15 of the BEST Fly Fishing Flies for Rivers!

If you have a trip to the river planned, you may be wondering which kinds of flies to pack in your bag. The good news is that we’ve done the legwork for you and put together a handy list of the top 15 fishing flies for rivers. Whether you’re searching for fly fishing flies for trout, or you’re a beginner looking to invest in your first fly fishing flies assortment, we’ve got you covered.

Brown Trout

Our guide features a selection of:

Choosing the Best Fly Fishing Flies for Rivers

Choosing the right fly for a river fishing trip is fly fishing flies 101. To achieve the best outcomes, it's essential to make the right decision. There are hundreds of flies for fly fishing out there, so how do you go about narrowing down the options? There is a degree of trial and error involved for many river fishing enthusiasts, but often, the conditions, the time of year, and the type of fish you're searching for will play a role.

Keen anglers will be aware of the range of choice when selecting flies, but for beginners, lists of weird and wonderful names and different types of flies may be a source of confusion. In this guide, we'll attempt to provide some clarity, listing the best fly fishing flies on the market for river fishing.

 Steelhead Trout

The Best Fly Fishing Flies for Rivers.

You've got an outing to the river planned, and it's time to get your kit together. One of the most important considerations is the types of flies to use. If you were to perform a quick search, you'd find a dazzling array of flies available, each with its own benefits. River fishing is very different from casting a fly in a lake, as the water moves quickly and changes influence the movement of the fish in conditions and currents. To help you ensure that you've got everything you need to secure an impressive haul, here are our top fly fishing flies for rivers. We have included a selection of nymphs, dry flies, and emergers, and streamers to help you create a diverse, versatile, effective kit.

Nymph Fly Fishing Kit Best Fly Fishing FLies

Nymph Flies for Fly Fishing Rivers

1.   Flashback Pheasant Tail

The Flashback Pheasant Tail is a nymph fly, often selected by anglers due to its extraordinary capacity to mimic the mayfly's natural development process. This particular nymph is known for its ability to create forceful air bubbles. There are various options when selecting Flashback Pheasant Tail flies, including a range of shades, such as gold and green. The closer the match to the insect, the better. Adjust the color you use according to the season. For example, in the fall, it's wise to opt for a darker Flashback Pheasant Tail to match the color of the mayfly at this time of year.

Flash Back Pheasant Tail

2.   Zebra Midge

A very well-known midge fly, the Zebra Midge is a firm favorite with anglers looking for fly fishing flies for trout. This is a versatile fly, as you can tie it to enable the fly to copy either the midge larva or pupa. This nymph fly's flexibility means that the Zebra Midge is suitable for fishing trips throughout the season. Another advantage of the Zebra Nymph is the speed of the drop. Once the beaded head is added to the fly, it will plunge rapidly, making it an ideal choice for nymphing fans. Zebra Midges are available in different colors, including red and black. The Zebra Midge is a great choice for beginners as it is relatively straightforward to tie.

Zebra Midge

3.   Hare’s Ear

Hare's Ear flies are mayfly nymphs, which are designed to mimic tiny, immature insects. It's virtually impossible to detect infant insects from a distance to the human eye, but to hungry fish, such as trout, they represent a hearty meal. Hare's Ear flies have been used to lure trout in for hundreds of years, and they have an awe-inspiring success rate. Available in a wide range of colors, you can use Hare's Ear flies to impersonate the mayfly at every stage of its development. Another significant advantage is the versatility of the Hare's Ear fly. The way you tie the fly affords an array of options, as the fly can embody several different types of a nymph.

Hairs Ear Black Best Fly Fishing Flies

4.   Glo Bug Red Dot

Another popular nymph fly, the Glo Bug Red Dot, is a worm and egg nymph, often chosen by anglers hunting for trout in the fall months. Trout feed on eggs at this time of year, making this type of fly an ideal option for those hoping to secure a substantial trout haul. The fly takes its name from the distinctive red dot, which can be seen on the fly's top. This striking dot is captivating and intriguing to fish, maximizing the chances of a strike. There are several shades available, including yellow, orange, peach, and pink. Lighter colors, including yellow and peach, are best for fishing in the fall.

