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A.K.’s Favorite Flies

Everyone who ties trout flies knows A. K. Best. In this special article, the legendary tier picks his favorite patterns for fishing his home state of Colorado.

[bu A.K. Best]

I’ve lived in Colorado since 1980 and have fly fished many of the streams in our beautiful state. It seems that each year more folks come here to do the same thing. When I worked in a fl y shop during the early years, the most common question was, “What’s hatching?” I no longer work in a flyshop, but I still get the same question through emails and phone calls. Whether you are planning your first visitor have already fished in Colorado and were confused about the hatches,I hope what follows will answer this question for you. The flies I have selected cover most of the situations you are likely to encounter on tailwaters, mountain lakes, and freestone mountain streams.

Midges Hatch All Year

Midges are on the water year-round. River trout are used to seeing them and will happily sipin a Black Midge most of the season; have cream midge imitations for fishing lakes and ponds. Olive midges begin hatching sometime after the middle of the year and can be masking hatches of black midges and blue-winged olives. On tailwaters, look for dun midges a few miles downstream.

Global climate change has come toColorado. Blue winged olives used to begin hatching around late February and last into the first two weeks of November, but for the past two or more years, they have begun emerging in late January and last until December. The early BWO hatches are darker in color than the flies in the accompanying photographs, and as the sun gets higher in the sky in late spring and during the summer months, their color begins lightening. As autumn sets in, their color darkens again. If you are a “colorist”like me, this can bean important bit of information.

The early blue-winged olive hatches (January through March) are also a size larger, so you will need a few size 16 flies. In late fall,you’ll want size 24 and even size 26. Use the same pattern designs listed in the recipes,but change material proportions. You will find blue-winged olives hatching on all tailwater and freestone streams throughout Colorado.

More Mayflies

Red quills hatch throughoutColorado. Use the Western RedQuill for fishing on the Western Slope of theRockies. There is another version of the same fly hatching on the eastern slope; the imitation has a gray tail and hackle. Know where you will fish—east or west—and tie the matching pattern.

The red quill hatches begin in May and linger into October. The hatch progresses in elevation as the season progresses. A Red QuillParachute, tied in size 18, is my go-to fly when there is no hatch and I don’t want to rig up to fish nymphs; it almost always catches trout.

Pale morning duns often emerge with the hatches of ged olives and green drakes. These can all happen me time, and the trout will switch to feeding on one or the other insect at any moment. The accompanying pattern is what I call my “standard” PMD, but I tie it in different color variations. The Fryingpan River contains two body color variations. One version near the dam at Ruedi Reservoir has a bright, neon green body; the other below the Taylor Creek inlet, which flows from a red rock canyon, has a body that is rusty pink. All the insects below this junction contain a tinge of rust in their bodies.

Look for green drakes in rapids as well as in smooth pools. I often clip all the bottom hackle off the imitation so that it sets flat on the water. Clipping the bottom hackle can also prevent the fl y from spinning and the tippet from twisting when casting.

Drunella Flavelinea is not an immature green drake, although it does look much like a green drake when flying over the stream. It begins emerging during the green drake hatch, but it is a size smaller. If you’re not getting any action from your Green Drake pattern, switch to the smaller Flavelinea. For some reason, trout often prefer one pattern to the other, so you should have both in your fly box.

I should say a word about caddis flies. Caddis begin hatching in the spring and continue into late fall. There are several color variations of caddis flies, but I’ve found the following two are all that I need for any stream fishing. I’ve caught trout on the yellow St. Vrain from Denmark to Vermont;that color works well, and it is easy to see on the water.

Beyond Match the Hatch

What can I say that hasn’t been said about the wonderful Royal Coachman? The only change I suggest is to use a white turkey T-base feather for the wings. Cut out the center quill for a distance equal to the length of the hook shank, fold back the remaining fibers until each side is equal to the length of the shank, and proceed as you would when tying with calftail hair. This version of the Royal Coachman is much lighter in weight, and you don’t need to stack hair. Fish this fly on any broken water when there is no hatch.

You should also have some standard Adams duns and parachutes in sizes 20 through 12. “When in doubt, tie on anAdams,” is an expression that is true; it’s heard on just about every trout stream in America. An Adams works almost everywhere.

If you insist on nymph fishing, you’ll need nothing more than Hare’s-Ear and Pheasant-Tail Nymphs. I assume you don’t need recipes for these common patterns. That’s a down-and-dirty peek inside my fl y box. I carry a few other patterns, but these are the flies you must tie before visiting Colorado.


Regardless of where you fish, if you use these flies, you will catch fish. A. K. Best is one of our best-known fly tiers. He has contributed articles to our magazine over the years, and we are glad he has returned. A.K. teaches fly tying and appears at shows and clubs across the United States.