Search Pattern Flies

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Scotty MacFly 10 months ago.

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    Scotty MacFly

    Ok, someone please explain what those are. I don’t get the idea behind it. Are they flies you use to search for trout? Wouldn’t any fly do that? Because what I’m picturing is you use a specific fly to search for trout, then when you find the trout you change flies and use what you want to use.

    Personally, I think it’s a bunch of BS for the moment, unless this is explained to me.



    Some consider an Adams a searching fly, so i’m safe. I search with it and then continue to catch with it. 😀



    I’d thought of a searching fly as something like a Royal Wulff – looks like nothing in particular but when fished correctly its behavior on the water mimics a real bug so a fish will hopefully come up for a look even though it might or might not take it. If you see a fish taking an interest in it but not eating then you’d switch to a more realistic fly.

    A lot of extra effort IMO. I’m with you guys – fish something that looks more like a real insect in the first place. Unless it’s a lightly fished creek with minimal insect life and the fish really will take the Wulff as readily as they will an Adams (or a beetle, etc) then why not use something easy to see on the water.


    Scotty MacFly

    Exactly my thought Grs. I like the Royal Wulff, it does well, especially as an attractor with an Adams or ant trailing.
    Creek, you have re right mind set.

    I read about searching patterns and have always wondered how contradictory ( that’s a big word for me ) that is to matching the hatch. If the search fly is hooking fish, great, but flies like that are the last chosen by me to use. In fact, I don’t tie any.

    Just match the hatch or throw an Adams.😄

    I swear, the fancy descriptions fly fishers give things. A strike indicator is a bobber, no matter what its made of.



    The Wulff is an attractor fly. I always considered that different from a searching fly. The difference being what the trout thinks it is when it strikes.



    I swear, the fancy descriptions fly fishers give things.


    OK, one final thought on the origin of the term “searching” pattern – in fishing for Atlantics it’s common to use a large fly on your first pass thorough the pool. The idea is to get fish that are holding or resting before continuing upriver to show an interest in something (it could be a short strike, a boil just behind the fly, a lazy follow, even just a slight repositioning in their lie) Then once an interested fish is spotted you go back with another pattern (usually a smaller version of the fly the fish moved for the first time)



    Here’s some opinions from well known fisherman on what a searching fly is.

    Steve Hemkens—Divisional Merchandising Manager, Orvis Rod & Tackle:
    FC Crackleback. There isn’t a more versatile fly out there that can be fished as an attractor. Once it starts to drag, you can pull it under, swing it, skip, and then strip it back. It takes fish every way imaginable. Alternates: Tan Elk-Hair Caddis andParachute Adams.

    Brian O’Keefe—editor of Catch magazine and well known photographer:
    Partridge Caddis. This fly covers many caddisfly variations and can work as a “near-enough” mayfly in riffles. I have been known to twitch it underwater and strip it like a streamer/emerger. It is just edible.

    Greg Senyo—owner of Steelhead Alley Outfitters:
    Parachute Adams. A great fly capable of matching several different types of insects, and it’s also easy on the eyes while fishing and an easy fly to tie when you need it.

    Tom Rosenbauer—host of the Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast and well known author:
    Dry used to be either Parachute Adams or Parachute Hare’s Ear, and I still use them a lot, but I think the Stimulator has edged itself into my top searching dry. Why? First, I find them more satisfying to tie and actually a little quicker. Even though a Stimmy has more parts, they always seem to go together better. Second, if you tie the wing properly—high and wide, as Randall Kaufmann suggests—the fly is more visible than the parachute flies, and the elk hair and palmered hackle keep the fly floating higher and longer. Third, the more I study trout, especially small-stream trout, and the importance of terrestrial insects, the more I lean toward bigger flies. Since trout seldom see one kind of terrestrial in any great numbers, combined with the fact that they are opportunistic feeders, given the opportunity they will take the largest fly they recognize as food. And although the Stimmy is a fine imitation of stoneflies and hoppers, it can also look like a big wasp or horsefly or beetle with its wings still outstretched. (Beetles fly into the water more often than they fall, and their wings are usually exposed.) And, finally, trout eat a lot of moths from very early in the season until early winter, and the Stimmy makes a wonderful moth imitation.