Glo Bug Red Dot

5.   Rainbow Warrior

A midge nymph, which takes its name from its jazzy, colorful appearance, the Rainbow Warrior is a perennial favorite for river fly fishing. The Rainbow Warrior fly boasts a silver bead, a red thread, and a multi-colored body, which resembles the aesthetic of shiny marble. For fish, the stunning colors are irresistible, and many anglers enjoy great success as a result of having a few Rainbow Warriors in their fly fishing flies assortment.

Rainbow Warrior

6.   Disco Midge

The undisputed dancing queen of the nymph fly family, the Disco Midge, is bright and beautiful to trout, and it's an excellent choice for angling in the winter. Assuming the midge's mantle, a creature that becomes increasingly crucial for trout during the colder months, the Disco Midge imitates the pupa or larva. Even big fish are mystified and captivated by tiny midges that thrive in lakes and rivers, and the Disco Midge can help you attract a lot of attention in a short space of time.

Disco Midge - Fly Fishing Flies from Drifthook

"It is impossible to grow weary of a sport that is never the same on any two days of the year." 
-Theodore Gordon

Dry Flies and Emerger Fly Fishing Flies

Dry Flies and Emergers for River Fly Fishing

7.   Baetis Vis-A-Dun

The Baetis Vis-A-Dun is a very popular dry fly for anglers planning river fishing trips during the fall when blue-winged olive hatch. When the minuscule olive bugs hatch, the fish become mesmerized by the movement on the water's surface, making it easier to land a catch. It's always a good idea to have a selection of colors of the Baetis Dun fly, but trying to match the shade of the blue-winged olive is an excellent place to start.

Best Fly Fishing Flies for RIvers - Baetis Vis-A-Dun

8.   PMD Spinner

The PMD (Pale Morning Dun) Spinner is designed to entice fish by impersonating the adult fly. Adorned with opaque wings, which settle on the water's surface, these flies look precisely like adult mayflies, and they provide a useful beacon for fish looking to feed close to the surface. PMD spinners can be difficult for anglers to follow, but it is possible to add colors to make them easier to spot on the water. One of the best attributes of the PMD spinner is its widespread appeal to trout. Trout will take an interest in this kind of fly at all stages, meaning that every angler has a good chance of striking it lucky with this fly in their kit.

PMD Spinner

9.   Elk Hair Caddis

The Elk Hair Caddis dry fly imitates the adult caddis fly, a tasty dish for trout. This fly features shaped wings based on those seen on the insect, and it draws the fish in with subtle movements of the wings that create a disturbance in the water reminiscent of that achieved by a caddis fly preparing to take off. The twitch of the wings stimulates the fish, bringing it closer to the line. Elk Hair caddis CDC flies are available in a selection of shades, including olive and tan.

Elk Hair Caddis

10. Barr emerger

Barr emergers are one of the most frequently used emergers for fly fishing. The Barr emerger differs from other types of emerger because it can be used at different depths. Traditionally, emergers are used to target fish just beneath the surface. With the Barr emerger, you can explore various depths. The range of colors also makes this fly an excellent choice for those keen to mimic different insects. Shades of brown, gray, and olive work well for simulating the appearance of the blue-winged olive.

Barr emerger - Drifthook Fly Fishing

Streamers for Fly Fishing Rivers

11. Muddler Minnow

Available in an array of sizes, Muddler Minnow flies are streamers, which are used to impersonate larger species to catch the biggest fish in the river. The Muddler Minnow is one of the best-known streamer flies, and it comes in an assortment of colors and variations. The common denominator is the deer hair head, which facilitates floating and enables anglers to fish at different depths. With this fly, you can delve right to the bottom of the river, as well as catching inquisitive creatures much closer to the surface. Many fly fishing enthusiasts enjoy darting the fly across the surface ripples, watching and waiting to see if nearby trout are keen to investigate further. Muddler Minnows are versatile, and they imitate a broad spectrum of prey, including leeches, grasshoppers, mayflies, crickets, and tadpoles, as well as other minnows.

Muddler Minnow

12. Muddy Buddy

The fantastically-named Muddy Buddy is famed for its movement, which draws a wide range of fish to the line. Suitable for trout fly fishing, this fly can also be used in warmer climes to entice bass. The Muddy Buddy is a reliable, dependable companion for anglers, and it offers versatility. There is a range of size and color options available to suit the season and the predator. For those who are keen to land a giant catch without devoting an entire weekend to fishing, this is an essential addition to your fly fishing kit.

