We’ve all been there, staring into a box full of hundreds of flies. What do you pick. Below are 13 of my favorite flies for catching brown trout. You’re going to quickly notice these are all sub-surface flies. I love casting to rising fish, but selecting the fly in those conditions is a lot easier. Usually you can see what’s hatching and you try to match it with size and color.
I’ll write another article with my favorite dry flies for browns at a future date. I’ve numbered the flies, but I’m not ranking one fly over another, your best option is to take stock of your surroundings. The greatest tool you have for catching trout is between your ears, so look around and let nature point to best best fly for the conditions.
1. Rabbit Strip Streamer – Size 8
My home water is loaded with sculpin and I love tossing streamers. These little beauties in a size 12 through 6 are my go to flies. On a typically outing I’ll rig up two rods one with a nymph and another with this fly. I cast 30 to 45 degrees down and immediately toss a mend into the line to give this fly a chance to sink. I’ll let it swing with a twitch either with the rod tip or a 4 inch in and out strip to give it some action. I’m partial to a natural brown and white color mix, but have also had luck with olive green.
2. Woolly Bugger – White, Black, Olive and Blue – Size 8
A solid fly, with a proven track record. Fished with a dead drift bouncing along the bottom it’s a dead ringer for a leech. I also fish it as a streamer with a bead head for added weight. The Woolly Bugger is one of the few flies I still tie, I seem a little less reluctant to toss it into a spot with likely snags. Maybe that’s why it catches fish for me or maybe its just a great fly. In the end it doesn’t matter as long as I get to feel a tug.
A little secret – add some crystal flash to the tail.
3. Skunk with rubber legs – Size 10
I was turned onto this fly a couple seasons ago by Randy Monchilov of True North Trout. It was a hot June day, I was fishing with a group of 4 we had only caught a couple small rainbows on the Manistee River outside of Grayling. Out of the blue Randy said let’s try something different. While the group fished the hatch – a hendrickson. I put on a Skunk that Randy has been developing. On my second cast up into some wood – BAM! – Game on with a feisty 14 inch brown. I caught 3 more brown’s in the low teens on a hot mid-day that should have meant ending the day early.
Since that trip I’ve caught many more browns and I’m convinced that on those days when nothing else seems to be working, some rubber legs can be sex to brown trout.
4. Pheasant Tail Nymph – Size 12
Another fly I still tie for myself. If you look at the different recipes you’ll see PT that are skinny and fat. I tie a little of both, plus I’ll add a bead head for added weight. If I pickup a rock or log and dig around into the crusty spots I always seem to find something that looks like a Pheasant Tail. I will admit I usually fish a Pheasant Tail as a dropper under a big dry like a hopper. Straight up – the PT will get many more hits than the dry.
5. Crayfish – Size 8 and 10
My home water has a lot of stones averaging in size from a half dollar to bowling balls with most in the softball size. Tough wading, but if the sun angle is right and I study the bottom I’ll see crayfish working through those rocks looking for goodies. Browns love crayfish, and if you think about it. Those resting places for trout are the home to crayfish. They are drawn to the same conditions as the trout. Behind larger cobble, on the edges of current changes and in the cracks and crevices around rocks and wood.
PRO Tip – look for crayfish patterns with the hook point up. Bouncing a weighted crayfish over cobble stones will mean lots of snags and dull hooks. A hook up version saves some break-offs and will keep the fly sharp a little longer.
6. Green Caddis with and without a bead head – Size 14
Caddis are everywhere, pickup a rough stone or log and you will usually find cases on the bottom. On some logs you’ll see so many cases, you can be confused by what’s a caddis case and what is the wood. I will almost always have my second rod rigged up with a green caddis and something… One of my personal favorite flies and brown’s lovem’.
7. Bead Head Hares Ear Nymph – Size 14
A Hare’s Ear Nymph has a special place in my heart. My first trout on a fly rod. I don’t remember the fish as much as the fly, because I tied it. I like my Hare’s Ear to be bushy with lots of errant fibers sticking every which way. Add a bead head to sink it quickly and you’ve got a proven brown trout fly that’s easy to tie.
8. San Juan Worm – I like’m a little small – Size 14 and 16
I was hesitant about using anything labeled “worm” for so long. I’m not sure why, the biggest trout I’ve ever caught was on a night crawler, so why I didn’t start using San Juan worms from the beginning of my fly fishing journey is beyond me, but I do know. Over the last 8 or 10 years of using a San Juan I’ve worked down to a either a size 14 or 16. They seem to catch more fish, not sure why but they do…..
During the right season, eggs are like a drug to trout. It might not seem like fly fishing, but eggs work. Right before steelhead season “my river” gets a fairly large sucker run so try a sucker egg pattern. You just might be surprised.
10. Black Midge – Size 20
This is another fly that I’ll use when other patterns aren’t producing. Everything about fishing with a midge needs to be slow, small and natural. I usually fish a single midge below a small indicator, I keep it to a single fly because the distance between the fly and indicator might be as long as 4 or 5 feet. Use a light tippet and recommend 6X and 7X flourocarbon. Gentle current runs and holes are prefect for midges. Approach slowly, high stick your fly well above the run and add a generous mend to give the fly some time to sink. The perfect cast will have the indicator and fly “turning over” in the heart of the hole.
11. Black Stonefly – Size 10
If you fish in cobble stones with cool clear water odds are you have stoneflies. Another proven pattern that works great as the lead fly in a tandem rig. I like black and tan.
12. Copper John – Size 14
Another fast sinking fly that is perfect for those Euro-high sticking nymph methods. I really like using Copper Johns when fishing pocket water behind larger boulders and those pockets of clear water around grasses.
13. Hex Nymph – Size 8
If you fly fish in Michigan, you’ll have heard of the “Night Hex” fishing. Crazy nights filled with lots of coffee and the search for the hatch. So that’s 4-5 weeks in the summer, but the hex nymph can be fished all year. I particularly like the pattern called the “Bear’s Hex”. Jeff “Bear” Andrews created this fly with a couple distinctive characteristics, the first is the prominent eyes and next the after shaft of a pheasant feather used on the body. Heavily weighted this fly is meaty and will draw immediate strikes.
PRO tip – tie in a Hex nymph as a lead fly in a tandem nymph rig. The weight sinks the flies quickly to help get both flies down bouncing on the bottom.
So they’re are my favorites Nymphs for Brown Trout. Like any fishing think about the season and environment. Pick up a stone and look for caddis cases. If your fishing after a salmon run, you know browns will be keyed in on eggs.
Another PRO Tip – Use a fluorocarbon leader. The length and strength suited to the conditions, but fluorocarbon sinks and is nearly invisible underwater.