever, will I spend my time fishing for brookies with only nymphs. I’m almost always running a dry-dropper-dropper rig, because it’s so effective at putting fish in the net. With that said, though, the tactics I use for fishing my dry-dropper-dropper rig are the same you’ll use if you float two nymphs below an indicator, or throw a Euro rig at the brookies.
Nymphs need to get down deep, and do so quickly, in order get in front of most trout. Brookies are no exception, and I’ve found that they really love the deep, dark pools beneath logs on streams. Nymphs that plummet quickly to the depths are nymphs that are more likely to hook up with trout.
The other thing to remember is not to size your nymphs too big. A common mistake is thinking that heavy has to equal big, and that’s not the case. Tungsten beads and lead wrapped around the hook shanks are better ways to add weight without upping the size of the hook. Most brookies in these streams aren’t terribly big, so you’ll rarely want to fish a nymph bigger than a size 16.
Fly Fishing Equipment for Brook Trout
Generally speaking, you’ll want to chase brookies with smaller, lighter-weight rods, due to the nature of the water in which you find them. The vast majority of brook trout fishing in streams takes place on water that’s perfect for rods in the 2-4 weight category. You likely won’t need a rod longer than eight feet, although depending on the stream, you might. My personal favorite brookie rod is an 8’ 3wt. It’s long and powerful enough to turn over three-fly rigs and small streamers, but supple enough to lay down dries in clear water without spooking trout.
Speaking of, you’ll want a nice long leader, tapered down to at least 5x. I usually go light on my tippet, using 6x regularly, especially on smaller streams. You don’t need anything terribly fancy in the reel department, either, since these fish are unlikely to take line. A good click-and-pawl reel does the trick more often than not.
Now, on the rare case that you’re fishing for big brook trout on stillwater ,you’ll obviously go a different route with your gear. I like a 9’ 6wt for lake fishing, with a sink-tip line and a solid disc-drag reel. Some of the big brookies I caught this summer made multiple runs against a fairly tight drag on a Hardy reel I own, and I was glad I had that piece of gear to help land the fish.
Of course, it goes without saying that a net is an absolute must-have piece of gear when chasing brook trout.
Favorite Ways to Fly Fish for Brook Trout
My personal favorite way to fly fish for brookies is to use nymphs or small leeches on stillwater. Brook trout tend to grow bigger in ponds and lakes, and nymphs and leeches provide the most consistent action for big, colored-up brookies than anything else I’ve used. Jigs are great, but they can be a pain to use on a fly rod, and most fly anglers I know don’t like using them. I usually use leeches because they provide me with a better, more tangible connection to the trout when hooked up than the jigs.
Another great way to fish for brookies is to set up three nymphs below a slip-strike indicator. A chironomid, midge, and micro leech are my go-to flies here, and they work spectacularly well on stillwater. You can throw this rig between big banks of moss to entice the fish hiding down deep, and the slip-strike indicator means you have virtually unlimited control over the depth of your flies.
At the end of the day, fishing for brook trout is pretty similar to chasing other kinds of trout. The main differences you’re looking for are where the brookies are, the water you’re fishing in, and the flies they’re likely to be eating at any given time of year.
More Trout Fly Fishing Articles
- How to Fly Fish with Nymphs
- What is a BWO in Fly Fishing
- How to Setup a Fly Rod
- 21 Fly Fishing Presentation Hacks to Catch More Fish