13 fly fishing flies for beginners

It's tricky to know which flies to pick when you're a beginner to fly fishing, but with these 13 fly fishing flies in your box you should stand a good chance of being able to catch trout at any stillwater you fish - if you pick the right one at the right time.

13 fly fishing flies for beginners
© Fly and Lure
13 fly fishing flies for beginners
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
13 fly fishing flies for beginners
Fly fishing tips Estimated reading time 9 - 15 minutes

1. Buzzers

Buzzers are designed to imitate hatching midge pupae which form the bulk of a trout's diet. Ignore the fact that the hook is clearly visible - the trout don't know what a hook is and these flies are extremely effective all year round.

Buzzers are fished on a floating line, often beneath a strike indicator or bung, which makes it easy to control the depth at which they're suspended. Fish them static or with a dead slow figure of eight retrieve, watch the indicator and hold tight.

What to buy: About six ought to get you started. Go for a mixture of olive ones and black ones, ideally with a bit of orange on the cheeks. Expect to pay 50p to £1.50, depending on the quality.

2. Apps bloodworm

The Apps bloodworm, named after its inventor the competition fly fisher Peter Appleby, is a really simple fly pattern to tie and consists of just a couple of strands of red flexi floss tied to a hook, sometimes with some small glass beads to add a bit of extra weight. 

The Apps bloodworm isn't really a natural imitation of a bloodworm, as it's far too big, so probably really falls into the lure category. It works all year round fished slowly with the odd pull to get the legs wobbling. 

What to buy: Go for a mixture of the classic red Apps bloodworm, with and without beads, and the pinkish amber Apps bloodworm, which seem to be deadly. Expect to pay 40p to £1 each. 

3. Cormorants

Cormorants are tiny flies that consist of a thin body and a tiny wing of black marabou. They're kind of halfway between a buzzer and a tiny lure and they can be fished as either.

You can fish them almost static, let them drift around in the wind, retrieve them with a slow figure of eight or even suspend them beneath an indicator. Or, you can slowly retrieve them like tiny lures. 

Cormorants resemble so many aquatic invertebrates and fish that they can work well all year round, though they tend to be most commonly used in autumn and winter. 

What to buy: Three will be fine to start you off. They're dead easy to tie so tend to be cheap to buy - 50p to £1. Go for some with a bit of orange or green on them as these often work better than the duller varieties. 

4. Cats whiskers

The Cats whiskers fly pattern is characterised by its chain bead eyes and a second short wing of marabou feathers as well as the short tail. It comes in loads of different colours and can be fished at various retrieve speeds, from slow figure of eight to fast strips. 

Cast them out and use the countdown method to adjust the depth at which you're retrieving until you find the level at which the trout are cruising and feeding and you should hook up eventually. 

What to buy: A few Cats whiskers in various colours. White with a green or pink body is effective, as is black and green, though my particular favourite is a pattern my son George invented known as "The Red Rascal", which uses red marabou and a bright fluorescent orange body.

George's Red Rascal fly is a Cats whiskers variant and featured in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying magazine in March 2016. You can't buy these in the shops.

5. Damsel fly nymphs

Damsel flies are a common sight on UK stillwater trout fisheries during the summer months and their nymphs are large and meaty, which makes them a popular food choice. There are loads of damsel fly nymph patterns around, most consisting on an olive marabou tail and a wire rib. 

To be honest, they all work pretty well, but two patterns stand out: the Blue flash damsel and the Orange hothead damsel. They're both very similar, but the Blue flash has distinctive strips of blue tinsel while the Orange hothead has an orange bead, which seems to act as a "trigger point" and can get you extra bites. 

What to buy: A couple of Blue flash damsels and a couple of Orange hotheads will be fine. Expect to pay 40p to £1.50 depending on quality, though cheap ones are generally perfectly adequate. 

Blobs come in many colours. They're easy to tie and very effective on stillwaters.

6. Orange blobs

The blob, especially the orange blob, is another fly worth having in your box. It's extremely versatile, working just as well fished static or tweaked slowly as it is ripped back at speed.

Trout, for whatever reason, just seem really drawn to this fly pattern and it's often used by competition anglers to attract trout to their leader, where the trout then often turn and take one of the more imitative patterns, like crunchers, often fished alongside it. 

What to buy: The classic orange blob, plus some in yellow, coral and pink are worth getting. Cheap ones can be picked up for 50p and are generally decent enough. Fancier ones can cost up to £1.50. 

