No matter what species you’re going fishing for, you no doubt have a selection of favorite flies that you carefully pick, pack and check one last time before you leave the house. Everyone does, from weekend warriors and amateur anglers to professional guides and seasoned sportsmen. Ever wonder what the biggest names and top captains in the sport carry in their fly boxes? Lucky for you, we just happen to know some of them.
We’ve asked a handful of the best fly-fishers throughout the country what patterns they’d pick no matter where in the world they were fishing for the following quarry: bonefish, redfish, striped bass, tarpon and a variety of nearshore species.
Here’s a look inside their fly boxes.
**Nice Bass, Baby
**Fly-fishermen all along the East Coast, from Maine to North Carolina, and even a few along the West Coast target striped bass. From spring schoolies to winter sows, stripers rate as a top game fish. You can blind-cast for them, dredge, or even sight-cast in certain areas.
For striper flies, a general rule of thumb is to carry a variety of colors and sizes of several of the most productive patterns. Not surprisingly, Deceivers rank as the top striper fly. It’s “a great menhaden imitation. It casts well and, if tied right, doesn’t foul,” says Capt. Brian Horsley of Flat Out Charters in Nags Head, North Carolina. He prefers a 4-inch-long fly that’s olive and white with gold flash or gray over white with multicolored flash on a 2/0 or 3/0 hook. Fly tier and author of Sight Fishing for Striped Bass, Alan Caolo, says that a 1/0 white-and-yellow Deceiver ranks among his favorite patterns, as does a 2/0 Deceiver tied solid black. “This is an anytime, anywhere fly,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what’s around.”
The two flies that top Umpqua Feather Merchant’s best sellers are chartreuse-and-white Deceivers and all-white Deceivers in sizes 3/0, 1/0 and #2.
The next pattern your striper box should have is an assortment of Clousers. Umpqua says 2/0 and #2 olive and white is a top pattern, as is chartreuse and white, which is one of Horsley’s picks as well, although tied on a 1/0 or 2/0 hook. He likes the Clouser because it “sinks well and imitates small bait like sand eels, spearing and bay anchovies.” Caolo’s striper choice is a yellow-and-red Clouser tied on a #1 hook.
If fishing in clear water when small bait is present, Horsley reaches for a #1 or #2 Popovics’ Surf Candy, in a tan-over-white pattern. Olive ones, as well as light blue and lime green, on a 1/0 hook, are some of Umpqua’s best sellers.
Lastly, be sure you’ve got a Crease fly in case fish are feeding on the surface or just below it. Blados’ Crease Fly, in either blueback or oliveback on a 1/0 and #4, is a big seller for Umpqua, but most any kind should work.
**Roll the Bones
**From the infamous Florida Keys and the flats of the Caribbean to exotic destinations like the Seychelles, bonefish are one of the most glamorous species in the world of saltwater fly-fishing. The elusive “gray ghosts” are opportunistic feeders whose diet includes worms, crabs, shrimp, grass eels and most anything else they can root out of the bottom.
Hands-down, a top pattern to have in your bonefish box is a tan-and-brown Merkin – the late Del Brown’s famous crab pattern. Make sure to pack them in sizes #2 and #4 if you’re heading to the holy land of the Sunshine State. But bring smaller ones if your quarry lies in Mexico, Belize, or Christmas Island. Umpqua Feather Merchants says that its most popular sellers are Merkins in a #6 or #8.
Sandy Moret, owner of Florida Keys Outfitters says, “Anywhere I’ve ever been, bonefish eat crabs. Whether the fly looks like it or not, if it approximates the way it moves, bonefish eat it better than any fly I’ve ever thrown.”
Also among the top picks are Gotchas, which top Umpqua’s list of best-selling bonefish flies. Jon Cave, author, master casting instructor and a pioneer guide in Florida’s fabled Mosquito Lagoon, says that “in the Caribbean, a Gotcha is hard to beat.” He prefers a #4 in pearl with tan wings. Caolo agrees, although he prefers a slightly smaller #6, which he says is perfect for the Bahamas or the Seychelles.
