The Magnificent 7: Best Flies Anywhere

Chris Parsons Magnificent 7 Tags: , , ,
Flies, Fly Patterns

The Magnificent 7 offers a selection of the best flies for any trout stream or lake

Summertime 2011 in Northern California will be one to remember for the fly angler. A fly fishing trip to the McCloud, Upper Sacramento, Lower Sacramento, Fall River will coincide with some of the best water conditions we have experienced in 7 years. Good reports are coming out of most of our rivers, all within a two hour drive of Redding, CA. To review reports, click on the river links within this post, or just click here. This post is going to be the first of seven posts over the next ten days that I hope you wtionill enjoy. I will cover in detail what I believe is the most well rounded selection of flies for trout, at least for the waters within two hours of redding, CA. I have found this selection to be comprised of the best flies for the rivers I frequent. After watching many, many guides select flies, over and over, out of the bins at The Fly Shop in addition to what I experience on the rivers over 250 days a year, I have come up with a list of seven flies, the best flies, flies that won’t let the hankering angler down when casting to rainbows, fly rod in hand. This list of fly patterns may not be what you have in mind. Take each nymph or dry fly for what it’s worth. This selection that I have named the “Magnificent 7” can be purchased at most fly fishing stores. Needless to say, The Fly Shop has all of them. Each pattern will be featured through each post with links on how to tie including purchase options. I had a good time writing this one. Hope you enjoy it. I poke fun, but it’s out of love. These are the very best flies you can have in your box. If you could only have 7.


best flies
Nope. We need to get some flies. Goodness gracious. This fly box says “I’m Not Sure”

For the fly fishing angler, the fly box is a repository of various patterns, namely flies, from recent to long ago fishing adventures. Many purchased, some personally tied at a vice attached to a custom bench or folding table. The contents of an angler’s fly box tell a personal story of fun times, big fish, good friends, hang-overs, beautiful rivers and lakes. How does one select the best flies? Lucky me, I look in fly boxes almost every day here at The Fly Shop before we enjoy a day or two on the Lower Sacramento River, Fall River or Trinity River. I see mostly crushed dry flies before heading out on Hat Creek, their once proud hackles irreparably flattened after years of waiting under the pressing lid of the hopeful angler’s fly box. A box admittedly hidden away in the garage and only dusted off and thrown in the overstored tackle bag the night before the big drive to the river or lake. The nymphs displayed in most fly boxes are often foreign to me, offering strange colors, huge sizes, flamboyant hackles and all sorts of colors and styles that perchance, could work on the McCloud or Upper Sacramento River, but probably won’t. “Where does that fluorescent green sculpin fly work?”, I ask.  I don’t doubt it works, just wondering why its here? Who sold that pink and purple Parachute Adams? How about that white crystal flashy fly with a little olive dubbing tied in at the thorax, just behind the blue bead? I say, “We will cause the fish to go blind with it! They will be dumbfounded by it and caught out of shear befuddlement! That’s how we will catch them”!! I understand that the #10 maggot fly caught a monster rainbow trout in Alaska, but we don’t fish maggot flies here, because other flies work better.

In a week, boxes of countless big flies tied on small hooks, small flies tied on big hooks will pass before my eyes. Some flies defy description. I see rust stained fly boxes, rust on the hooks and rust on the degenerated state of fibers and foam that once suggested a scrumptious meal for a big brown trout, waiting under a cut bank during the civil war era, along some river in Montana. Always Montana. I imagine each fly was once selected, based on a foundation of solid advice. Some flies are proven, some are still mysterious. The flies we tied based on the recipe are not perfect, but hey, they kind of look right. Right? I don’t doubt that the deer hair and foam pattern with a tuft of white buffalo chin hair and exotic skunk whiskers works on the Thing-a-ma-wizzer that runs through the land of rainbow skies and flowery meadows, but will it be the hot fly on todays river, today in Northern California? Will your flies work on the Trinity river? What about Fall River? Hat creek? I know what has been working all week and what has been working all summer, for the past five years for every fishing guide in northern California. I will never say never to a new pattern. Sometimes I find a funky funk fly in an anglers box that works amazingly well. But, most days, I stare into my guests fly box and feel like I am looking into a room full of unsuspecting strangers. I imagine that most if not all of the flies in the box would, if they could, jump out and go scurrying home upon opening. I just cringe when I tell my guests, anglers all, that the flies in this box handed to me, upon which I gaze, conjure up feelings of fly box aversion. I will then say, with all due respect, professionally, politely, in so many words “this fly selection is useless”.  All the hopes and dreams of tying the right fly and witnessing some form of approval upon observation are crushed in an instant as I hand back your box of dreams and memories and say, “well, we can use those flies, but….. (we won’t)”. If only there was a list of flies, the best flies, that could be the base standard for trout fishing anywhere!  A list of flies that puts your repertoire in the middle of what will work, and what won’t. A box of flies that won’t get scoffed at, shunned, looked down upon. A fly box that truly is a source of possibilities and not a container full of crushed, decomposing, chicken feathers.

