Cutthroat Chronicles: The Best Dry Flies of All Time – Part 1

Winter is nearing its end, and February has seen its fair share of exceptionally warm days this year. While out on the Green at the end of January, I even saw some early-season baetis hatching.

It’s only a matter of time until the first blue-winged olives start hatching – what most anglers consider the sign of spring, and the signal that dry fly season is upon us once again.

Of course, you can fish dries all year round – it’s just that during the winter, it’s pretty damn difficult to catch trout on dries unless you find a midge hatch or a bunch of really hungry fish.

In the spirit of being able to confidently and consistently fish dries again, I thought it’d be fun to compile a list of the best dry flies of all time, dictated of course by my personal preference. There’s probably tens of thousands of patterns and variations out there, and I’d love to read your own list (in the comments section below) of your favorite dries.

I decided to pick my ten favorite flies and break this up into a two-piece series. This list starts at the bottom (number 10) and will finish with my favorite fly of all time at number 1.

Number 10 – Elk Hair Humpy

Elk Hair Humpy dry fly

I’m surprised by how many younger anglers I meet who have no idea what a Humpy is. It’s one of the most buoyant flies ever created, and a size 14 serves as a perfect top fly when fishing a dry-dropper rig. That’s not even mentioning the Humpy’s incredible visibility on the water, something every angler appreciates.

Falling under the stimulator category, the Humpy is looked down upon by some of the more serious “match-the-hatch” anglers – but they don’t know what they’re missing out on.

Number 9 – The Ginger Quill

Ginger Quill dry fly
The Ginger Quill is over 200 years old, yet still manages to fool picky trout. Its slender body – stripped peacock herl – and oversized hackle make it float extremely well, and it’s an awesome pattern to use when spinners are falling. The Ginger Quill is a hard tie, as is the Humpy, but once you get the pattern down you should be able to crank them out with relative ease.

Number 8 – Rusty Spinner

Rusty Spinner dry fly
We’ve all been there – the fish are rising on something, but you’ll be damned if you can figure out what. You know it’s something sitting in the surface film, due to the trout’s riseforms, but your emerger patterns aren’t working. What do you turn to?

A rusty spinner. Tied in sizes 18-24, it’s perfect to fish during any kind of midge hatch, or when you just can’t dial in on exactly what the trout are feeding on.

Number 7 – The Renegade

Renegade dry fly
The Renegade is another stimulator fly, but just like the Humpy, it’s incredibly buoyant and easy to see on the water. I’ve found this to be a great fly to use on cutthroat streams on the rare instances that cutthroat become picky about what they’re eating, and it works great as an indicator fly if you drop another fly off it.

Number 6 – Light Cahill

Light Cahill dry fly
Another old pattern, the Light Cahill has its origins in English trout fishing. It’s a great pattern to fish during mayfly hatches, is relatively easy to tie, and its slender tapered body allows it to pass for a multitude of different bugs.

Number 5 – The Griffith’s Gnat

Griffith's Gnat dry fly
I struggled with where to place this fly on my list. It’s one of my favorites, and I never go fishing without at least a dozen in sizes 18-22. The Griffith’s gnat imitates a cluster of midges on the water’s surface, and I’ve caught some of my best trout ever on a Griffith’s gnat.

It’s an extremely simple, useful pattern that any trout fisherman shouldn’t leave home without.

That’s it for part one – part two will feature what I consider to be the five best dry flies of all time. What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments.

Spencer is a fly fishing writer based in Utah. His writing has appeared in Hatch Magazine,’s outdoors section, On The Fly Magazine, The Orvis Fly Fishing Blog, and in the Standard-Examiner. If he’s not on the river, he’s at home tying flies or writing.Connect with him on Twitter  or Instagram