The Minimalist Fly Box

John Mosovsky says this small collection of flies is all he needs to catch trout anytime, anywhere in the world. Putting together a minimalist fly box of your own is easier than you think.

Minimalism is a growing trend in our culture. It forces us to consider our choices and can be a tool for finding freedom. Can minimalism apply to a fly box? I think so, but only if the box contains patterns with proven track records of success.

The flies in my minimlaist fly box suggest or imitate the lifecycle stages of mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and midges. It also includes patterns for matching scuds, terrestrials, and baitfish. I have flies that cover the entire water column for fishing during all types of weather, times of day, and seasons. It boils down to selecting dry and wet flies, emergers, nymphs, and streamers known to catch fish.

I prefer flies matching the general impression, shape, and size of the most common and vulnerable sources of trout food; sometimes these patterns are referred to as GISS flies. Because size is second only to shape for stimulating a trout’s predatory response, eight of the flies are tied in multiple hook sizes. I also firmly believe in the importance of color as a contributor to the predatory response. To support GISS, I focus on triggers like spent or upright wings, segmentation, rubber legs, flash, and eyes. Putting all these together yields patterns with tactical features like motion, enabling me to use many different fish-catching techniques. I might make changes to the original fly recipes, but usually only to improve durability or floatability. I’m pretty sure, however, that I don’t change the intent of any of the original patterns; as the saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants, so I follow the advice of the pattern creators and give credit where credit is due.

(Read the entire article and get all the fly patterns in the Autumn 2021 issue of Fly Tyer Magazine.)


Variant of Bonnie Harrop’s CDC Rusty Paraspinner
Hook: Tiemco TMC100BL, sizes 20 to 12.
Thread: 10/0 clear Benecchi Ghost Mono.
Tail: Microfibbets or coq de Leon.
Abdomen: Enrico Puglisi EP Trigger Point Fibers—rust, blue/gray, or ginger.
Rib: Veevus Body Quill, BQ08.
Thorax: EP Trigger Point Dub—rust, blue/gray—and SLF Bug Dub, ginger.
Post: Polypropylene yarn, white.
Hackle: Grizzly.

Note: Conventional spent-wing spinner patterns are low floating and difficult to see; this is why I chose the Paraspinner. This design is easy to see, even in poor light and on choppy water. Cutting an exaggerated V in the oversized hackle over the hook eye—and maybe even some behind the post—gives the impression of veined spent wings. Keeping the post short and tying a bulky thorax helps conceal the post from below. Tying the Paraspinner with monofilament thread, EP Fibers and dubbing, and polypropylene yarn makes it waterproof.

Click here to watch how to tie the Paraspinner.

Pheasant Tail & Partridge

Variant of a fly designed by Yvon Chouinard
Hook: Tiemco TMC3769, size 16 or 14.
Bead: Black.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Pheasant tail fibers.
Abdomen: Pheasant tail fibers.
Rib: Copper wire.
Thorax: Ice Dub, peacock.
Hackle: Hungarian partridge.

Note: The soft-hackle wet fly has roots going back to 19th-century Englishmen Frank Sawyer and G.E.M. Skues. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, successfully used nothing but this PT&P wet fly for an entire season all around the world. It mimics many mayfly nymphs and caddisfly pupae as they swim to the surface to hatch. The triggers include undulating partridge fibers and segmentation. Chouinard twitches the fly as it rises from the stream bottom, a familiar technique made popular by James Leisenring and aptly called the “Leisenring lift.”

Click here to watch how to tie the Pheasant Tail & Partridge.

Klinkhamer Special

Variant of Hans van Klinken’s classic pattern
Hook: Daiichi 1160 or Saber 7218, sizes 20 to 14.
Thread: Size 8/0 (70 denier), color to match the abdomen.
Abdomen: Nature’s Spirit Emergence Dubbing— brown, olive, yellow, or tan.
Thorax: Peacock herl.
Wing Post: Polypropylene yarn, dun.
Hackle: Brown.

Note: This parachute emerger was designed in 1984 to imitate a European sedge or North American caddisfly. It is extremely versatile and durable with superb floatability and visibility. Fish it by itself, in a dry/dropper combination, or even sunk as a wet fly at the end of the drift.

Click here to watch how to tie the Klinkhamer Special.

Pheasant-tail Nymph

Variant of the Frank Sawyer classic pattern
Hook: 2X-short nymph hook, size 18 or 16; or, 2X-long nymph hook, size 14.
Bead: Copper.
Underbody: Non-lead wire.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Coq de Leon or pheasant tail fibers.
Abdomen: Pheasant tail fibers.
Rib: Copper.
Thorax: SLF Spikey Squirrel Dubbing, brown.
Collar: Brown cul de canard.

Note: The Pheasant-tail Nymph is perhaps the most famous pattern in the world, and it has spawned an enormous number of variants. The Pheasant-tail Nymph’s popularity is due to its simplicity and ability to imitate many mayfly nymphs. Frank Sawyer, the pattern’s creator, tied this fly using only copper wire and pheasant tail fibers. Nick, his grandson, said, “Minimalism is probably a good way of describing the Sawyer approach to fishing.” I have to admit I’ve strayed pretty far from his simple recipe, but I make no apologies; Sawyer didn’t have the material options we have today. I include the bead, non-lead wire, and collar only on size 14 flies.

Click here to watch how to tie the Pheasant-tail Nymph.

Killer Bug

Designed by Frank Sawyer
Hook: Tiemco TMC3761, size 14.
Thread: Pink 6/0 (140 denier).
Underbody: UTC Ultra Wire, wine.
Body: Grayish-tan wool yarn.

Frank Sawyer designed the Killer Bug to imitate freshwater shrimp and other non-specific aquatic insect larvae. He caught grayling, trout, and salmon using this pattern, so he must have tied it in a range of sizes. His original recipe does not call for heavy wire or a bead head, but adding these is optional. Sawyer cast the Killer Bug upstream, allowed it to sink to the fish’s level, and then raised it using the Leisenring lift.

Click here to watch how to tie the Killer Bug.