Thinking Outside the (Fly) Box

by K. Christopherson

(Ed. note - this article first appeared on, April 2001)

You all know the drill. You're flyfishing one of those famous rivers full of large trout, which happen to be very smart. The way some people talk, these trout graduated from Harvard with a PhD in fly identification. So, like everyone else, you put on your fluorocarbon tippet and masterfully-tied size 22 midge nymph. But today, nothing is happening — no hits, no strikes, you're out of luck.

Now is the time to try something completely different.

Try a big fly, or something really bright — yes, something you've never used on this river before.

Wyoming fishing flies

Last summer, I had some revelations about this. First, I had browns on one stretch of river strike my fluorescent pink strike indicator twice. I don't mean they nuzzled it; they latched on to it, they had their teeth around it. So I started tying some bright pink flies.

Next, we had two separate visits from Canadian friends, both flyfishermen. They brought along their heavy rods and big flies. Not wanting to insult them, I didn't say anything about their style. Out on the river, I would be using a size 18 dry, an Adams or other favorite. Both of these Canadians would tie on a size 2 or 4 streamer or wet fly. And guess what? They caught almost as many trout as I did!

Wyoming fishing flies Thinking outside the box can help you catch large fish on slow days (Photo courtesy Al Marlowe)

The trend in recent years seems to be towards fly imitations of nymphs or dries of winged insects, with the occasional terrestrial thrown in. What happened to the large streamers of yesteryear? Do we forget that trout enjoy eating smaller fish, minnows, fry and the like? I know you have a woolly bugger in your fly box, but let's get a little more creative than that. Most trout don't see that many large flies. When they do, they should view your large fly as a meal that's easier than going after hundreds of midges or nymphs.