We’ve all been there, staring into a box full of hundreds of flies. What do you pick? Below is a list of my favorites when chasing brown trout. You’re going to quickly notice most of these are sub-surface flies. I love dry fly fishing, seeing a brown trout slurp down a fly from the surface is exhilarating, but in my experience you’ll catch more with sub-surface nymphs and streamers.
I’ve included some dry flies, in fact I’ve got a short video of a +20 inch brown I caught on a size 16 Adams. The best part about tossing dry flies is the surroundings usually tell you what to tie on. With sub-surface flies it can be a little tougher.
The greatest tool you have for catching trout is between your ears, so look around and let nature point to the best fly for the conditions.
- 1. Bunny Muddler – Size 8
- 2. Woolly Bugger – White, Black, Olive and Blue – Size 8
- 3. Skunk With Rubber Legs – Size 10
- 4. Pheasant Tail Nymph – Size 12 – 18
- 5. Elk Hair Caddis – Size 14 to 18
- 6. Green Caddis with and without a beadhead – Size 14 – 20
- 7. BeadHead Hares Ear Nymph – Size 14
- 8. San Juan Worm – I like'm a little small – Size 14 and 16
- 9. Egg Fly Patterns
- 10. Black Midge – Size 20
- 11. Ant Fly Patterns
- 12. Black Stonefly – Size 10
- 12. Copper John – Size 14
- 13. Zebra Midge – Smaller can be better
- 14. Hex Nymph – Size 8
- 15. Muddler Minnow: A Brown Trout's Weakness
- 16. Mice – Casting at Night
- 17. Zoo Cougar made for Browns
- 18. Chernobyl Ant – A Big Terrestrial
1. Bunny Muddler – Size 8
I want you to look closely at the fly in this brown trout’s mouth, a bunny muddler. These streamers represent sculpin that dart around on the bottom of most rivers. A perfect meal for a hungry brown trout.
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 across, then immediately toss a mend into the line to give this fly a chance to sink. I’ll let it swing adding a twitch either with the rod tip or little 4 inch 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.
Wanting to learn how to tie a woolly bugger? I’ve got you covered with this YouTube video 👉 https://youtu.be/VfvROQE2Z1E?si=EO6HFfPml09p3HEs
A little secret – if you tie your own Woolly Buggers 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.
Some alternates to a Skunk would be other attractor patterns like below.
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 sexy to brown trout.
4. Pheasant Tail Nymph – Size 12 – 18
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.
The pheasant tail is in the class of flies called a Mayfly. You can read about my list of favorite Mayfly patterns in this article 👉 Favorite Mayflies for Trout
This is a super easy fly to tie. Below ‘ve got a YouTube video showing how.
Tying Pheasant Tails is fast and easy. I only tie about a dozen patterns and the Pheasant Tail is one of them. With a simple list of materials, you can tie up a dozen in an hour. I suggest tying them in sizes 12 to 18.
5. Elk Hair Caddis – Size 14 to 18
The Elk Hair Caddis has been a staple in my fly box, especially when I’m targeting brown trout. I’ve found that a size #16 of this pattern works wonders in the diverse conditions I encounter.
The hollow elk hair used in its design gives it exceptional buoyancy, allowing it to mimic the natural appearance of adult Caddis or Stoneflies on the water’s surface — something that brown trout find hard to resist.
Guide PRO Tip – Remember, the key with the Elk Hair Caddis, or any dry fly, is to ensure it’s floating well. Before casting, I always treat my Elk Hair Caddis with a floatant to maintain its buoyancy and keep it riding high on the water, which is critical for a convincing presentation.
6. Green Caddis with and without a beadhead – Size 14 – 20
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’.
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7. BeadHead Hares Ear Nymph – Size 14
A Hare’s Ear Nymph has a special place in my heart. I caught my first trout with a fly I tied using a hare’s ear. 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 beadhead to sink it quickly and you’ve got a proven brown trout fly that’s easy to tie. Looking for instruction? I’ve got a YouTube Video 👉 Guide Recommended YouTube for the Hares Ear Nymph
Below are some variations of the hare’s ear worth considering.
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…..
9. Egg Fly Patterns
During the right season, eggs are like a drug to brown 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 how many brown trout will follow those suckers and steelhead up into the river systems to feed on eggs.
I’m not advocating fishing for brown trout when actively spawning on the gravel, but the deep holes above or below a redd are likely holding spots for brown trout – sucking up eggs.