    Drew Price—Vermont-based guide and warmwater specialist:
    Parachute Adams, size 16. This fly works like a charm for me! It doesn’t seem to matter what is hatching, but if you use this fly in an appropriate size, it will catch fish. I usually even simplify it to just a grizzly hackle (eliminating the brown) when tying it.

    Dave Kumlien—director of Trout Unlimited Aquatic Invasive Species program:
    Parachute Adams. The PA is a decent attractor pattern and a fairly good imitation for the blue-winged olive hatches, will sometimes suffice for a PMD, works during the caddisfly hatches, and in very small sizes can be fished as a Trico. I reserve the right to change sizes on this pattern, but if it’s one dry fly for the season, the Parachute Adams would be it.

    Frank Smethurst—Colorado-based guide, rep, raconteur, and star of film and TV:
    Turck’s Tarantula. I don’t even have to think about this one. This fly is such a scorching attractor, and can often convince even tailwater fish to come up and grab it. It is also a great fly when animated, and even a terrific streamer and diver. That it’s also buoyant enough to hold up all sorts of droppers is great, too.

    Larry Kenney—co-founder, Scott Fly Rod Co. and fiberglass-rod builder:
    Black Humpy, size 16. When I was in my 20s, two friends and I bought abut 40 dozen of these when a fly-fishing business in San Francisco folded up. They were the “learning” efforts of the company’s going-nowhere fly-tying operation and were dirt cheap at the bankruptcy auction. Too dumb and poor to know better, we fished them almost exclusively for years in Northern California and did surprisingly well.

    Alternates: Royal Wulff, size 14. If this offends you, I’m shattered. Parachute Adams, size 16. Nothing surprising here, but they all pull up fish, and they’re all easy to see, something my aging eyes appreciate.

    Brant Oswald—Livingston, Montana-based guide:
    My concept of a searching pattern is that it should resemble as many common food forms as possible—not an exact imitation of anything, but a pattern that suggests a wide range of natural foods. This is what makes it work in all seasons and at various times of day and in a variety of different waters. Still, picking a single favorite dry fly is difficult, as I spend a lot of time fishing spring creeks and tailwaters, and they demand a different searching pattern than a freestone stream.

    Over the course of my fishing career, an Al Troth-style Elk Hair Caddis has definitely caught me more fish than any other dry-fly pattern. The pattern is a good imitation of small stoneflies, as well as caddisflies, and it suggests a variety of terrestrials, as well. (In the last few seasons, I have been using a Rubber Leg Stimulator even more, for all of the same reasons.) On spring creeks and tailwaters, a Sparkle Dun is my choice. This pattern represents a variety of mayflies (and other surface food), and it has all of the features of a great all-around pattern—simple, durable, floats well, and it combines the effectiveness of an emerger with the visibility of a dun pattern.

    Barry Beck—Pennsylvania-based photographer and guide:
    Large black foam beetle with rubber legs. This is a great indicator fly if I want to tie on a nymph below, and it has brought more big trout to the surface than any other dry fly that I’ve ever fished.

    Jim Bartschi—president, Scott Fly Rod Co.:
    PMX, size 10. This is a great attractor that can imitate caddisflies, Stoneflies, and terrestrials, and it just plain looks buggy floating down a bank or good riffle. It’s got all the hallmarks of a great attractor, from the parachute hackle to the rubber legs to the peacock hurl body, and it’s very buoyant if you want to drop your favorite searching nymph off the back.

    Matt Supinski—owner Gray Drake Outfitters:
    Brown Foam Flying Ant. Regardless where you are and what hatches are taking place, trout love ants to death!

    Cathy Beck—Pennsylvania-based photographer and guide:
    Parachute Adams, sizes 10 through 22. Effective anywhere in the world, buggy colors, and it can be taken as a dun or a spinner.

