A tall order perhaps especially considering the unpredictability of both highland trout and the weather; still, sometimes I think the straight forward approach of just a few flies rather than legions of assorted boxes works better for wild browns. Trout no matter whether they reside in a chalkstream or a remote highland tarn, are creatures low on intellect but high on instincts to survive. To thrive they need to feed and also to 'mind their backs'. This therefore means the fly you throw at them must be vaguely like something they would eat or chase but it must not scare them. Looking through my fly selection I can pick out patterns which consistently fulfil these requirements and taking personal (confidence) and popular (fashion) preferences into account it is possible to narrow a fly choice for wild trout down to a top four for the river and a top four for stillwaters.


1. Partridge & Orange - A sparsely dressed spider pattern which has proved irresistible to river trout for centuries. This simple orange floss bodied fly with a wisp of partridge hackle is an updated version of the old imitation of the February Red, a natural insect common to many northern and Welsh rivers. The 'P&O' is fished wet and is exceptionally versatile anywhere. It could be any olive representation from nymph to spent fly. At a pinch it may even be taken for a shrimp. Often used as a dropper fly rather than on the point.

2. Greenwells Glory - Made especially for use by Canon Greenwell on the Tweed in the mid 1800`s, this fly remains a deadly olive/mayfly imitation as popular on stillwaters as it is on rivers. Many versions of this fly now exist but the original wet version was very simple with yellow silk body well waxed, pale blackbird wing and Coch y Bonddu hackle. The dry version with upright wings is exceptionally useful as is the Greenwells Spider with olive green body and head hackles of medium dark furnace cock hackle. All are deadly.

3. Gold Ribbed Hares Ear - A wonderfully versatile general representation of a nymph for use on any river anywhere. Today it's been adapted to dry and/or loch versions with a wing added but the old simple straggly tying with a body of hares ear well picked out and ribbed with flat gold tinsel is indispensable. Probably originally tied as an olive nymph but accepted by trout as any nymph struggling to get out of its shuck. Often taken as a shrimp as well.

4. March Brown - Though the natural insect this represents has its main burst of hatches in March and April, this fly is a great trout attractor for the whole of the season. Originally tied to represent the natural insect of the same name, this fly can represent sedges, olives, stoneflies, silverhorns and just about any other drowned insect you care to mention. Modern dressings have jazzed up the old March Brown but the original is still very effective with its roots set way back in the 1600s. The body is dubbed hares ear on light brown silk with or without a fine gold wire rib, tail is two or three strands of partridge and the wing hen pheasant quill feather. The Silver March Brown is an excellent all rounder on both river and loch and is particularly effective when fished on the point where it's taken more as a small fish than an insect. The dry March Brown tied with grey body and brown hackle is also a great all rounder.


1. Black Zulu - A very old but extremely successful fly. Seems to follow on from the original Black Palmer of the 14th century or even earlier. Mainly an attractor pattern which stimulates aggression and a smash and grab response. Fish it fast and watch trout lunge at it or simply draw it in on standard medium paced retrieve and look out for confident takes. Best on point or top dropper. Keep the dressing as it was and use a short red wool tail, black wool or seals fur body, palmered hackle or black cock and rib of fine flat silver tinsel. Many variants now exist and these are also deadly as long as they do not stray too far from the original.

2. Great Red Sedge - A wonderfully versatile fly with sedge connotations but capable of stirring up trout at any time. Successful on stillwater when fished on or very near the surface. Large sizes (6 to 10) are great `wake' flies but smaller 12 to 16`s also do the business in most hatches. The dressing should be medium, not bushy but not overly sparse. Body grey mole, body hackle palmered dark red cock hackle, rib gold wire, tail red cock hackle, wing brown speckled hen tied roof shaped rather than upright.

3. Rough Olive - An invaluable fly always during any olive or upwinged hatch, good on river or stillwater. Highly effective for olives and also green drakes mayfly. Can be fished wet or dry or as it lands. Use a good greenish tinge in the body. The dressing is sparse to medium but don't go over the top. - Body olive mole, rib fine gold wire, tail medium olive cock hackle fibres, hackle medium olive hen with a shorter black hen hackle directly behind. The dry version of this fly I use has a small grey upright wing and it is deadly in our northern lochs on an overcast day.

4. Grey Wulff - One of the best green drake mayfly imitations, floats brilliantly even after several hits. The Grey Wulff was devised by Lee Wulff in the 1930s as an answer to the terribly sparse patterns of that period. The result may be slightly incongruous when set against dainty Greenwells, but wild trout do not seem to give a fig about that and take Grey Wulffs down with gusto. Note the dressing I use has an olive coloured head hackle rather than the blue dun. - Tail bucktail, body grey rabbit or angora wool, wing brown bucktail tied upright or split in a V shape, head hackle blue dun cock hackle.