Fly-fishing Essentials

Flies & Lines


Most anglers have at least 5 or 6 fly-boxes, each strategically arranged by color, size, species, pattern or philosophy. The high country streams and lakes require a lot less thought about fly patterns than lower elevation trophy trout streams. A few basic patterns in a few basic sizes is all you'll need most of the time. Not having to dig through zillions of flies and several fly-boxes makes fly-fishing in the far reaches of the mountains refreshing. Keep it simple. Sometimes simplicity improves presentation, and I'll take perfect presentation over an exact hatch match any day.

On the next two pages is a cross-section of the most effective fly patterns for backpacking anglers. This selection includes all the basic and best flies for fishing the backcountry as well as high country lakes. I often carry these flies, and a few more, when I leave the trailhead for upstream fishing. They easily fit into one or two fly-boxes. Talk with your local fly-shop, or ones near the areas you plan to fish, for advice on fly choices.

Trout in the remote backcountry respond to any number of well-presented flies. If you like to fish with a particular pattern and have good success with it, bring several sizes. Make sure your selection includes attractor patterns for imitating both mayflies and caddisflies (a few Royal Wulffs and Elk Hair Caddis would do the trick). I would always bring along a handful of ant, beetle, and grasshopper patterns.

For those finicky fish in still pools, beaver ponds, and backwater, I include the best searching pattern ever invented, the Adams, although I prefer an Adams Parachute variation for the visibility of the white tuft. Also include a few streamers and nymphs for those instances when topwater prospecting isn't working.


As for fly-lines, this is again a matter of personal choice. A 4, 5, or 6 weight line, either double taper or weight forward, will cover most conditions on backcountry lakes and streams. A double taper line is useful because fishing rocky streams eventually wears down the end of the fly-line, and you can reverse the line on the reel when this happens. The extra distance one gets with a weight forward line is useful for lake fly-fishing, but this benefit is often negated on the small streams.

Try a few fly-lines at your local fly-shop, and see what feels best to you. You might try a heavier line on your rod, too — you might like it and it gives you versatility in fighting windy conditions. I recommend looking into sink tip lines if you plan on angling for trout in lakes. One way to economize on gear is to purchase a cassette reel and bring both a floating line and a floating line with a sink-tip, or a full sinking line if you will be float tubing.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »