Welcome to the much-anticipate second installment of my list of the best dry flies of all time.
Ok, maybe that was a bit hyperbolic. I’d like to pretend for a moment that some folks were actually looking forward to seeing my top five favorite dry flies.
Regardless if you were or weren’t looking forward to it, this post is here, and you’re three paragraphs in now – it’s best to just keep reading.
As a reminder: these flies are ranked according to my own personal preference, not any kind of scientific or even points-driven system. These are the dry flies I find myself reaching for time and time again when nothing else seems to be working.
With all that said, let’s dive right in. We left off at fly number 5 (the Griffith’s Gnat).
Number 4 – Pale Morning Dun
The PMD is a fantastic fly and serves as a great all-around mayfly pattern. PMDs hatch regularly throughout the year, and you can’t safely head to the river without a few in your box from June – September. That’s usually the best dry fly fishing time of the year, and PMDs will hatch regularly in that time frame.
Number 3 – Parachute Blue-winged Olive
Seeing BWOs hatch is a wonderful thing – their arrival signals to anglers that dry fly fishing is once again returning to the realm of reasonably sized bugs. Winter hatches of size 26 midges are a great way to distract yourself from the fact that you’re freezing to death while fishing, but the first BWO hatches of the season get any angler’s blood going with anticipation. The parachute BWO is my favorite because of its high visibility when on the water and how easy the fly is to tie.
Number 2 – It’s a tie! The Adams and Elk Hair Caddis
Both of these flies deserve a spot on this list, and I honestly couldn’t justify putting one above the other because they’re both so incredibly reliable and easy to tie. An Adams has caught fish for me during a BWO hatch when my BWO imitation wasn’t doing the trick. Likewise, a caddis has worked when other bugs were hatching. These are two bugs that work well when you fish to “unmatch the hatch.” And I can guarantee the majority of fly fishers have at least a dozen of each of these flies in their boxes.
Number 1 – The Royal Wulff
John Gierach has called it the most popular fly of the last half of the 20th century. Its designer, Lee Wulff, is the man who invented the fly fishing vest. Wulff also laid the groundwork for so much of modern fly fishing’s current world. In the words of Charles Kuralt, “Lee Wulff was to fly fishing what Einstein was to physics.”
The Royal Wulff was designed because Lee felt that traditional English and Catskill-style dry flies were too slender and thin for hungry American trout. He wanted flies that were full-bodied, floated high, and still caught fish.
The Royal Wulff (and countless variations of the pattern) was born, and since then it’s caught trout all across the country – especially out West here in the Rockies. Ray Bergman, who was editor for a time of the fishing section of Outdoor Life, said this about the Royal Wulff:
“I consider them necessary to the well-balanced fly box. New Wulff patterns, Black Wulff and Grizzly Wulff [designed by Dan Bailey] have been added to my color plates because they are considered very important by fishermen in the Rockies as well as other sections.”
That was in 1952 – twenty some-odd years after the Royal Wulff was developed. And it’s a fly that you can buy at literally any fly shop in North America in 2016.
Needless to say, the Royal Wulff has stood the test of time, and I’ve caught hundreds of trout on a size 14 version. It’s an incredible fly that you should always have in your box.
Spencer is a fly fishing writer based in Utah. His writing has appeared in Hatch Magazine, KSL.com’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