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4 Must-Have Attractor Flies for Trout Fishing

4 Must-Have Attractor Flies for Trout Fishing

Unless you are a fishing savant with an uncanny ability to connect with the trout and the forage upon which they feed, you undoubtedly have experienced the disappointment endured by the rest of the angling community.

Too often we arrive at streamside expecting to find the fish recklessly feeding amid a plentiful hatch of insects, only to encountered dead calm water drifting peacefully past us.

Figuring out what the fish are feeding upon is much simpler when you have insects in the air and on the surface to inspect. Then it's a matter of trying to match those bugs in size, shape and color. The project becomes more difficult when the stream is giving you no clue as to what the trout are keying on.

Best attractor flies for trout

And many times the rainbows and browns are not focused on any bug in particular.

These are the occasions that call for digging into the fly box in search of our attractor patterns. These fur and feather concoctions are not designed to specifically match any single insect, but rather provide a silhouette that hints of being just too mouth-watering for the fish to pass up. Such dry flies may offer a swept wing of a caddis, or erect wings of a mayfly, but other than those slight clues, they are not meant to convince the fish of their exact taxonomy.

This same situation applies to flies offered beneath the surface as well. Some attractor nymph patterns provide color schemes unlikely to be seen in nature. Some larger flies may befuddle the fish by passing for giant nymphs, crayfish or small minnows.

Regardless of what the trout are thinking, anglers expecting success need a basic variety of such attractor patterns and knowledge of how to fishing them.


Fishing attractor dry fly patterns is not rocket science. The principles that apply to targeting feeding fish are the same for this action. Once you've read the water to pick out the likely holding areas for the trout, it's a matter of being stealthy and presenting the fly over the fish in a natural manner.

That means keeping your shadow off the water, not filling the air above the surface with false casts and keeping as still as possible in the water. Then, if you can get a good drag-free drift over the run, hopefully the attractor will look so edible the fish can't resist rising to it.

As a general rule with attractor dries, bigger is better. If the trout are not actively feeding, it takes more of a mouthful of easy forage to spark their interest. Quite often a size 12 or even 10 pattern is more likely to catch their eyes.


When dredging the depths with attractor patterns, the options are a bit wider. The flies can be designed to imitate anything from a minnow to drowned terrestrials or the nymph stage of an aquatic insect.

And since you are getting these flies down to where the fish are hiding, the trout don't have to move far to take them. This lack of demand on their energy can entice trout to simply open their mouths and swallow smaller flies passing by.

Popular — and effective — attractor flies include the Wolly Bugger, Wulff, beadhead Prince and parachute Adams.

In most cases the important factors are keeping the offering near the bottom where dormant fish are likely to be and keeping the fly at that level as long as possible during the drift. This quite often entails "high-sticking" or Czech nymphing tactics in faster shoal waters.

In calmer runs or pool water, streamers or Wooly Bugger patterns can be stripped or dead drifted with the current.

Now let's take a look at several attractor flies you'd be smart to have in your fly box when you head out for some fishing.


The Royal Wulff is a pattern that may have caught as many trout as any other attractor in America. It was designed by the late artist and fly caster Lee Wulff back in 1930 for fishing in New York's Catskill Mountains (though some sources credit the basic design to Q.L. Quackenbush of the Beaverkill Trout Club a year earlier).

Wulff considered earlier European attractor patterns too skinny and not buoyant enough for American waters. Thus he took the Royal Coachman pattern, bulked it up and substituted kipped calf tail wings for feathers.

This full-bodied dry fly is ideal for fishing in faster water, as it resists being sucked under and rides high on the surface. Additionally, the white wings make the pattern very visible even on turbulent water or under low light conditions.

Another instance of a very successful attractor nymph pattern involving an alteration of the basic pattern is the Red Copper John.

The body of this fly is made of peacock herl with a red band of thread around the middle. The tail usually is made from pheasant tail feathers. The wings stand erect and are separated like those of a mayfly.

The Royal Trude is a spin-off from the Wulff. It is tied the same way, but has a single wing swept toward the back like that of a caddis fly. Carrying both these patterns is a good idea.

Writer and fly fisher John Gierach has described the Royal Wulff as the most popular fly of the last half century.


The Adams dry fly was invented by Leonard Halladay of Mayfield, Michigan in 1922 and first fished by his friend Charles Adams, who the fly was eventually named after. Over the years many materials have been used in tying this pattern, but all have a basic gray body.

Conceived as a mayfly imitation, the original split wings of the Adams have been altered to a single parachute wing in this pattern. That wing is usually of white calf tail. The Adams Parachute rivals the Royal Wulff for the ability to remain afloat and for being visible to the angler fishing it.

It also ranks as one of the most often purchased fly patterns since its introduction.


The Prince Nymph originated with brothers Dick and Don Olson in Bemidji, Minnesota. First called the Brown Fork Tail, it later became the namesake of writer Doug Prince of Monterey, California, after he championed its use in print. The beadhead was a later addition to the original pattern.

Its thin white swept wings, peacock herl body and pheasant tail are suggestive of a drowned Royal Wulff. It also features red thread holding the hackle around its neck.

Best attractor flies

It has been theorized that this fly suggests an ant in the water, particularly the large carpenter ants. But regardless of that fact, this fly regularly produces trout throughout the nation.


The modern Wooly Bugger is credited to Russell Blessing, a Pennsylvania fly tier who introduced the pattern in 1967. The inspiration, however, undoubtedly came from the Wooly Worm, a pattern that dates back as far as Izaak Walton.

Tied both with and without a beadhead, in a rainbow of colors and with a smorgasbord of materials, the Bugger is one of the most popular and widely used flies in the world. Tied on long-shank hooks, these flies are used to suggest large terrestrial insects, huge nymphs, small minnows, crayfish or just about anything that inhabits trout water.

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