Still water trout flies - how and when to fish them

How and when to fish some of the most popular flies for still water trout fishing in UK lakes and reservoirs. We take a look at the UK's top 10 flies for stillwater trout fishing.

Still water trout flies - how and when to fish them
© Fly and Lure
Still water trout flies - how and when to fish them
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
Still water trout flies - how and when to fish them
Estimated reading time 11 - 18 minutes

One of the funny things about fly fishing is the amount of flies you'll collect. I reckon I must have thousands of them and probably only about 2% of them have ever seen water.

If you're just starting out, it can be tricky to know which flies to buy and which ones to use. To help point you in the right direction, here's a selection of what is probably the UK's top 10 trout flies for still water fly fishing, with a brief explanation of how and when to fish them.

Spend a few quid stocking your fly box with these and you'll be able to catch stillwater trout on the fly at pretty much any UK stillwater fishery, all year round.

1. Buzzer


What it imitates: Buzzers are sparsely tied fly patterns designed to imitate chironomid midge pupae. These are the staple diet of trout in stillwaters.

When to use it: Trout eat natural buzzers all year round so you can use them at any time of the year. They work best in the spring and summer when buzzers are hatching.

How to fish it: Buzzers are usually fished in teams of three spaced about 3-4 feet apart. They can be fished on a floating line without an indicator, fished deeper down using a midge tip, or most commonly, suspended below a strike indicator or bung. (See our guide on how to fish buzzers more tips.)

What retrieve to use: Buzzers are fished static or with a very slow figure of eight retrieve. To make them look natural, the best technique is let the wind to drag the line or indicator around and watch for the take. Most newcomers doubt their abilities, but trout fall for them all the time.

2. Cat's whisker

Cat's whisker.

What it imitates: The cat's whisker is a brightly coloured lure pattern. It doesn't really imitate anything, but trout either mistake it for a fry or just attack it out of aggression or curiosity.

When to use it: The cat's whisker is a fly pattern that will catch fish all year round. It works particularly well from autumn to spring when the bead chain eyes help it to sink to the deeper depths at which trout tend to hold in cooler spells.

How to fish it: The cat's whisker is usually fished on a floating line, generally as a single fly, but sometimes as the point fly alongside a couple of other flies on droppers. (See our guide on how to fish the cat's whisker for more tips.)

What retrieve to use: Anything works. A slow figure of eight, a twitchy or jerky retrieve, lots of little pulls, long strips or the roly poly. Try them all and see what attracts their interest.

3. Blue flash damsel

Blue flash damsel.

What it imitates: The Blue flash damsel is said to imitate a damsel fly nymph, but it's really too big and not the right colour. It's really just a lure, but it's probably one of the most effective. You could probably turn up at any trout fishery and catch on it at pretty much any time of the year.

When to use it: The Blue flash damsel works all year round, but it's particularly good during the spring and summer when real damsel flies are swimming around.

How to fish it: This fly is fished on a floating line, generally as the only fly. Use a long leader - at least 10-12 feet - and cover all areas of the water, especially the margins and area near weed beds where there's more natural insect life. 

What retrieve to use: This fly is very versatile and lots of different retrieves work. Damsel fly nymphs swim with a very jerky action, so use short quick pulls and add in plenty of pauses. It also works when stripped back really fast, or figure of eighted across the bottom.

4. Cormorant


What it imitates: The cormorant doesn't really imitate anything specific. It looks a little bit like a lot of things that live in lakes, which is why it catches so many fish. It can pass for a nymph, a fish fry or even a snail. 

When to use it: Cormorants can work all year round, but they tend to fish best during the winter months. On some popular stillwaters, such as Ellerdine Lakes, they're one of the top three flies throughout the winter season and often take the best fish, too. 

How to fish it: Cormorants are usually fished as teams of three, or on the droppers alongside an attractor pattern such as a blob or a long-tailed marabou lure. Invariably, a floating line is used, but they can also fish well on a midge tip or intermediate fly line. (See our article on how to fish cormorants for more guidance.)

What retrieve to use: A slow figure of eight retrieve is the norm, especially if fishing a floating line, but they also work well with short, jerky strip retrieves and can even be pulled back at speed on an intermediate, when presumably the trout mistake them for fleeing fish fry.

5. Blob

The blob.

What it imitates: The blob is said to imitate a shoal of Daphnia or water fleas, but again, this is really just a lure. It's one of the most popular UK stillwater trout flies and is probably the most widely used pattern on the competitive fly fishing scene.