7. Shipman's buzzers

The Shipman's buzzer is one of the most simple yet effective dry flies on UK stillwaters. It's designed to imitate a hatching buzzer and works from spring to autumn whenever trout are feeding on buzzers hatching at the surface or just below it. 

Add some mud or degreaser to your tippet to help the line sink and apply some floatant to the fly if it gets waterlogged. The Shipman's buzzer will still work when it's sunk, but it's most fun as a dry fly. 

What to buy: Half a dozen ought to last you a while. I prefer the CDC ones with feathery appendages rather than the white Antron material. A mixture of black ones with holographic ribs and orangey red ones is a good idea. 

F flies are great for imitating a range of small insects.

8. F flies

For me, the F fly is a dry fly that trout seem to fall for (almost) every time. Again, it's an unfussy and simple dry fly pattern, consisting of a lightly dubbed body and a few CDC feathers, but it works brilliantly. 

Like the Shipman's buzzer, it's best fished with tippet that's been degreased or treated with mud to prevent it floating on the water surface. Cast it gently towards the rising trout, keep slack out of the line and wait for them to snaffle the fly. 

What to buy: It's worth getting half a dozen as they can get slimed up after you've had a few pulls. Standard black ones with CDC wings are ideal and only cost 50p to £1 in general. 

9. Crunchers

Crunchers are one of the best imitative patterns to have in your fly box. They are designed to resemble small aquatic nymphs and can be great for picking out trout in pressured water where the fish have grown wise to the brightly coloured lures shooting past them at speed. 

A slow retrieve with a figure of eight, plus the odd pull to get the nymphs moving up through the column is effective. Competition anglers also favour using these alongside blobs. Put the blob on the point (the end of your leader) and fish a cruncher or two on the top and middle droppers.

What to buy: Pick a few of these in various colours from brown through black, with and without flash or UV and you won't go far wrong. Expect to pay £1 ish.

10. Dancers

Arguably the dancer is just the same as the damsel fly nymphs I've mentioned above, but they're typically flashier, more brightly coloured and have lots of hackle wraps along the body to give them a bulkier profile. 

Dancers, especially the Yellow dancer, are really effective little lures. Again, use the countdown method to find the depth, work through various colours and try various retrieves and one of the methods should work. 

What to buy: One or two Yellow dancers ought to be fine - pay around 75p to £1.25 depending on quality. A black dancer is also worth getting if you don't have any similar lures in your box. 

11. Diawl bachs

The Diawl bach (pronounced dee-ow-ul bac-khh) is classic Welsh pattern (the name means "little devil" in Welsh) resembles lots of aquatic invertebrates, from buzzers to tiny nymphs. It's usually fished in a team of three (though you may want to wait until you're a better caster before you attempt this, as it can be tricky at first) on a floating line. 

The Diawl bach works well all year round on both small and large stillwaters, including the big reservoirs. It's generally fished static or very slowly with a figure of eight retrieve, but you can also get takes by lifting the rod and allowing the flies to sink or by using a quicker retrieve. 

What to buy: A few should be fine to get you going. Go for a mixture of the classic brown and red ones, plus some black ones and some with holographic ribs, which seem to work well for me. 

12. Tadpoles

Tadpoles or leeches and basically just simple flies with a bead head and a long marabou tail. They're the staple lure on stillwaters and catch fish all day every day up and down the UK. You'll probably end up with loads of these in your fly box as they're extremely effective everywhere all year round. 

Tadpoles and leeches (and pretty much anything else with a bead head and a marabou tail) can be fished in many different ways. At times they're deadly if you twiddle them back in slowly with a figure of eight retrieve, while at others the trout will chase them if you pull them back more quickly. Try a variety of retrieves and colours until you find one that works on the day. 

What to buy: Black with a green bead is a classic style, especially in muddier water or in the winter months. Also go for a white one and some brighter orange, pink or red ones. You can pick these up for under a pound online, but more expensive ones tied on barbless hooks are more costly. 

13. Klinkhammer

The Klinkhammer is another dry fly pattern tied to resemble an emerging buzzer. It uses a hackle at the top of the fly to help it float upon the water surface with the buzzer pupae section hanging beneath. It's a really effective pattern when trout are readily taking dries off the top. 

Klinkhammers often need a bit of extra floatant adding to them to keep them buoyant. A bit of Gherke's Gink rubbed into the hackle and sighting post generally does the trick, although Frog's Fanny is also brilliant. 

What to buy: Go for a few of these in various colours from black through brown and sizes from 14 to 8. Expect to pay upwards of 40p. 

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