American fly fishing has its roots from the easternmost parts of Maine to the infamous Olympic Peninsula. Many different regions of the country have their fish that are worshipped. Through our praise and devotion towards catching these fish, Americans decided to be resourceful. Flies from the chalk streams of England were modified to fish trout streams and two-handed Spey rods from Scandinavia were brought to cover big water out west. Adaption and perseverance have always been the American way, so it makes sense why some of the most infamous flies in history come from the Land of the Free. In this article, we will talk about five iconic American fly patterns and the history behind them.
Five Iconic American Fly Patterns
The Royal Wulff is a legendary dry fly tied by an equally legendary fly tying innovator and angler, Lee Wulff. This pattern was created by modifying another infamous fly, the Royal Coachman. The Royal Wulff replaced the Coachman’s flimsiness and fragileness on rougher water by implementing new materials. Through this, Wulff was able to increase the buoyancy and has proven itself to be a fantastic dry fly that trout love.
This fly is considered an attractor pattern or “searching fly” and will bring out the worst in trout looking up. The peacock herl body partitioned with red thread or silk gives the Royal Wulff natural flash and a hot spot to attract fish. Either calf tail or bucktail can be used for the wing, both offering great visibility and buoyancy. A densely packed hackle will ensure that the fly rides high to get through the choppiest currents. The Royal Wulff is not going to be the fly you tie on when trout are sipping size 20 BWOs. This is a fly that is thrown to move fish looking to find a decent-sized meal. Fished beside banks, undercuts, and under branches will produce fish by the profile and attractor properties that this fly brings to the table.
Below is a video courtesy of InTheRiffle and Charlie Craven that details how to tie this infamous dry fly pattern.
Elk Hair Caddis
The Elk Hair Caddis is one of the most well-known and efficient caddisflies to ever hit the market. Today, many variations exist, such as the X-Caddis, but Al Troth’s original has stood the test of time exceptionally. The fly first came into the public’s eye in 1978 when it was featured in an article in Fly Tyer. First tied as a wet fly for Pennsylvania streams, Troth quickly noticed it served far better as a dry fly due to its buoyancy. The Elk Hair Caddis is loved by fly fishers everywhere because of the multitude of ways it can be fished, as well as the efficiency that comes with these techniques. It can be stripped, swung, and dead drifted, all of which are extremely effective when trout are eating adult caddis on the surface during hatches.
Once proportions and density of elk hair are understood, tying the Elk Hair Caddis is simple and quick. Selecting different colored dubbing also allows several different caddis variations, such as an orange body to imitate October caddis. Selecting a properly sized hackle is also very important to profile and the effectiveness of this fly. Be sure to take your time and do not be discouraged if a few turn out looking like a toddler tied them.
Below is another video by Charlie Craven which details the importance of density and proportions to make your Elk Hair Caddis fish at optimal performance.
Kelly Galloup is a name that many fly tyers know by heart. His years of innovation at the vise have brought us many patterns that hold as staples in many angler’s fly boxes. Galloup’s Dungeon is a streamer pattern that brings out the worst in big hungry trout. The versatility of this fly is second to none. Various color combinations of the dungeon allow for imitations of different food items, specifically sculpin and crawfish.
A key feature in this fly is the articulation that allows for superb movement, even when sitting in the current. The Dungeon’s ability to do this triggers a predatory and reactionary response in fish, especially when selected in brighter colors such as yellow or white. In the past eight years, this fly has changed the streamer game and has opened many anglers’ eyes to the importance of movement and profile when targeting trophy trout. Tying The Dungeon is difficult, but worth the time spent behind the vise. Through practice and working with deer hair, your overall skill will be greatly improved, and patience inevitably learned.
Below is an in-depth video of Kelly Galloup tying this iconic American streamer pattern.
Kaufmann’s Stimulator, more commonly referred to as The Stimulator, is a dry fly that serves as an adult stonefly or general attractor pattern. The origins of this fly are somewhat grey, as Jim Slattery claims to have tied this pattern first to fish the Musconetcong River in central New Jersey in 1980. Randall Kaufmann modified Slattery’s Stimulator but kept the name of the NYC punk-rock group. This version stuck, and for good reason. Comparably, this is similar to the Elk Hair Caddis but with an extended body providing even more buoyancy. Riding high in the water allows Kaufmann’s Stimulator to be fished in rough water and soft water, from big western rivers to small native brook trout streams in Maine.
The versatility of this fly is unmatched. Hackle and the buoyancy of a cork allow Kaufmann’s Stimulator to be dead drifted, swung, or stripped in. Twitches on the surface will imitate a stonefly struggling during a hatch, or even a distressed insect that can sense its fate. Proportions for hackle and the wing are very important for this fly to ensure it rides properly in the water but taking your time will resolve those issues. Nearly every ingredient for Kaufmann’s Stimulator promotes high buoyancy and even if a problem arises while tying, bring it onto the river and see what the trout think.
In the video below, InTheRiffle gives a great demonstration of how to tie Kaufmann’s Stimulator, one of the tops producing dry flies in history.
There may be no single fly more infamous than the Woolly Bugger. This fly will catch anything that swims. The body of the Woolly Bugger allows it to take the appearance of nearly any small food item. Different fishing situations will show the versatility of this fly, and its productivity is a testament to why it has been a staple in guides and anglers fly boxes alike since 1984. Russell Blessing created this legendary fly to imitate the dobsonfly larvae on his home water smallmouth bass streams near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, but it proved to also work incredibly on trout.
Today, the Woolly Bugger has remained relatively unchanged, and for good reason. This fly can be stripped, swung, dead drifted, and twitched. Any technique allows you to imitate different food items such as stoneflies, small baitfish, leeches, crawfish, and more. Tying the Woolly Bugger is easy, but it is always important to keep proportions in mind when selecting hackle and tail lengths. The versatility of this fly is the reason for it being one of the most used trout flies to exist. Anglers of any skill level can effectively fish this Woolly Bugger, only increasing with time and practice.
Below we have a video from Svend Diesel on how to tie the Woolly Bugger, one of the most infamous flies in the history of the sport.
Those are five iconic American fly patterns and some of the top-producing flies of all time. Carrying these flies in your box will undoubtedly produce more fish and will provide confidence even during the slowest days. The versatility and overall profile of these flies are what has helped them become a few of the most notorious in history. Half of the battle in fly fishing is selecting flies and techniques, and this article should have made your job a bit easier the next time you are on the water.