Dressing for Fly Fishing Success

fly fishing success

Too bad trout are not brand-savvy; I’d have more reasons to buy more gear and a pair of Simms pants. No, it’s not about the brand. Dressing for success on the river is all about staying comfortable and healthy.

So here are some essentials to wear to the river:

1. A long-sleeved polyester shirt

I always start with this, whether the air temperature is 40 degrees or 90 degrees.

Why polyester (or some other kind of micro-fiber)?

I want a shirt that wicks moisture away from my body and offers sun protection. I wear long sleeves even on a hot day. I want to avoid the short-term (sunburn) and long-term (skin cancer) effects of the sun’s rays. A long-sleeved shirt also offers protection against mosquitoes.

Now what about a fly-fishing shirt?

Sure, these shirts look cool (and they are cool in the summer). I often wear one over my long-sleeved polyester shirt. A fly fishing shirt is the next layer you want to add to your upper body.

Of course, if you like pockets, a fly-fishing shirt is a fine alternative to a long-sleeved polyester shirt—even on a warm summer day. Simply wear it over a short-sleeved tee-shirt, preferably a polyester one which wicks away moisture.

However, a fly fishing shirt is not indispensable. I sometimes wear a cotton-polyester blend dress shirt that feels as comfortable as any of the fly fishing shirts I own. It’s light-weight, stretchy, and it cost me less than my fly-fishing shirts.

Whatever else you wear over it, start with a long-sleeved polyester shirt. It won’t let you down.

2. Nylon pants

Nylon pants are light-weight, so they dry out more quickly when than jeans and feel less waterlogged. They fit better under waders, too. If the weather turns cold, I’ll wear a pair of long johns under them. Layering is the key rather than a bulky pair of jeans or heavy pants.

Even when I wet-wade, I prefer long pants to a pair of nylon shorts. You can probably guess why — skin protection from the sun and from mosquitoes. The only time I opt for nylon shorts is when I plan to wear my chest-waders or waist-waders on a warm day. You can also purchase nylon pants with removable pant legs. This lets you choose instantly between long pants or shorts. But I don’t like these because the zippers tend to irritate my legs.

I’m not as picky about brand or quality as I am about a long-sleeved shirt. Don’t be fooled by descriptors like “guide pants” or “insect-shield pants.” Nylon pants are nylon pants. I buy the marked-down pair or the off-brand pair at the big box outdoor stores (Bass Pro, Cabela’s, REI, etc.).

3. Neck gaiter

Don’t overlook this little item!

A neck gaiter provides your neck with the same protection from the sun and insects that a shirt does for your arms. Besides, I’ve used one on cool, windy days to keep my face warm.

My neck gaiter is rather bland with its light-tan color. But a lot of fly shops sell these with more colorful fabric which has the same patterns as the body of your favorite species of trout.

Studies have shown that neck gaiters which look like the trout you’re trying to catch — cutthroat, for example — will increase your catch rate by about 23%.

Alight, I’m just kidding. But studies have shown (I think) that you’ll pay more for a neck gaiter in your local fly shop than at an outlet store.

Remember, trout don’t give you style points when it comes to what you wear — although your fly-fishing companions might. Whether it’s bland or colorful, don’t leave home without a neck gaiter.

4. Moisture-shedding hat

I used to wear a blue St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap (the kind the Redbirds used for away games). It was comfortable, but it was made out of cotton. Whenever it rained, it got water-logged. I did have the sense, though, to wear a wool cap (made by Woolrich) on cooler, rainy days. It handled the moisture fine.

Now, I wear either a Simms GORE-TEX lightweight cap on summer days or a Simms GORE-TEX fleece-insulated hat with flaps to cover my ears on colder days. I hope more fly fishing cap manufacturers will offer some with GORE-TEX. The stuff is amazing.

There are other features in a hat you might consider, too. Some fly fishers like hats with a bill all around them (such as a cowboy hat or a sombrero hat) for more sun protection. Others prefer a cap with a long brim and a cape to cover one’s neck and ears (an alternative to a neck gaiter).

There are a lot of options. The key is to choose a hat which is comfortable, sheds moisture, keeps you warm or cool (depending on the conditions), and provides ample protection from the sun. Plus, it shouldn’t cost as much as your fly reel.

