By Patrick Straub Explorebigsky.com Fishing Columnist
A rare thing happened recently on the Upper Madison River: a fly shop owner actually fishing for fun.
As shops, guides and outfitters ready their inventory, boats and guide crews for the summer season, personal fishing time is precious – it comes as rare as a Winnebago on Highway 191 in January. But sometimes responsibility and better judgment deserve a backseat, and one must go fishing. The sooner duties are put off, the more time there is to catch up, right?
And obligations should be kicked to the curb, because great fishing exists right now. Just be sure your fly box is full of what the trout currently want – rubberlegs!
The majority of our local rivers harbor an abundance of stonefly patterns. Most of us know of the salmon and golden stonefly hatches, but over-hyped skwala and well-kept secrets like capnia and pneumora stonefly hatches make it possible to fish a stonefly pattern from March through October. In fact, you may already be fishing these insects if you’re using a nymph with rubberlegs, which become more active as snowmelt peaks and rivers drop.
For Big Sky anglers, a must-have fly is a Pat’s Rubberlegs or variations of such. So, who is Pat and why are his legs so important? He was a fish-catching machine and created a simple and very effective fly. There are many variations: the Girdle bug; the Turd or Cat Poo (yes, these are real names); the Pickle; and whatever the next half-baked University of Montana fifth-year senior decides to call his trout-slaying pattern.
A Pat’s Rubberlegs is a simple fly: a hook with plenty of lead wrapped around it, contrasting colors of yarn or chenille, and rubberlegs. A stout tippet is essential because this time of year most fish are caught along or adjacent to bank-side structure, where it’s easy to snag submerged debris.
As of Memorial Day, stonefly nymphs were migrating toward the bank, logs or large rocks. In a few weeks they’ll “hatch,” crawling out of the water and emerging from their nymphal casing. The first hatch is the massive salmon fly, and many of the rivers’ largest trout eat three-inch-long dry flies off the surface…that is great fun, but we aren’t there quite yet.
For the time being, most of our fishing will be with a Pat’s Rubberlegs fished subsurface using two preferred methods. The first and more popular, is fishing it under an indicator as part of two-fly weighted rig. And yes, it’s OK to fish two Pat’s Rubberlegs at once.
The second is to fish a dry fly that’s large and bushy enough to float a 3-4-foot-length dropper onto which is tied a Pat’s Rubberlegs. Be sure to have lots of rubberlegs or tie very good knots because you will lose a few flies trying to get them near the fishy structure. If you’re not losing a few flies, you’re not fishing close enough to the bank or structure.
But losing flies isn’t necessarily a bad thing – someone’s got to make sure those busy fly shop owners tend the store and aren’t playing hooky every day.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and the forthcoming Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing* *but were afraid to ask. He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.