Mike Pawlawski
January 11, 2023

These bugs will cover 99% of what you'll face in your spring fly fishing.

Have your fly box stocked with these bugs and you'll be ready to kick off the spring season this year.

Spring is a magical season for fly anglers. The brutal cold of winter gives way and the air and water start to warm up. Meanwhile, the first hatches of the year signal that trout season is underway. As springtime weather stabilizes aquatic insects begin to thrive, Chironomids, blue-winged olives, stoneflies, and March browns start to appear. For those of us who love to fly fish, it's time to knock off that winter rust, break out our spring flies, and go to work on some early-season trout.

The flies I'm about to share can create a magical spring fly box. The key point to remember is that all of these flies catch trout. Choose the bugs that give you the most confidence. Add them to your spring trout flies and fish them with absolute belief.

First Hatches-

Skwalas (stonefly)

On some rivers, the Skwala hatch is the first sign of spring. Skwalas are a small stonefly in size 8-10. The hatch is triggered by water temps. As the river hits 45-49 degrees, Skwalas start their migration to the banks. Since it happens pre-runoff, unless you're checking water temps daily, you could easily miss it.

Unlike a lot of stoneflies, Skwalas don't fly much. Many of the females crawl back onto the river when it's time to lay their eggs.

These big bugs are a great way to "break the ice" and bust out your big stonefly and attractor patterns to cast at rising trout.

I know several fly anglers who have traveled from stream to stream chasing the Skwala hatch between late February in California and early May in Montana.

If you live in the west and have a shot at these early season stones for your first spring fly fishing here are the bugs you'll want to carry.

Best Bugs for your Box


Pat's Rubber Legs

If your local rivers have stoneflies this is a great bug.

Pat's Rubber Legs is a must have fly if you fish any river with stoneflies. For Skwalas look for olive and brown flies in size 8-10. My nymph box is never without at least a dozen of these in varying sizes.

20 Incher Stonefly

This is a great searching pattern any time of the year. In the spring when Skwalas are active it is absolute money. The combination of peacock hurl and active legs get their attention.

If trout are eating stonefly nymphs they won't pass on this bug.

Dry Flies

Rogue Foam Stone

This is an awesome pattern for any stonefly hatch. It rides low but will float all day long. There's enough going on that you can twitch it and trigger strikes or just dead drift it and let the pattern work it's magic.

In early spring you can fish it as a Skwala and late spring or early summer you can use it as a golden stone. I have caught more fish on this bug during stonefly hatches than any other pattern.

Henry's Fork Foam Stone

This is a great pattern that combines the best of the Chernobyl ant and traditional foam stonefly patterns. It fishes low in the water and draws strikes.

In the summer you can use it as a searching pattern with great success too.


Though there aren't as many mayfly hatches to choose from when you're chasing spring trout, there are a couple different flavors that produce consistently. As early spring trout get fired up, you'll want to focus on these bugs.

One of my favorite spring trout flies is the March brown or Western March brown. While they are elegant and graceful as adults, they are a total train wreck as they emerge.

Their transformation from nymph to dun happens underwater. This means as they emerge they are all legs and wings and often get caught in the surface film. They look like such easy prey you can almost hear the trout laughing as they slurp them from the surface film.

During both phases they are great trout food. The adults make for some of the best dry fly fishing of the year.

Blue winged olives are also a staple for early spring fly fishing. Baetis love unsettled weather. In the spring or early summer if you get clouds or a light rain BWO's won't be far behind.

These are the bugs that I always carry for my spring fishing.


Pheasant Tail Nymph

In my opinion, the pheasant tail and it's offshoots are some of the best trout flies ever tied. That's why I have several versions of the PT on this list.

Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph

The Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph looks like the PT and the Hare's Ear had a baby.  2 great nymph flies in one outstanding bug!

This is a great spring bug. Dead drift it near the bottom as your point or use it as a lead fly and it'll be one of your favorite emerger flies. Many fly fishers want a bunch of options for a hatch. I want one that I can focus-in and fish hard. If I only had one go-to nymph for the March brown hatch this would be it.

Carry a range of sizes from 12-20 and you can cover almost any mayfly hatch you'll ever encounter. Use it in 12-14 for March browns and 16-20 for BWO's.


In early spring before the warm weather it pays to have this bug in your line up.

The Frenchie made it's name as a go to bug in competitive fly fishing. It was one of the premier flies for Euro nymphing. It's really nothing more than an underdressed and weighted pheasant tail with a hot spot. It works well as a blue winged olive.

That said, on a dead drift the Frenchie is one of the best spring trout flies going. Fish it on a floating line with an indicator or run it in a contact nymphing setup. Either way, it's a trout-catching machine.

I like the Frenchie in size 14-20 to handle all of my mayfly patterns and in sizes 16-20 for BWO hatches.

Dry Flies

Parachute Pheasant Tail

All of the goodness of a PT nymph in a dry fly. The parachute style makes it fish like an emerger. There is absolutely nothing not to love about this fly! Keep a bunch in your box for the next March brown hatch.

If you tie, add a fuzzy hare's ear thorax and you get what I'd call a Parachute Polish Pheasant Tail. Like a PT and Hare's ear had a baby, 2 Great tastes that taste great together!