5. Lightweight rain jacket

Prepare to spend the money you save on your hat or neck gaiter on a rain jacket. This is an essential, although I don’t wear it unless it’s cool or rainy. Instead, I stuff it into my fly fishing vest.

I have an older, no-frills Simms lightweight rain jacket that is no bulkier than a fly fishing shirt. It has been a life-saver on sunny days when a rain-shower seems to come out of nowhere. It also provides an extra layer of warmth on a cool morning or evening.

Successful fly fishers dress for success. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Nor do you need to look like a model on a fly fishing website. Just make sure you dress for comfort and protection.

Double Up for Fly Fishing Success

fly fishing success

Two is better than one when it comes to chocolate brownies, contact lenses, and trout flies. If you’re looking to increase your odds of catching trout, then double up. Use a lead fly and then a second fly, which trails behind it a foot or so.

Here are some double-fly combinations that really work. They include wet-fly combos, dry-fly combos, and dry-wet-fly combos. You never know which fly the trout may prefer on a given day:

1. The Hopper + Terrestrial

This is great for late summer during hopper season. Start with a size 6-10 hopper pattern—or some kind of large attractor pattern (such as a Stimulator). Then, trail either an ant or beetle pattern behind it. This is basically a dry fly combo, although it’s fine if your dropper (the ant or beetle) floats below the surface in the film. Last week, I was fly fishing in Colorado and talked to a fly fisher who used this combo in a high mountain lake and caught fish after fish on size 14 beetle pattern.

2. The Elk Hair Caddis + Caddis Emerger

This is a dry-wet fly combination which works well in the late spring (when the Caddis start to appear) and then into the summer as the Caddis flies continue to emerge.

I like a size 14 or 16 Elk Hair Caddis as my dry fly. Then, I use some kind of an emerger pattern as the dropper. One of my favorite droppers is a size 14 Red Fox Squirrel Nymph. I’ve had great success with this combo on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley. With this combo, your lead fly acts as a strike indicator. I’ve often tied some synthetic red or white fibers at the top of Elk Hair Caddis so I can distinguish it from all the other Caddis flies on the water.

3. Woolly Bugger + San Juan Worm

My podcast partner, Dave, put me onto this combo. It’s worked well for us in the Driftless region of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin. This is a wet fly combo. Start with a smaller-sized Woolly Bugger (8-10) and then use a San Juan Worm (tied on a size 8-12 scud hook) as dropper. I use a strike indicator and drift it like a nymphing rig. Then, at the end of the drift, I will swing it and strip it back to me.

On the swing and strip, it’s the Woolly Bugger that is effective.

4. Egg Pattern + Copper John

When I’m fly fishing during the rainbow spawning season in the spring, I’ll often turn to this wet-fly combination. I’ll begin with a standard-size egg pattern (12-14) and then use a size 18 Copper John as my dropper. I like a Red Copper John. Or, I’ll use a Dave’s Emerger. This fly was developed by Dave Corcoran, then the owner of The River’s Edge Fly Shop in Bozeman, Montana.

Regardless of which dropper I use, this combo has been lethal during the rainbow run on Montana’s Madison River. It can work, too, during the fall when the browns are running. But continue reading for another dynamite wet-fly combo.

5. Stone Fly + Egg Pattern

Dave and I used this last fall in the Gardner River in the north reaches of Yellowstone National Park. We had outstanding results. Start with a Stone Fly nymph pattern (size 8-10). The options are legion.

A Golden Stone Fly or a Rubberlegs Stone Fly (with a brown or tan body) works quite well. Then, use a standard-size egg pattern (12-14) as the dropper. Last fall, I had a 30-fish morning on the Gardner using this combination. The browns were all between 15 and 20 inches. I estimate that I caught half on the Stone Fly and half on the egg pattern.

6. Beadhead Prince + Pheasant Tail

This wet-fly combo, or some variation of it, may be the standard go to pattern when there is no obvious hatch.

Use a Beadhead Prince Nymph in a size 12-14 as your lead fly. Or go with another standard nymph such as a Hare’s Ear. Then, use a size 18 Pheasant Tail as your dropper. Again, your dropper could be any number of nymphs—such as a Copper John or Zebra Midge.

Remember, two are usually better than one. Try one of these combinations or experiment with some of your own. You’ll likely double your chances of catching the trout which are monitoring the food line you’re fishing.