By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
During one of my first seasons as a fly fishing guide in the mid-1990s, I remember sitting on the tailgate with a veteran Yellowstone River guide. We’d just wrapped up a day of guiding. He admitted to me his disdain for the salmonfly hatch. “It’s so anticlimactic, overblown and over-hyped,” he told me.
“It’s after the salmonfly hatch that I love,” my friend continued. “It is the golden stoneflies, yellow sallies, pale morning duns, caddis and spruce moths that get my blood pumping.”
He’s got a good point.
The salmonflies garner much of the hype on our local waters these next few weeks, but after the big bugs hatch, that doesn’t mean it’s time to put away the fly floatant and your reach cast. The coming weeks are perhaps the best of the year for catching trout on dry flies, so be sure to have some of the following patterns in your vest or pack or stuck in your ball cap.
Chubby Chernobyl. Created to imitate a large stonefly or grasshopper, this foam-bodied fly floats high and is easy to see. It can imitate a golden stonefly, a yellow sally stonefly or a large caddis. Many anglers will use this fly as an attractor dry fly—in other words, one that can be seen—and tie a smaller dry fly behind it as a floating dropper.
Bloom’s Hi-Vis Parachute Caddis. This fly has eclipsed the Goddard in popularity for a fast-water caddis. But the fly’s creator, Dave Bloom, honed this pattern on the technical waters of the Missouri River. Because its roots lie with picky tailwater trout, this fly takes the bacon for the must-have caddis pattern on our local waters. It floats well and its parachute post is tied in a variety of colors, which makes it easy to see in low-light conditions.
RS2 emerger in PMD or yellow. The RS2 was created more than 30 years ago by Colorado angler and fly-tier Rim Chung. The name is short for “Rim’s Semblance No. 2,” since it was the second in a series of flies he designed. As our rivers drop and clear, Pale Morning Duns will hatch and this summer season the mayfly will inhabit shallow, riffle-run water. A first impression suggests this fly is meant to be fished subsurface or in the surface film, which can be effective. However, if your eyesight allows you to see a size 16 or 18 RS2 on the surface, you stand a very good chance of more hookups when PMDs are hatching. If you have subpar eyesight, tie an RS2 as a dropper off a Bloom’s HiVis Parachute Caddis.
Rubberleg Stimulator or Stimi-Chew Toy. These patterns’ roots lie in Randall Kaufmann’s original Stimulator. As a kid, I rarely fished anything other than a yellow Stimulator. Today, a Stimulator will catch fish in some situations, but with the addition of rubber legs and an underwing on the Chew Toy, these two patterns are the 5G to my old analog. Tied to mostly imitate golden stoneflies and yellow sally stoneflies, the Stimi-Chew Toy in size 14 and 16 is ideal for mimicking a or small caddis.
Parachute Adams. Perhaps the most time-tested dry fly ever tied—imitating a mayfly dun—the Parachute Adams is a must-have. The white post is easy to see, it can be tied in a variety of colors, it floats well and it catches fish. Get some.
Spruce moth patterns. Be sure your dry-fly box has plenty of spruce moths. A caddis at its core, once a spruce moth lands on the water’s surface, a nearby trout doesn’t take long to notice. Some favorite patterns are the Snowshoe Spruce and the Elk Hair Spruce Moth; focus on sizes 14 and 16.
LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupa. A list without a Gary LaFontaine pattern? What do you think I am, a nymph fisherman? LaFontaine was passionate about flies and trout food, and he spent countless hours studying insects and creating their imitations. Similar to the RS2, this fly can serve double duty. When fished as a dry fly, only put floatant on the elk hair, allowing the fly to float on the surface while the dubbed body—or mix of hairs attached to the hook shank—helps to hold air by creating a bubble. LaFontaine surmised that as caddis hatch from a pupa to an adult they create a small air bubble. Good thing he enjoyed looking at caddis butts, because without this pattern a lot fewer fish would be caught.
In Norman Maclean’s masterpiece “A River Runs Through It,” a father tells his two sons—one of which is Norman—that Christ’s disciples were fishermen and that John was Christ’s favorite. Why? Because John was a dry-fly fisherman.
Editor’s note: a similar version of this story ran in a 2015 edition of Explore Big Sky.
Patrick Straub has fished on five continents. He is the author of six books, including “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing” and has been writing the Eddy Line for nine years. He was one of the largest outfitters in Montana, but these days he now only guides anglers who value quality over quantity.