Clousers are another extremely effective bonefish pattern. When tied on small hooks with light eyes, they resemble small shrimp or baitfish that bonefish and other flats species such as permit feed on, especially when tied in tan and white. In fact, two of Umpqua’s top-selling bonefish patterns are #6 Clousers in both tan and white and chartreuse and white. Cave prefers a #4 lightly weighted version in brown and white or olive and white, while Caolo leans toward a chartreuse and white version in the same size.
**With a typical range from Florida into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, tarpon are one of those fish fly-anglers can’t help but fall in love with. These silver-scaled beauties jump and roll, putting on one of the best shows fishermen can hope for, and the sheer size they can reach is mind-boggling. Larger targets call for stout tackle, so when you’re stalking tarpon, you’ll want to bring out the big guns.
The Black Death is the top tarpon fly no matter where you fish, with sizes ranging from a 1/0 to a 3/0. Next up is a Cockroach in a 2/0 or 3/0. In deep water, Cave prefers an all black Blanton’s Whistler tied on a 4/0. Caolo picks a Whistler as well, though he prefers one tied in red and yellow on a 3/0. “In dingy water, like in Costa Rica, you need something big, bushy and obnoxious that pushes water.”
For tarpon, not only does size matter, but color counts as well, especially when you’re fishing the Florida Keys.
“You’ve got to have an orange fly for the Keys when that worm hatch goes off,” Cave explains. So, he makes sure he has a chartreuse-and-orange Tarpon Bunny, as well as an orange-and-yellow Apte Tarpon fly in a 3/0. Legendary tarpon fisherman Stu Apte says he also always brings his well-known orange-and-yellow fly.
When they hear “tarpon,” many anglers think of triple-digit fish, but small ones put on a great show as well, and they can be easier to find than the record breakers. They can also be much harder to land, believe it or not.
“For baby tarpon, I’ve found that the best fly is a #1 black-and-yellow grizzly SeaDucer about 2 inches long,” says Mark Hatter, who has been chasing tarpon in Florida for most of his adult life.
“I like a #2 SeaDucer tied in red and white for the small fish. It works well,” says Cave. “They like little, shiny flies.”
Tarpon anglers everywhere seem to agree that another good tarpon fly is a pattern that contains a strip of rabbit fur. For Mark Hatter, the fly is a
Tarpon Mouse, “the worst-kept secret in the world,” he says, while Caolo opts for a 1/0 black zonker strip worm pattern.
One of Apte’s favorite picks is his Apte Too Plus, which is a variation on the Apte Tarpon Fly that has a rabbit strip tail. Umpqua’s 1/0 Tarpon Bunny in both tan and purple are two of its most popular tarpon flies.
Now that you know what to bring on a tarpon trip, here’s a grain of salt. “What you do with the fly is more important than the fly itself,” explains Sandy Moret.
Apte agrees: “The presentation to tarpon and the way you work it generally have more to do with whether the fish will take it.”
Factors including water clarity, type of bottom and how the fish are feeding all contribute to the kind of retrieve you’ll need to successfully land a ‘poon.
“If what you’re doing doesn’t work,” says Moret, “vary it a little bit before you change flies.”
**You can find redfish as far north as Virginia, but from South Carolina down to Florida and all along the Gulf Coast and the Texas shoreline, they rank as one of the top targets for both novice and experienced fly-fishermen. While rooting for crabs and shrimp in the flats, reds often tail, which is a sure sign of a feeding fish and enough to make most anglers go weak in the knees.
Here again, you’ll want to have Clousers on hand. For the flats and other nearshore shallow waters, #2 and #6 Skinny Water Clouser Minnows tied with a weed guard and light bead chain eyes in chartreuse and white are some of Umpqua’s best-selling redfish flies. This pattern is also a favorite of Capt. Horsley, who says it’s a “very productive all-around redfish fly that rides hook up and sinks quickly. It can be bounced across the bottom or retrieved faster to imitate a swimming baitfish or shrimp.”