When to use it: The blob can catch fish all day, every day, irrespective of the season or conditions. It's a great choice for the beginner as it can be fished in so many ways and is available in so many colours.

How to fish it: The blob is deadly when fished on its own suspended beneath a strike indicator. While not the most active style of fishing, and obviously not a method for the purist, it's great fun especially for children. It can also be fished as an attractor pattern alongside nymphs, such as buzzers or crunchers, or fished on its own as a lure. (See our guides on how to fish the blob and how to fish the FAB for more tips.)

What retrieve to use: It depends how you're fishing it. It's actually deadly when fished entirely static, but it also works well with a figure eight retrieve. If you're fishing it on its own as a lure, then lots of short pulls work as the dense body displaces water and the movement is detected by the trout's lateral line sensory system. 

6. Diawl bach

Diawl bachs.

What it imitates: The Diawl bach (pronounced dee-ah-wul bac) is a Welsh fly pattern designed to imitate a nymph. 

When to use it: The Diawl bach is a generic nymph pattern so can be used all year round. It tends to be fished most between the spring and late summer months when natural nymphs are most active in the water.

How to fish it: The Diawl bach is usually fished on a floating line, generally on the middle and top dropper and often in conjunction with a blob on the point. The blob serves as an attractor pattern which piques the interest of trout who come in to investigate. If they don't take the strange looking blob out of curiosity, they'll often take the natural looking Diawl bach instead. (See our guide on how to fish nymphs for stillwater trout for more advice.)

What retrieve to use: Very slow. A static retrieve where you let the wind do the work tends to be best, but a slow figure of eight and the odd long slow pull to make the nymphs move up through the water and then drop back down also works wonders.

7. Squirmy wormy

Squirmy wormies.

What it imitates: A worm, obviously...

When to use it: The squirmy wormy isn't a fly you'll find in the fly box of the purist fly fisher, but it's really effective all year round and is gaining a big following with grayling fishers as well as those who target trout.

How to fish it: The squirmy wormy is invariably fished beneath a strike indicator or bung, however, you can also fish it as a lure which lets you cover deeper water. The most effective method is to fish it 3-4 feet below an indicator. (See our guide on how to fish the squirmy wormy for extra pointers.)

What retrieve to use: Cast it out, let it drift around in the wind and give it the odd tug to make it move, then wait for the indicator the slip away...

8. F fly

F flies.

What it imitates: The F fly is a generic dry fly pattern designed to imitate a wide range of small hatching insects, from buzzers to upwings. Generic fly patterns like this are a great choice because they're so versatile.

When to use it: The F fly is generally fished in the warmer months when the trout are feeding higher up and when natural insect hatches are occuring. It's less common for trout to feed off the top in the winter months.

How to fish it: The F fly is usually fished on its own on a long leader of 12 feet or more. Simply cast it out towards a rising fish and wait for it to be smashed off the top. If you don't get a rise within 10 seconds, re-cast gently to a different spot and see if a fish comes up. (Learn how to tie the F fly.)

What retrieve to use: No retrieve is needed, but you can give the F fly a little pull. This makes it bob under the water and pop back up and the movement can attract nearby trout.

9. Klinkhamer


What it imitates: The Klinkhamer is another generic fly pattern designed to imitate an emerging insect breaking through the surface tension.

When to use it: The Klinkhamer is a great pattern to use during the spring and summer months when buzzers and other insects are hatching.

How to fish it: The Klinkhamer is usually fished on its own on a long leader, but can also be used to fish "the duo" or New Zealand style method, in which a nymph is attached to a short length of line and tied to the bend of the hook. It's also good for the washing line method if you're using light weight buzzers. (Learn how to tie the Klinkhamer.)

What retrieve to use: No retrieve is needed with the Klinkhamer. Just cast it out, pull the line straight so you don't have any slack and wait for the fish to come up. If you don't get a rise within 10 seconds, re-cast somewhere else.

10. Daddy long legs

Daddy long legs.

What it imitates: This pattern, as the name suggests, imitates the daddy long legs or cranefly. This is a terrestrial insect which lives in long grass and often hatches in large numbers in the summer months.

When to use it: Use these whenever craneflies are hatching. As these are quite large and meaty flies and are often present in large numbers, the trout get really switched-on to eating them, so they can be deadly when daddies are around.

How to fish it: The daddy long legs works both on the top and underwater. To make it float better you'll want to rub some floatant, such as Gherke's Gink, onto the body to keep it on the surface. However, these heavy insects often sink and trout will find plenty of them below the surface too.

What retrieve to use: Static is fine, but the odd little pull helps imitate a daddy long legs struggling to escape from the water. 

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