    MidCurrent Fly Fishing


    Scotty MacFly


    I like your definition Grs.

    Creek, just….wow.



    Scotty……..I put a lot of thought into choosing the Adams as an only fly. That also includes the para version. I didn’t choose it because I like it’s looks. Although I do like it’s looks. 😀

    Let’s take the Arkansas River as an example. Since I live on it and fish it mostly.

    Spring starts with Blue Wing Olive
    Later comes the Pale Morning Dun
    After that comes the Red Quill
    Late summer comes the Green Drake
    Fall comes the Blue Wing Olive again

    So, with the overlaps between these hatches there’s always mayflies hatching. The Adams covers all of them, except for color. I’ve come to the conclusion that color isn’t important by how well the Adams works during all these different hatches. They all look the same from the bottom.

    This works on all the freestone rivers near me including the creeks. Fly fishing doesn’t need to be complicated. Have faith in your decision and focus on presenting that fly as perfect as possible every time. It’s fun and it works. Never boring.


    Scotty MacFly

    I can see why you like the Adams so well. I will admit I never fished it much till I came on this forum, but you have convinced me soon after joining that the Adams is an incredible fly. It has since then had a spot in my box.

    I just never thought of it as a search pattern fly or an attractor. I would use big colorful flies like the Royal Wulff or Coachman as an attractor, followed by a fly that I feel is more specialized like an Adams matching the hatch in size.

    But it seems to me that really any fly that you/me, anyone has a lot of faith in can be a search fly. But then why call it a search fly if it’s working from the beginning.

    Search fly/ attractor fly, whatever you want to call them, if it catches fish, why the special name? Special name or not, it’s still the same fly. It’s a fly that is used all the time, nothing really sets it on it’s own.

    I just don’t get why fishermen like to give special titles to things, ha ha .



    The Adams matches no hatch. It’s just a general mayfly shape. There’s no mayfly that looks exactly like the Adams like the BWO does as an example. The Adams works for all mayflies, but looks like none of them.

    The Adam can also pass for a flying caddis and a midge. Trim the Adams and it’s a caddis.

    Let me ask a question. If you search with a Royal Wulff and get a strike. What fly do you then tie on? What did it tell you the fish want? All it told you is the fish want a Royal Wulff. Maybe they don’t really want it, but strike it out of aggressiveness and don’t really want anything. Is that a searching fly or an attractor fly? Some guys fish just attractor flies. They aren’t trying to match any hatch. They just want the fish to attack an attractor. Spin fishing lures do the same thing.


    Scotty MacFly

    If I was fishing a R.W., and a fish takes it for whatever reason, and they keep on taking it, I’m not changing to another fly. That would be dumber than…..well, me.
    Like the saying goes, if it aint broke, don’t fix it. So why change flies if they are taking the R.W.?

    Like you said, the Adams matches no hatch, it’s a general mayfly shape. Right?

    So I would take an attractor fly like the R.W., big and colorful, and team it with a Adams following, but match the hatch in size. So I want the Adams to match in size to whatever is floating around, though it doesn’t match any hatch. I’m just going for size here. If the real mayflies are matching a size 14, I don’t want to be fishing a size 18 Adams, I want my fly to be a 14. Maybe the R.W. would be a 10 to attract the fish, getting it’s attention, then here comes my Adams, same size as the real deal. I’m expecting the Adams to be hit, not really the R.W., but it can happen.

    But you nailed what my little brain is thinking creek, when you said if I search with a R.W.. and get a strike, what fly do I put on?

    I already have it on by what the fish tell me. But I guess what I’m saying is, and probably not understanding is this, I never understood why some flies are called search flies, flies that get the fishes attention. But there are times when a search fly doesn’t work. A fish is going to take what it wants when it wants, no matter the fly, whether it hit the fly out of hunger, or aggression.

    I guess to me a fly is a fly. Nothing more or less. And if it’s working, stick with it. Why complicate the matter?

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