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Eddy Line: Not summer anymore, but not yet fall

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Mid-September is a transition time on our local waters. Conditions can range from summer-like to fall-like all in the course of a single day of fishing. Be prepared with the right fly. PHOTO COURTESY OF SECLUDED WATERS

Five flies for right now

By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

Back in my early years of guiding—when phones still had cords and there was only one ESPN—the middle of September meant anticipation. The hot days of summer were in the rearview and along with them the throngs of part-time, fair-weather anglers. Like Christmas for kids, September came with plenty of anticipation as the coming of fall meant the serious anglers arrived to fish the cooler waters of the changing seasons.

Mid-September certainly means longer nights and cooler mornings. However, this doesn’t always translate into better or more consistent fishing action. As our weather and rivers transition from summer to fall, it is important to remind ourselves that even though the calendar may say September this doesn’t always translate to storybook days—days filled with hatches of mayflies, October caddis, and aggressive brown trout chasing streams. It does mean that each day serves up something unique. Here are five of the best flies for right now. 

Morrish Hopper

Seeing a trout rise to a large dry fly is what brought many of us to the sport. As the mornings cool, the ‘hopper bite will start later in the day, so plan to fish a ‘hopper at some point each day. The legs of the Morrish hopper are thin and supple, which means they have great action while the fly floats on the surface. This fly catches a lot of fish. But because the legs are so supple, they are delicate and rarely last for more than one or two catches. They’re great for fly shops because they sell a bunch, but they’re not great for your pocketbook.

Any trico mayfly pattern

Hatches of tricos occur early in the morning, often just as the sun begins to rise. Smaller than most midges, tricos hatch in late summer and early fall. The hatching adult insects range from size 18 to 22. Choose patterns with a parachute for added visibility—the post rises above the water’s surface. If a hatch of trico mayflies does occur, it may only last a few hours but if you are at the right place at the right time, this is the right fly. 

Chubby Chernobyl

A fly more frequently associated with stoneflies, this is an ideal late summer and early fall pattern. You may not see an insect that resembles this pattern, but with its high wing and plethora of rubber legs, it looks plenty buggy to a trout. It’s also ideal to use this high-floating fly as the top fly in any two-fly dropper rig.  

Parachute Purple Haze

Mid-September often sees equal chances of cold and rainy weather or sunny and warm weather. If the cold and rain come, fall mayflies—most of them are Blue Winged Olives—could hatch on any given day. A regular Parachute Adams will work fine but watching thousands of fish eat dry flies on various Parachute dries has taught me that the purple body makes a difference. 

Tie: Zuddler and Sculpzilla

As much as we want mid-September to be paired with consistently good streamer fishing, it rarely meets expectations. But, like a Blue Winged Olive hatch, if the weather patterns align and bring an overcast day, fish may target streamers. Both of these patterns are intended to imitate baitfish and larger food sources, such as crayfish. They can be fished with action or dead-drifted under an indicator. When choosing a color, a widely accepted rule is to choose a light-colored fly on a sunny day and a dark-colored fly on a cloudy day.

The next few weeks can serve up some very good fishing, but also some very inconsistent fishing. Each day of fishing really is like a box of chocolates so what matters most is that you gear up and head out because ski season is less than 75 days away. 

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 eight years. He’s owned a fly shop and was one of the largest outfitters in Montana, but these days he now only guides anglers who value quality over quantity. If you want to fish with him, visit his website, https://www.dryflymontana.com/.

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