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 fluorocarbon. 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. Ant Fly Patterns
I’ve come to realize that ant patterns are an absolute game-changer, especially when targeting brown trout. Despite their often overlooked status in the fly box, these little flies have proven their worth time and again.
I’ve noticed that during an ant hatch, which typically unfolds from late sprint into summer, especially after a rain shower, these patterns become irresistible to brown trout.
In my experience, a size 14-18 ant pattern is generally the sweet spot, although I always carry a variety to match the local ant size. It’s all about the drift when fishing with ants.
I make sure to use a light tippet, like a 6X, to let the ant pattern float naturally, without any drag that could deter a trout. And if visibility is a concern, especially in dim light or with smaller flies, I don’t hesitate to add a sighter.
Looking to Learn the Tips and Techniques for the Fish You Love to Chase? I’ve Got You Hooked Up Below
- I love chasing brown trout, big lake run monsters, night time trophies and memories of big boys that got away. Read 👉 The Complete Guide to Fly Fishing for Brown Trout
- The Complete Guide to Fly Fishing for Rainbow Trout 👈 Steps through the gear, flies and setup for casting flies rainbow trout.
- I’m not sure if any fish is more beautiful than a brook trout. Learn how to find and fish for these beauties 👉 How To Fly Fish for Brook Trout
- The perfect evening for me is floating in a canoe on a tiny lake at that “Magic Hour” around sunset and casting to Bluegills. Read 👉 How To Fly Fish for Bluegill
12. 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. I’ve got a full article about 👉 The Best Stonefly Patterns
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. Zebra Midge – Smaller can be better
I’ve seen firsthand the remarkable effectiveness of the Zebra Midge. This pattern is a powerhouse when it comes to nymphing for brown trout.
It’s a simple fly, but don’t let that fool you. The Zebra Midge is a staple in my fly box, and I’ve found that a size #16, heavily weighted with a 3mm bead and red body wire, can be particularly lethal.
The zebra midge is so easy to tie, I don’t think I’ve bought one in the last 10 years. Even if you aren’t an avid fly tier, consider learning to tie this fly. You’ll save some $$. Check out my video.
14. 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 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.
Guide 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.
15. Muddler Minnow: A Brown Trout’s Weakness
The Muddler Minnow stands out as one of the most versatile and effective flies in an angler’s arsenal, especially when targeting brown trout. Designed to mimic the sculpin, a prevalent baitfish in various aquatic environments, its uncanny resemblance has made it a favorite among fly fishers.
Typically tied in natural shades of brown, tan, and olive, the Muddler Minnow is available in a range of sizes, with sizes 4 to 10 being the most popular for brown trout. When fishing, the key is to present it deep, mimicking the darting movements of a sculpin.
Another PRO Tip – Use a fluorocarbon leader. The length and strength suited to the conditions, but fluorocarbon sinks and is nearly invisible underwater.
Casting across and slightly downstream, allowing the fly to drift and then swing upwards, often yields the best results. The sharp, unmistakable tug of a brown trout on a Muddler is a testament to its effectiveness.
16. Mice – Casting at Night
“Mousing” at night has become one of my most thrilling fly fishing outings. Image floating with a crescent moon providing a bit of light and casting a large mouse patterns into the dark waters, targeting those trophy browns lurking under the cover of darkness.
The best times? Spring’s high water, summer evenings, and the cool nights of fall when the browns are fattening up for winter.
The strategy is simple: cast near the banks and mimic a swimming mouse with subtle rod tip movements. Remember, when a brown strikes, a strip-set is more effective than a traditional lift.
17. Zoo Cougar made for Browns
The Zoo Cougar is always in my fly box when targeting browns. Its genius lies in its floating design that’s meant to be fished with a sinking line, giving it an enticingly erratic action.
I fish it on a short leader, casting to likely trout hideouts and stripping it back in quick, sharp pulls. This mimics a fleeing baitfish, triggering the predatory instincts of browns.
18. Chernobyl Ant – A Big Terrestrial
This fly, with its buoyant foam body and lively rubber legs, has proven itself time and again. It’s not just a fly; it’s a versatile tool that imitates a variety of high-protein meals that big brown trout can’t resist. I’ve found that sizes 6 to 14 work best.
When fishing the Chernobyl Ant for browns, I like to cast near structures where trout may be holding, such as logs or boulders. The key is to let it drift naturally, occasionally giving it a slight twitch to mimic a struggling insect.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.