Pete Cooper, a Louisiana redfish record holder and writer, reaches for a chartreuse-over-white version tied with an ice chenille body on bright days and in clear water. Capt. Gregg Arnold of Louisiana – who has guided his anglers to the state’s first-, third- and fourth-place redfish and a pending world record – uses a local version of the Clouser called the Mardi Gras Mama. This bend-back-style purple-and-gold Clouser with red eyes works well in winter and spring. Other favored Clouser color combinations are yellow and white, tan and white, brown and white, all black and even black over orange with generous amounts of copper flashabou. “This is my go-to fly in dirty or stained water,” Horsley explains. “It’s very effective on both seatrout and reds, and the copper flash and dark colors show up well, especially in stained waters.”
A spoon fly is another must in your redfish box. The one downside of most spoon flies is that they spin as they are cast and retrieved, which twists and weakens your tippet. Consequently, many anglers prefer Cave’s Wobbler, which Jon Cave designed to oscillate rather than spin. He uses this pattern, from a #2 to a 1/0 for about 95 percent of his redfishing.
You really don’t want to go after redfish without packing a popper or some kind of topwater fly as well. Arnold’s favorite popper is another local creation called the Big Stiffy, while the Dink Popper, specifically a #6 in copper or chartreuse, is a top seller for Umpqua. Cooper says his top redfish fly is a “#1 green-over-yellow popper about 2 1⁄2 inches long and tied weedless with 20-pound mono guard. I use it in the shallows – no deeper than 2 feet – and when the wind is low throughout most of the year for the most fun and profit. If poppers don’t work in water of that depth or much shallower,” Cooper continues, “I switch to a #2 Roadkill, a very dark SeaDucer-type pattern tied with dark flash material and also with a mono weed guard. I use this fly on very dark days and in turbid water, too.”
Umpqua’s list also suggests that the SeaDucer is a must-have redfish fly, with a #4 tied in chartreuse ranking highly.
**A Salty Selection
**For nearshore-fishing trips when you could catch a variety of species, picking flies can be an overwhelming exercise, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider the flies that have shown up repeatedly in our boxes so far and picking a productive selection won’t be as hard as you might think.
First, grab some Clousers and some Deceivers: chartreuse and white, white and yellow, all white, and pink over chartreuse, in sizes as small as #6 and as large as a 3/0.
Caolo would be sure to bring a 1/0 Deceiver tied all white “because it’s an extremely versatile lure for just about everything, and it triggers a strike no matter what.”
“It’s a classic all-around baitfish imitation that casts well and does not foul,” adds Horsley.
The next logical pattern is the Kreh/Clouser Half-n-Half. Horsley prefers chartreuse and white, pink, blue and white, and gray and white tied with a lot of flash on a 1/0 to 5/0.
“These flies are effective for cobia, amberjack, wreck species, king mackerel, stripers and blue fish,” he says. “It has plenty of motion and flash, and it sinks well.”
Again, you’ll also want a topwater fly, so poppers are a must. Chrome, gold, or chartreuse Crease flies on a 1/0 or 2/0 are Horsley’s picks. “It’s an excellent surface fly for many species like blues, stripers, albies, amberjacks, horse eyes, yellowtail snappers, cero and Spanish mackerel, and other surface-feeding predators,” he explains.
On traditional poppers, most will tell you color isn’t important, though.
“Most fishermen carry a relatively few patterns that have been time-tested,” says Lefty Kreh. After all, nobody carries flies that haven’t been productive at some point. Given that, consider all the years and experience that went into the selections above, as well as what has historically been a productive fly for you, and the next time you check your fly, you’ll find you have just what you need.
Umpqua Feather Merchants