Muddy Buddy

13. Slumpbuster

When you need a flash of hope and inspiration, the Slumpbuster will get you out of a metaphorical hole. This fly gets its name from its incredible ability to turn fortunes around and provide a lift on the most frustrating and fruitless days. When it seems as though nothing is doing, and there's a risk of wasting valuable hours without anything to show for your time, patience, and dedication, put your trust in the Slumpbuster. The weighted front section of the fly generates lifelike movement, which is irresistible for trout. You can go fast or slow to imitate smooth, gliding motion or more hectic, erratic movement. There are various color options available, including olive and black.

Slump Buster - Olive - Drifthook Fly Fishing Streamers

14. Bunny Leech

An all-rounder, renowned for its darting movements, the Bunny Leech is a superb choice for slower sections of rivers. Designed to mimic the leech, an essential component of fish diets during the early part of the season, the Bunny Leech gets its name from the use of rabbit fur on the fly. This fly is created using a series of zonker strips, which generate rapid movement that captivates trout, encouraging them to get closer and find out more. The Bunny Leech is available in different shades, such as black and brown.

Bunny Leaches

15. Grizzly Zonker

An essential part of any fly fishing flies assortment for those keen to land the biggest catches, the Grizzly Zonker is designed to imitate smaller species of fish to entice larger fish, including trout. This fly is particularly effective when used to mimic bullheads and stone loaches, which are notoriously tricky to spot due to their impressive camouflage. Grizzly Zonkers are available in different sizes, and they can be employed for fishing in both still and running water.

Grizzly Zonker

Fly fishing flies 101: How to Choose the Best Flies for Rivers

Any keen angler will tell you that it's critical to choose the right flies for your fishing trip. When trawling the river waters for riches, several factors are considered to help you select the best flies for the job. These include: 

  • The natural prey of the fish: What does the fish usually feed on? When you browse different types of fishing flies, it's best to search for flies that imitate the delicacies and prey the fish you intend to catch feasts on. Opt for a fly that is similar in size, color, shape, and appearance, and look at the prey's movement. Ideally, when you're out fishing, you want the fly to recreate the same kind of motion to pique the fish's interest. 
  • The season: the season is important because insects and other forms of prey go through life-cycles, which impact fish feeding and the appearance of the prey. The goal is always to mimic the natural prey. By adjusting the flies you use to suit the season, you can maximize your chances of success. In the fall, for example, pay attention to the color of the insect. If you're using a Flashback Pheasant Tail, opt for darker shades to copy the mayfly's natural aesthetic at this time of year.

Drifthook Seasonal Hatch Chart

Fly fishing is a versatile activity and no two days on the water are the same. In many cases, it's wise to have an assortment of flies at your disposal so that you can cater to the conditions, explore different depths and attract attention if your first choice fly doesn't have the desired effect. Buying a fly fishing kit, which contains an array of other flies, is a fantastic idea.

How Many Different Types of Flies Do I Need for the River?

There are over 6000 fly fishing patterns on the market today. Even the most experienced and ambitious anglers probably haven't tried a fraction of the flies on offer. In most cases, a small selection of different types of flies will suffice. Many people find that they enjoy trying other flies, and they end up with a collection of favorites and tried and tested champions. Consider the aim of every trip, the season and weather conditions, the natural prey, and the movement of the water before you put your fly kit together. If you cater to the environment and know what you're trying to mimic, you can use a carefully-curated range of flies to help you achieve your goal.

Nymph Pro Fly Fishing Box

Conclusion to Fly Fishing Flies for the River

Whether you're an enthusiastic beginner or an experienced angler, it's essential to use the best river fishing flies. With a vast array of flies available, it can be challenging to narrow down the options, and that's why we've done the hard work for you. Before you set off on your next excursion, take these recommendations on board to boost your chances of a successful day out on the water. If you have any questions about which fly to choose or need advice, our expert team will be happy to help. Contact us today!

Matthew Bernhardt Founder Drifthook Fly Fishing

About the Author

Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water, side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.

By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.

When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published