Best Beginner Fishing Flies

Four Flies You Need in Your Fly Fishing Kit

When you first get into fly fishing, everything seems a bit overwhelming. For a sport that looks so leisurely and relaxing, there’s an awful lot actually going on under the surface once you start researching everything…

And that’s just starting with the flies you use!

What flies do I need?

Do I need to spend $1000s of dollars before I catch my first fish?

What's a "Woolly Bugger" and why do I need one?

If you’re just getting started, you probably have some of those (plus 100s of more) questions running through your head.

But here’s the good news…

I’m going to show you the 80/20 formula for which flies you need in your fly kit to catch loads of fish.

Speaking of…

Have you ever heard about the 80/20 Principle?

Everything in the world is subject to the 80/20 Principle. Even if you’ve never heard about it, I guarantee you’ve experienced it. 

It was discovered by Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto in the early 1900s.  He realized that 80% of the wealth in England was held by 20% of the population.

Recently author Richard Koch has made this principle very popular. He realized that the 80/20 principle didn't just apply to wealth. It applied to everything.

  • 20% of freeways get 80% of the traffic.  
  • 20% of customers make 80% of the purchases.
  • And 20% of flies catch 80% of the fish…

So today, I’m going to show you the four flies you should be starting out with if you’re just getting into fly fishing (or you just want to catch more fish in general).

I’m going to start by saying that there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for all fish…

But if there was it would be the Woolly Bugger.

Woolly Bugger

Woolly Bugger Fly Fishing

The Woolly Bugger is one of the most versatile flies known to anglers. It comes in a weighted and non-weighted version to cover all the bases.

You’ll use the weighted version to get down low where the big fish often hide. You’ll use the non-weighted version if you need a bit more finesse or if fish are biting on emergers. (Emergers are aquatic insects that are transitioning from their subsurface lives to one brief adventure above the river.

So, how do you fish a Woolly Bugger? Honestly, almost any way you can think of.

Here are some of the most popular:

  • As a Baitfish - Use the Woolly Bugger as a streamer. Use a stop-and-go retrieve to give the fly the darting motion of a nervous baitfish.
  • As a Nymph - Dead drift your smaller Buggers to get that “hellgrammite” vibe Russell Blessing was going for when he created this rad fly.
  • As a Crayfish - When crayfish aren’t being threatened, they crawl along very slowly. When threatened, they may rapidly scoot several yards to escape. Don’t be afraid to mix in both slow and steady retrieves and long, fast strips.

You can size these up and go after big bass as a streamer or size them down and drift them for smaller trout. 

Pheasant Tail Nymph

Pheasant Tail Nymph

Next up, let’s talk about the mighty Pheasant Tail Nymph. This is the best may fly nymph imitation ever designed and is a fly you never want to leave home without.

It’s made to sink fast while looking as tasty as can be to an upstream trout.

Want to know the secret to catching a boatload of trout with this fly? It’s all about the “lift.”

The way to get those trout into a frenzy is to add a slight “lift” to the fly as soon as it’s positioned a few inches in front of or beside them. This method mimics the upward movement of an actual natural nymph rising to the surface and is a surefire way to get a tug on your line.

One of the most tried and true methods I’ve found to use a Pheasant Tail is to fish it about 3.5 feet behind a dry fly (to be used as an indicator).

Speaking of indicators, let’s talk about the dry fly you MUST have in your kit to be prepared for rising fish. Next up, let’s chat about the Parachute Adams.

Parachute Adams

Parachute Adams Fly

If you asked most guides what their “desert island” dry fly would be, it would be this. Like the standard Adams pattern, the Parachute Adams works well because it is a general mayfly imitation.

Use this fly anytime trout are eating on the surface or as a dry dropper rig with the Pheasant Tail like I mentioned earlier. (A dry dropper rig is when you use a dry fly as your first fly with a tailing nymph or other dry fly behind it.)

And to round out your 80/20 fly kit, we’re going to talk about a small but mighty piece of the puzzle. The Zebra Midge.

Zebra Midge

Zebra Midge Fly Fishing

If you’ve ever been out on the water and seen a cloud of mosquito-like insects that don’t seem interested in biting you, you likely saw a swarm of midges.

These non-biters make up a large percentage of a trout’s diet. What’s cool about these things is that they are both found almost everywhere and they hatch all year round.

You might be skeptical about using these tiny little flies to fish for big honkin’ trout, but you shouldn’t be. They absolutely crush it from anything from a brookie the size of your hand to a monster rainbow as long as your arm.

The Zebra Midge is designed primarily to imitate a midge pupa ascending to the surface to emerge. That means when you see fish feeding close to the surface, you better pull this out of your box and tie it on.

There are numerous ways to fish a zebra midge, but I prefer one of two ways. Both use an indicator with a two-fly rig.

The first is with a dry fly on top and the Zebra Midge on the bottom. The second way is with either a Pat’s Rubber Legs or something that sits lower in the water column above the Zebra Midge.

Of course this is all going to change depending on what the fish are feeding on, but these are just a couple of suggestions for you to test out.


So are these four flies all you’ll ever need and will they catch every fish on the water? No way!

That would be too easy. Fly fishing is ever-changing and you’ll always need to be adjusting your gear and techniques to land fish.

But if I was only able to bring 4 flies to the river, these would be the ones.

If you are looking for your first fly kit (or to add to your current kit) I highly suggest checking out our Guide’s Stash Fly Kit. It’s got multiples of these four flies as well as some of our other favorite flies that fish can’t get enough of.

It comes with a floating waterproof case to hold your flies and a mini casting class taught by master casting instructor Dayle Mazzarella.

Click here to get yours now.

- John Brookbow

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