Too many fly patterns out there

This slow season anglers are asking more about fewer when it comes to fly patterns, a symptom of the modern malaise about everything from groceries to toothpaste — too much choice.

This slow season anglers are asking more about fewer when it comes to fly patterns, a symptom of the modern malaise about everything from groceries to toothpaste — too much choice.

Many people ask the old cliché question: “If you were limited to one fly, which one would it be?”

The truth is I could never live or fish with a one fly-limit and am more comfortable answering “what essential flies do you suggest for fishing in Alberta?”

There are now millions of artificial fly patterns, many, absurdly, trade-marked, or copyrighted, some are allegedly so good that they are hyped as “banned” in this or that state.

Years ago I decided something had to go, when the scale from one pocket of my fishing vest reported the vest weighed a back-breaking 20 pounds, most of them overloaded fly boxes crammed into every pocket.

Gradually I weaned myself down to seven fly patterns, each in a wide variety of sizes, and some color variations that I found myself successfully using 80 percent of the time in Alberta, Canada, the U.S.A. and several European countries, including on Izaak Walton’s beloved Itchen River in England.

To shorten the list, I concentrated on the silhouette of the natural insects the flies are tied to imitate and whether they ride the water on tippy-toes, awash in the surface film, or wholly under the water.

I was also guided by the science that fish can see color under the water, but not so much above the surface.

Adult aquatic and terrestrial insects that interest trout generally have either a vertical, or horizontal silhouette.

The seasonal progression of mayflies are up-wings; the freshly- hatched duns ride the water on tip-toes, presenting the trout with vertical silhouettes.

My all-purpose, generic, all-season mayfly imitation is the Adams in sizes from #8 down to #20.

I use the Bastard Adams variation, because its white hair wings are easier to tie in than the grizzly hackle tips for wings on the classic Adams, and also make the fly easier to see on the water.

I did once choose and use the Le Tort Hopper for its effectiveness and durability in a “one-fly” fishing competition in Idaho.

It is the fly with which I have caught more trout than with all the rest combined in my long fishing lifetime.

In a wide range of sizes and body colors, it imitates many down-wing, horizontal-silhouette insects besides grasshoppers, such as stone and caddis flies.

I tie my Le Torts so that they float with the body just under the surface film, so the trout can see the color.

A much higher-riding generic down-wing pattern, the Stimulator, in a wide variety of sizes, is a must in my fly box for imitating everything from miniscule caddis flies up to the large golden stoneflies and the giant salmon flies.

Everyone needs an attractor pattern dry fly.

Mine is the gaudy, handsome Royal Trude which works in odd situations where the trout need waking up, or when they are gorging on a hatch you can’t match, but will sometimes take an absurd change-up pitch.

The white wing on the Trude is also wonderfully visible on the water. On a Madison River float trip, old friend John Horn once changed to a Royal Trude against the advice of Montana master guide the late Jim Danskin.

“If I’m missin’ strikes anyway,” John Yogi-Berra-d, “I want to do it on a fly I can see.

Closely related to the Trude is a heavily-weighted streamer fly, the Royal Le Tort in sizes six down to 10. It always worked best for me on bright, sunny days, particularly just after the ice has gone out on various central Alberta brown trout streams.

My other favorite underwater “streamer” is actually a hybrid of that category and a nymph imitation, the Short Black Booger, weighted and tied about half the length of normal wooly bugger patterns.

This one produces days when the trout will have nothing else, such as half a dozen hot, bright late August days I recall on the Crowsnest River.

Colored remarkably similarly to the Adams is my favorite, all-purpose, generic nymph imitation, tied both weighted and unweighted in sizes from #18 up to #8. Essentially it is my variation on the classic Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear.

I use hair from three places on a red squirrel hide to tie it and rib it with fine copper wire, so, naturally, I just have to name it the Hot-wired Whole Squirrel Hide.

If getting the squirrel hides is too much hassle, the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear is almost as good.

I see I have cut by five the numbers from Izaak Walton’s “jury” of twelve flies in his The Compleat Angler, written in 1653.

But I’ll make the same boast of my seven that he did of his very different 12:

“Thus have you a Jury of flies likely to betray and condemn all the Trouts in the river.”

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at

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