Now, not all fly boxes are as unrefined as I have described. Many, many anglers show me amazing boxes, full of flies perfect for wrangling trout in Northern California and beyond. And even then, additional flies are purchased, or tied to reinforce the solid selection in hand. I am paid to provide consultation. I’m consulting when I say “we need to buy these”. Just remember, you do not have to buy extra flies. We can fish your stuff. I’ll row the boat and shut up.

But, now that we are thinking about it, do you want to organize your fly box? Refine it? How? Well I asked the same question. How do I populate it with the best flies for any river. At least a solid selection that gives me the best chance short of buying the hottest fly at the local fly shop.

I have a news flash for you: There is a list of flies, the best flies, that can give the weary angler a feeling that his or her desire will be fulfilled, embolden his or her beliefs, protect you from the ruthless scrutiny of practically any fishing guide, a list of flies so empowering, so complete, that no trout stream is beyond a fly box containing the “Magnificent 7”!

Seriously, it is impossible to always have the best flies at any given time in your fly box, but not impossible to have a selection of trout flies that produce a hook up or more from one body of water to the next. You may not have the hot fly, but it’s entirely possible to have an assortment of patterns that can get the fly rod bent to a fighting fin. The truly hot fly on any given river today can be purchased at the destination fly shop of choice. Buy four of them to go with your array of the Magnificent 7.

The Magnificent 7 is a list of fly patterns that can be tied or purchased. Each fly can be configured in various colors, sizes, beaded, non-beaded, weighted, non weighted. The dry flies can be tied and modified. So, the fly box containing these seven patterns does not have merely seven flies in it. No, no, no. Look at the list as seven

best flies
The dark fly box from Mordor. I’ll take the Damsel flies. Hide this the trash!

types of patterns that are offered in as many as nine different sizes and three different colors. The possibilities are up to you. Don’t let the slightest measure of anal retentiveness get the better of you. I’m not suggesting you go out and tie or buy every possible pattern variation in the list. As a minimum, have a few of each. If one works awesome, tie or buy more. Look at your entire fly selection as one giant searching pattern. Refine it from there based on were you are fishing. Experienced anglers will have a hunch or knowledge of a specific size, color fly that produces on their favorite stream. Add more of those to the box. See what I’m saying? Having the best flies doesn’t mean one must have a million different patterns. I’ve boiled it down to only seven.

Look for six more posts in the week to come. Posts on what I think are the best flies for any trout stream or lake. Each post describing one of the 7 flies in the list. In this post, I have selected the Birds Nest as the first fly to share. Click on the link next to the #1 for tying recipe and purchase options.


Fly Fishing Fly Selection Refined

Fly Pattern #1: Birds Nest

The Bird’s Nest: Originally tied by the late Cal Bird, this nymph pattern does just about everything from imitating a stonefly to a water boatmen. Equally proven on the most Northern California rivers, the Birds Nest was authored on the Truckee River, 1959. The Bird’s Nest can be tied in an all-inclusive collection of colors, sizes, proportions all suggesting any order of mayfly nymphs, caddis larva and pupae. Even little bait fish! It is a fly commonly fished under an indicator on rivers like the Lower Sacramento, Pit River, McCloud River. Never to be limited by the almighty indicator, the Bird’s Nest is effectively presented swung on various sinking lines and floating lines, stripped to aggro trout in still water environs and bounced along the rivers bottom using the classic high-stick technique. The non-beaded version, tied on a light wire hook, can easily be fished as a cripple PMD when treated with a desiccant floatant. Tie this pattern in sizes from #6 to #18. Typical colors include Tan, Olive and Black. What about Yellow? Brown? You set the limits. Tie in some silly legs to make it better imitate a boatman. The tan copper beaded Bird’s nest is a hot fly on the Lower Sacramento right now. Last I checked, The Fly Shop is sold out! Can you tie me a few? Please? I’ll pay you!

Check back in a day or two for the second installment on the Magnificent 7 fly list. You can always sign up for my newsletter and receive updates via email. Let me know what you think! Add your own fly to the comments below!

See fly #2, The Zebra Midge by clicking here!

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