If you Google “Stillwater Trout Flies,” you’re bound to get a ton of different results. How do you choose the best stillwater trout flies and, most importantly, how do you use those flies? This article aims to give you some background knowledge about different kinds of stillwater flies so you can choose the best flies suited to your application yourself.
Table of Contents
I’ll use 10 of my favorite stillwater flies to elaborate the point, but don’t take these specific flies as the full gospel. These are flies that I’ve grown to love and have confidence in.
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Types of Stillwater Flies
Stillwater flies may be broken up into a couple of different categories. Now, as there are always a bunch of exceptions to the rule, take this with a pinch of salt, as you can’t really place a fly into a specific category.
To illustrate what I mean with this, take the good old Woolly Bugger. It’s a streamer, and if you incorporate some hotspots or tie it ultra-large, it may be an attractor pattern. If you tie it small and fish it slowly, it may even be seen as a nymph.
Maybe that’s where the key lies, in how the fly is fished. But, for the purpose of this article, let’s divide flies according to categories which include streamers, attractors, and nymphs (larva).
Probably the most popular stillwater fly type is a streamer. It’s a large chunk of meat that’s tied to have a good natural movement in the water. These flies typically imitate baitfish, tadpoles, leeches, etc.
One of the most abundant food sources in all stillwaters is aquatic larvae, or what we call nymphs. These flies usually resemble the natural ones by either color, size, and/or profile. Good examples of these include chironomids, mayfly, and caddis larvae.
Attractor flies do exactly what their name suggests, attract fish to your flies. This kind of fly usually aggravates the fish, which provokes a predatory response. Another use of these flies is to use them in tandem with a natural-looking fly.
When a fish starts following the attractor pattern, it then sees the natural fly and takes it with much more confidence.
Watch the 10 Best Stillwater Flies
My 10 Favorite Stillwater Flies
Now that we know the three basic kinds of stillwater flies, to elaborate on what I look for in a fly, I thought it best to cover 10 of my favorite stillwater flies. In this way, you can see what I’m looking for in a fly and how I fish it.
This will give you an understanding of the thought process behind the flies, so you can perhaps adjust your favorite stillwater patterns if you tie your own flies – which I strongly suggest.
1. Damselfly Nymph
The Damselfly Nymph is an amazing pattern to use over weed beds and along other aquatic vegetation. It imitates damselfly larvae, and the key trigger points are the thin abdomen, the very sparse tail, and the thick head with those eyes made from monofilament.
I find that this realistic imitation works much more effectively than the often over-tied cheap versions you buy from shops. If you’d like to learn how to tie your own, watch our full tying tutorial where I covered the step-by-step procedure.
I think the key to this fly is the way it’s finished. As you can see, it doesn’t have a bulky body, so it won’t push as much water when stripped fast. Damselfly larvae don’t move fast at all, so I find this fly works most effectively when fished really slowly using a figure-of-eight retrieve or dead drift.
The Damselfly Nymph also works very well in tandem with buzzers and bloodworms and trailing behind an attractor such as a Blob or Booby.
2. White Death
A fly not known by many, but an incredibly effective attractor/streamer pattern. You’ll always find a couple of these flies stacked in my box, and I use them during a very specific time of the day.
In my experience, trout seem to plummet to the depths during midday. They feel less exposed and are always looking for cooler water. As the sun starts to set, the light refracts shallower into the water column, thus making the fish feel safer and they start coming closer to the surface.
This is when I love using the White Death. An hour or so before it’s completely dark, I switch over to this fly on a sinking or an intermediate fly line. The fly is fished just under the surface with an erratic and fast retrieve.
The fly has a marabou tail and wing which gives it great movement in the water, and I believe it’s the white contrast that makes it work so great. This fly also works a treat when there’s caddis hatching.
3. The Blob
The Blob is a fly that made its way over from competitive fishing. There’s a couple of categories that this fly could fall into, but I haven’t had the chance to ask a trout why they took the fly. All I know is it works.
Firstly, it looks like an egg, and therefore it works really well when the fish are in spawning mode. The fly also resembles a small daphnia cloud, because it has that orange color and the fibers are semi-translucent. So, if the stillwater you’re fishing has daphnia in it, make sure to test this fly.
I believe the main reason why it catches so many fish is that it creates a massive attraction. It catches fish when stripped slow, when stripped fast, and even when dead drifted. This is also one of my go-to patterns when I fish multi-fly rigs.
The Blob can be tied in a wide range of colors, so don’t think that fluorescent orange is the only way to go. Play around with different combinations of fritz and don’t be scared to fish this pattern.
4. The Booby
The Booby has two foam eyes that give it an unusual action in the water. I love fishing the Booby on a di5 (sinks five inches per second) fly line, and I allow the line to sink for a good amount of time. Then, when I make a long strip, the fly actually dives downward and creates a vibration.
The two foam eyes can actually be integrated within any kind of fly. For instance, one of my favorite Booby patterns is a Blob Booby, where I include these eyes on a standard Blob. Another very effective rendition is combining a Woolly Bugger and a Booby.
5. Papa Roach
One of the best Dragonfly imitations that I’ve come across is the Papa Roach, created by one of my dear friends Herman Botes. It may look like he strapped everything he could find around the shank of a hook, but it’s actually a well-thought-out fly with great balance and movement.
Dragonfly imitations, very similarly to damselfly larvae, work great when fished around weed beds and other aquatic vegetation. The key difference is that this fly offers the fish more calories and the fly needs to move a lot quicker.
You can use the Papa Roach on any kind of fly line to suit the water depth and where the fish are holding, with a relatively quick retrieve.
6. Woolly Bugger
The one fly that will be on everyone’s “Best Stillwater Trout Flies” list is the Woolly Bugger. It’s the best freshwater fly ever created, period. For stillwater applications, I tie them on hook sizes ranging from 12 to 4. Each size will have a couple of variations in color, added weight, and some even include Booby foam eyes.
The Woolly Bugger can be tied to resemble a natural food source, such as leeches, baitfish, or even dragonfly larvae. You can even tie it purely as an attractor with a lot of flash and fluorescent colors.
7. Slump Buster
If you need something with more meat than the Woolly Bugger, the Slump Buster is the way to go. It includes a zonker tail and over-body wing, some flashy dubbing which could be seen as the belly of a baitfish, and a thick zonker collar. It’s the perfect example of a streamer pattern.
I tie the Slump Buster mainly in olive, black, and brown, and I use it on either a floating or sinking fly line. If you’re using a fast retrieve while using this fly, make sure to be soft on the set as the takes are usually quite hard and aggressive.
Let’s tone things down slightly and look at a fly that’s fished a lot slower, the Buzzer. Buzzers imitate midge larvae, or chironomids, which is probably the most prolific food source in stillwaters or lakes.
Although this is an imitative nymph pattern, you’ll see that many examples of Buzzer patterns out there include a lot of flashy material, which is done for a very specific reason.
When midge larvae start their journey from the bottom of a stillwater, a chemical reaction under their exoskeleton generates tiny air bubbles to help them ascend upward where they’ll hatch on the surface. This is the most vulnerable stage of the midge’s life cycle. The flash included imitates these tiny air bubbles.
I love fishing two, or even three, Buzzers on a floating fly line with a 15 foot – or longer – leader. As you make the cast, take up all the slack so you’re in contact with the flies. Now, allow them to drift dead with the wind and keep an eye on the end of your fly line. If it makes any movement at all, set the hook.
9. Bloodworm Larvae
In essence, the Bloodworm Larvae is actually a type of Buzzer, but I included it in the list because I use it in a wider range of applications.
The Bloodworm Larva fly works well if fished as set out in the Buzzer section above, but it also works very effectively when used with slow-fished streamers, such as a Woolly Bugger or Papa Roach.
Sometimes you’ll find that the fish are switched onto anything red, then the Bloodworm Larvae works a treat.
10. Diawl Bach
The Diawl Bach is an old-school classic trout fly that’s still one of my favorites. I have confidence in it, and it produces fish. Firstly, I’ve removed the Jungle Cock cheeks that the original pattern has, as the material is very expensive and hard to come by in South Africa.
I’ve replaced the cheeks with various other materials, such as the fritz used on Boobies and other flashy materials.
I believe the fly’s effectiveness actually comes from its understatedness, and it produces fish when all the flashy patterns seem to get ignored.
I hope that you found this article on my favorite stillwater patterns helpful and ultimately, that it helped you get a better understanding of how to select and fish stillwater flies.
If you have any comments or questions, please do get in touch, and also remember to watch the video on my ten favorite stillwater flies on Youtube.
Until next time.