In size 12-14 it's the perfect March brown imitation. Go with size 16- 20 to cover everything else.

Quigley Cripple

The Quigley Cripple is a fantastic dry fly for small mayfly hatches. This bug belongs in the trout flies hall of fame.

Trout love cripples because they're so easy to eat. The Quigley cripple is one of the originals and still one of the best. Don't leave home with out it. Size 12-14 for March brown hatches and 16-20 will cover the BWO's.


Polish Pupa

I often fish my caddis pupas like wet flies since fish will grab them on the lift.

I developed this bug in the early 90's. You won't find it in your local fly shop. It takes the concept of Gary LaFontaine's Sparkle Pupa and makes it more lifelike and pleasing to the eye. Fish absolutely love it.

Think of it as a caddis soft hackle and fish it with confidence. It works great on a drag free drift and exceptionally well on the swing. You can't go wrong however you fish it.

Here's a decent substitute.

Morrish Super Pupa

I never fish straight caddis larva. This pupa pattern is a good backup for me in case I run out of my Polish Pupa. Get it in size 14-18 in both green and tan to cover every hatch.

Dry Flies

CDC Deer Hair Caddis

CDC and deer hair float way beter than the old school elk hair caddis.  As a bonus the body sits in the film and looks like a cripple or emerger.

Deer hair and CDC make this fly float like a cork but the body still rides low. Trout can't resist.

Cutter Caddis

Ralph Cutter was an absolute student of bugs and fish behavior. This is one of the best caddis patterns ever tied. Trout can't resist a well-fished Cutter Caddis when they're eating adult or emerging insects.


Since midges are one of the only insects available to trout year-round it's no surprise they are a great choice for spring. Keep several midges ready for fishing any time of year and you always have an option.

Zebra Midge

From spring creeks to big rivers midge flies consistently produce.

Sometimes simple is sexy. More trout have been caught on the Zebra Midge than maybe all other midge patterns combined. It's a great fly.

Disco Midge

Tie one on when you're fishing midges but feel like you need a little bling.

Griffiths Gnat

A fantastic fly that looks like a midge cluster. It has been my go-to midge dry fly for years.

Antonio's Quill Midge

A great profile and the CDC wing makes this little bug easy to see.

And now for the rest...

These aren't necessarily flies for spring but they fill in the gaps. When water temperatures are cold many rivers won't give up their secrets. That's when I tie on an attractor pattern or prospecting pattern and figure it out.

San Juan Worm or Squirmy Worm

Real worms breathe through their skin, which is weird. But it only works because normal soil is about 50% air. When it rains, water displaces the air in the soil and oxygen diffuses about a thousand times slower. That means worms either come up for air or drown underground.

In heavy rains or snow melts where the ground is saturated those worms can get washed into nearby streams and become trout food. That's why the San Juan Worm and even better the Squirmy Worm are some of the best spring trout flies you can carry in your fly box.

I get that some people don't love using worms, count me in that group, but they are really fishy and crazy effective so I include them here. If you are just starting out and don't know where to go for a fly make the squirmy worm one of your bugs and fish it hard.

Prince Nymph

Prince nymphs have been one of the most productive flies for years. You should always have an assortment in your box from size 14-18, PERIOD. They are a great prospecting fly when you can't figure out the hatch.

Ray Charles Nymph

If you're fishing a tailwater you can likely replace the stoneflies with this cress bug imitation. It's a killer pattern that has served me well on many tailwater rivers.


This assortment will get you in the game. Whatever flies you choose, fish them with confidence. Believing that you will catch fish keeps you dialed in and that focus will help you catch more fish.

Quick List of Flies from this blog!

  • Pat's Rubber Legs
  • 20 Incher Stonefly
  • Rogue Foam Stone
  • Henry's Fork Foam Stone
  • Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph
  • Frenchie
  • Parachute Pheasant Tail
  • Quigley Cripple
  • Polish Pupa
  • Morrish Super Pupa
  • CDC Deer Hair Caddis (not to be confused with elk hair caddis)
  • Cutter Caddis
  • Zebra Midge
  • Disco Midge
  • Griffiths Gnat
  • Antonio's Quill Midge
  • San Juan Worm or Squirmy Worm
  • Prince Nymph
  • Ray Charles Nymph

About the Author

Mike Pawlawski is a former pro quarterback and world-class fly fisherman who has dedicated his life to sharing his passion for the great outdoors with others. After an 11 year playing career starting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL and ending with the San Francisco Demons of the XFL, Mike hosted his own fly fishing show, "Familiar Waters," for 15 years. The Show took viewers to some of the most iconic fly fishing destinations in the world, including the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, the rugged rivers of the Rocky Mountains, and the expansive beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, Mike shared his knowledge and expertise with viewers, offering tips and tricks for fly fishing success and enjoying the beauty of the great outdoors.

For fly fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts looking for guidance and inspiration, Mike Pawlawski is the perfect choice. With his vast experience and expertise, he is a trusted and respected voice in the world of fly fishing, and his passion for the great outdoors is contagious. Whether you're a seasoned pro or a beginner looking to learn the ropes, Mike is the perfect guide to help you experience the beauty and excitement of fly fishing.

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