The weeks, months or years of anticipation of casting a fly in new waters is part of the rush that comes with destination fly fishing. Checking boxes on your check list will eventually get you to the box marked for "fly patterns." I have often noticed anglers on fly fishing blogs asking what flies will be needed in a certain locale. The answers start pouring in from good samaritan, web-based experts. On one site I frequent, that question may attract hundreds of replies.
How can the inquiring angler separate good advice from the wannabe, keyboard commandos. Truth is there might be some solid advice along with some well-intended, but clueless intel from a sport from Utah who has never seen the ocean, but still offers advice about what flies you need for Costa Rican roosters.
I am not slamming the fly shops, either, but they're in the business to sell flies, and filling a fly box with tarpon flies for your trip to the Lower Keys based on recommendations from a great steelhead angler in Lewiston, Idaho might not be the best strategy before hopping a plane for your dream trip.
An example is any time someone asks what fly they should take to a saltwater destination, 99 percent of the time someone will suggest a Clouser minnow, or regurgitate other staple flies that have been around since the beginning of fly fishing. Don't get me wrong, the Clouser may still be a great fly (I always have some with me), but if you dig deeper there's probably a better pattern available.
Some patterns that have worked well decades ago earned a well-deserved reputation and were among the best of their day, but things change. At some point you may be casting a "Gotcha" fly to a permit that has seen dozens of similar ones and learned to avoid them.
Some flies are very general in nature and do not accurately mimic the food source in a certain water. The Adams mayfly pattern will catch trout on any given day, but if anglers dig a little deeper, they can improve over a fly like an Adams. I have a selection of time-tested staples, but I catch more fish with modern patterns. Those standard flies are handy to give my partner while I catch fish on the new, improved patterns and leave them guessing.
With the new, synthetic materials combined with the skill of today's fly tiers, I believe in most cases there is a better mouse trap when it comes to fly selection.
Go to the source.
There is no better advice than from the angler or guide that has been casting flies to fish at your destination. I am not talking about a guy has been there once, I am talking about the angler who lives to fish those waters. Local fly pattern knowledge is a big factor in your quest for fly fishing glory.
I spent hours on the phone and countless emails corresponding with the outfitters we are partnered with, as well as the anglers that live to fish those waters. Small details in the size and color of a well-known pattern can be a great help. But local, real-time knowledge also helps understand what has, or is, working. Another example that made a big difference was a phone call I recently had with Thomas, the owner/guide of Bahia Rica in Costa Rica, He takes great pride in staying in tune with the current food source and trends of the giant roosters and big-eye trevally in his waters. With his real-time advice I was able to tie sardine patterns the exact size of the food source. Not only that, I added a few new color combinations to the bait fish patterns I was sending with our client. If I had not been in touch with Thomas my sardine patterns would have been an inch or two long, and I would have missed some colors.
Be careful with fly pattern trends
I have always believed fly pattern trends come and go depending on the angler or anglers who set them. Some fly pattern trends seem to never die. Some stay valid because the fly still catches fish, but some trends are started based on rumors or poor advice.
A trend may be time sensitive, meaning a pattern is good only during certain times of the year, or during a specific fishing condition. The advice to implement chartreuse into my shrimp pattern came from an angler who lives and fishes this water 200 days a year. I believe that's a reason to jump on the chartreuse shrimp pattern trend,.
Learn the food source
An example of this is a destination to the flats of Mexico or Belize, Permit and bonefish will be eating crabs and shrimp, so it stands to reason that you have crab and shrimp patterns. A river may have a population of stonefly, caddis and mayflies, so it makes sense to fill your fly box with the patterns that match the insects that will be active when you are there.
With some input from local experts, you can put together a fly selection that covers the size, weight and color of the food source you will be imitating. Keep it simple, but have a selection that will cover this food source in a number of fishing conditions. You can overthink a fly box to death, and it is nearly impossible to have all the great patterns available today.
I typically use my experience and the advice from locals when collecting my flies for a trip. My fly pattern selection will have some of the time-tested staples of the past and present, along with some cool, innovative patterns of today and my own patterns that evolve on every trip..