Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

The game is to pick the only two flies you get to fish for the rest of your life. Here are the constraints:
–       One dry and one sub-surface fly
–       The sub-surface fly can be tied both with or without a bead head of any material
–       You can tie either fly in any size with any color you can find for the components of the traditional fly pattern

As I thought about this, the question is really which two flies are the most versatile. I have no doubt there will be little agreement (if there is any). This exercise is not about which two patterns you choose; it is about why you chose them and how you use the flies.

So, let’s hear your two favorites, how you would use them, and why you think yours are the best choices. You can cheat and list your runner-up in each category if that will help ease your angst of picking one.


For me, there is probably no surprise that my favorite sub-surface fly would be a girdle bug since I recently wrote a blog on my love affair with it! There are several aspects embedded in this selection:
·         Fish everywhere love it (western big streams, smaller midwestern streams, and New England streams)
·         It is fairly easy to tie (I can do them in 6-8 minutes when I get on a roll and I am not that fast of a tyer)
·         The materials are relatively inexpensive: thread, legging material, chenille, and a bead head (my driving philosophy for tying is that it should not take longer to tie a fly than to lose it!)
·         It can reach surprising depths (over three feet with a #10 hook) with no weight with a heavier hook and light tippet (5-6X)
·         I have tied them from a #10-#2 monsters (I could probably go smaller if I could find very thin and supple leg material)
·         Many of my best fish each year come on a no bead head #10 girdle bug fished as a dropper off the best dry for that part of the season
·         There are an infinite number of combinations of leg and body colors so you can mimic (at least in your mind) almost anything you can find in a river that a trout might eat
·         If I could only have one color, it would be black – it always (well almost) seems to catch fish
·         The one limitation is that it does not seem to work well during finesse conditions (this is where the smaller than #10 one would be needed).
·         With a light hook you can fish as shallow as you want (almost, it does sink faster than you might expect)
·         With a tungsten head you can plumb the depths of a 6-8 foot hole (I have not been somewhere with a hole deeper than that) – I affectionately refer to this as my depth charge fly
·         In mild run-off conditions where the current is up and the water is murky, this will hug the bottom with a tungsten head


Okay, yes, I am cheating and picking a second subsurface fly. Sorry, I couldn’t resist; my biggest trout on my favorite Wisconsin stream, a beautiful 22” brown came on a #14 tungsten head Copper John. When I was first introduced to this nymph style, I thought no trout worth its weight in popcorn would eat them. But day in and day out this pattern continually catches fish. Versatility is the key attribute to this fly as well. I find that adjusting the hook size and bead type makes it fishable from the shallowest to deepest runs. The materials and design make this fly sink like a rock!

·         My experience is that three colors are sufficient to cover most situations: red, black, and copper. However, there are an infinite number of wire colors if need be
·         A larger size hook and a tungsten bead will get you to the bottom of most deep holes you will encounter
·         No bead and a smaller hook size (#16-20) makes it fishable in shallow water as long as there is some current
·         It is a bit more demanding tie but once I get rolling, I can whip them out in around 12 minutes
·         I like to replace the traditional peacock herl for the thorax with peacock Ice Dub to make tying faster. The fly is also more durable. Once you switch to dubbing for the thorax, the gloves come off and you can use any color you like. I am a minimalist in fly tying, I just buy a lot of peacock ice dub as it always seems to work. (This is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy since I only use this color so of course it works – I don’t really know whether another color would be better!)
·         Adding a dollop of your favorite UV active cement (I use thick UV Clear Fly Finish) on top of the wing case and head thread makes the fly nearly indestructible. I have used the same fly for 3 or more days while catching 50 or more fish. If you don’t do this, the head thread and fly case will get shredded after 10-15 fish.


This was an incredibly difficult choice. So many worthwhile candidates like a parachute Adams, a hopper, or trude style fly. But the rules are one pattern. So this is my choice. Here’s why:

·         Tied appropriately, and treated occasionally with a good floatant, the fly will float all day long or until I stick it in a tree
·         The deer or elk hair head gives just enough lift to the fly’s head so it can be twitched easily by jostling your rod tip on an almost tight line. This makes the fly twitch 2-5 inches depending on how hard you jostle. It is surprising how effective this can be for inducing a strike on the surface and/or on your dropper
·         While it is lacking legs, the basic caddis pattern can be a any number of terrestrials:  grasshopper, cricket, beetle, etc. There are an infinite number of color combinations for body colors and the palmered hackle to imitate almost anything
·         The fly has amazing floatability. During the early season (February-April) I use a #8-#12 caddis pattern as the lead fly with a weighted girdle bug dropper to get to the bottom of deep holes. Almost without exception, I get a larger trout (15” and up) at least once on each outing. Apparently, the fish don’t read the fly hatch chart to know that hoppers etc. are 4-6 months away. A couple of years ago I watched a wake shoot out from the shore to a #10 caddis floating five or six feet from shore. Amazingly, I was able to steel myself and waited to set the hook (usually I snatch defeat from the jaws of success by setting too early) on what turned out to be a frisky 17 inch brown. What a treat!
·         In the heat of summer when the water is low and clear, a #18-#20 caddis is the perfect lead fly for lightly weighted nymphs or girdle bugs. They land lightly and don’t spook the fish; yet, the fish will come up and sip it in even when there are no caddis showing on the river.

I have no doubt you will have different favorites. There isn’t on right answer to this question. I can’t wait to hear what your favorites are and why. I am hoping to learn from you! So don’t hold back.


  1. Interesting game Joe! …and actually I think not that different from what many of us do anyway — I can go a dozen outings and never use any flies other than my two favorite (although they’re both wetflies in my case). It’s also a lot like the “if you could carry only one golf club” “or “if you could carry only one camera lens” artificial dilemma…or the cyclist’s or whitewater paddler’s equivalent. It’s an exercise that switches the focus from gear to skill.

    In your “two flies” version, am I allowed to coat a wetfly in gink and call it my dry? And then wipe off the gink in use? Or is that cheating?

    To follow your rules strictly, I guess I’d pick the Elk Hair Caddis with dark brown hackle in about a #16 for the dry (since after it sinks it’s not half-bad as a wetfly too), and my own ratty red-wine-bodied light-wood-duck-hackled wetfly for the subsurface…on a #16 curved nymph hook…typically my go-to fly.

    But if I moved to an area where the average rainbow was 17″ or more, I’d probably bump up the size of the wetfly so it would also pass for a wooly bugger or dark leach.

    – Mike

  2. Hi Mike,
    The thought was to engage people in thinking about what flies they find most effective and why they are effective. I probably have 10 fly boxes chock full of different flies. The only way many of these get wet is when it rains hard and it soaks through my vest. I was hoping to learn from others as they explained their choices.
    Your point about a sunk caddis being a decent fly in its own right is excellent. I have caught some fairly sizeable trout swinging a sunk caddis. Good job. I guess I could have suggested only one fly!
    All the best, Joe

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