Outdoor Junky: Still figuring it out

Our rivers in Madison County and southwest Montana are blessed with a tremendous amount of aquatic and terrestrial insect life.

Many of the hatches don’t gain national attention like our famed salmonfly. On any given day you could find fish keying on mayflies, like PMDs, flavs, epeorus and BWOs. Or you’ve got caddis flies, which if you’re out at the right time of evening, can hover like clouds over riverside shrubs and trees. And if you look at them, you’ll find a wide variety in types of live caddis flies; from light to dark and small to large.

Then you have the stoneflies, which are big and famous, like the salmonfly, or small and obscure like the nemoura.

And then each bug has a life cycle and flies associated with each stage of that cycle. So you could fish the nymphal stage of a mayfly and later on the same day tie on a spinner, which represents the dead mayfly on the water.

And because when we fish we want to be successful, it takes some knowledge of what kind of fly patterns can imitate these insects.

I’m not an insect expert or a fly expert and though I talk to lots of fishermen who seem to be experts, my guess is many of them aren’t either. My sense of it is, us amateurs are mostly guessing that the fly we tie on is going to work.

However, a little advice from the local fly shops and their guides can go a long ways. A question I always ask is: “What should I have in my fly box?”

But here’s a confession, even though I ask the question, I don’t always know what the experts are talking about.

The conversation might go like this:

Me: “What should I have in my fly box if I’m heading out today?”

Expert Fly Shop Guy: “I’d have your standard attractor patterns. You know some Turks, maybe a royal PMX, size 12 to 14, a variety of stimulators. You know a size 12 cat puke has been working good recently. Maybe even a sofa pillow, if you want to get real crazy.”

Me: “Right, that makes sense. Anything else.”

Expert Fly Shop Guy: “I’d make sure you have a few caddis and some spinners. But for nymphs look to use a pupa as a dropper or maybe a small copper John or hare’s ear. If you want to fish streamers, maybe have a sex dungeon in your box or even a zoo cougar or butt monkey. Sometimes in the morning, just twitching a muddler in the shallows has been working good.”

Me: “Yeah I know what you mean.”

It’s hard for me to swallow my pride and fess up my ignorance of what Expert Fly Shop Guy is talking about. I’ve been fly fishing for 15 years and it is not unusual to be completely stumped on what to tie on, or even what a certain pattern or fly is. Every time I buy flies, I run into patterns and names of flies completely foreign to me. I don’t know why it’s so hard to ask Expert Fly Shop Guy for help. I’m sure he’d much rather I ask a question than walk out of the shop confused.

So in light of this confession, which could seriously jeopardize any credibility I may have had as a savvy fly fisherman, I bring you the latest fishing report I got from the good people at Madison River Fishing Company in Ennis and the Stonefly Inn in Twin Bridges.

The hoppers are generally starting on the upper Madison, said Chris Mitchell at the Madison River Fishing Company. However, this doesn’t mean fish are keying on them just yet. Still, it’s good to start bringing a few hopper patterns along.

A few nocturnal stoneflies are kicking around below McAtee Bridge, Mitchell said. Fish will generally key on these during the early morning hours. For a fly, use something tan and Chernobyl style, meaning a layered, foam-bodied fly with legs.

Nocturnal stones flitter along the water, so you don’t dead drift the fly like you would with other patterns, he said. Try moving it in four to six inch twitches.

Higher up the river, by Raynolds Pass there are still good hatches of evening caddis and mayflies, Mitchell said. Though fish are getting wary so just casting a regular elk hair caddis won’t generally cut it.

But generally, Mitchell suggests that having a selection of small attractor patterns is important. These would include lime and royal trudes, parachute Adams and Turk’s Tarantulas. (And if you don’t know what these flies look like, stop by any local fly shop and they’ll help.)

Over on the other side of the county on the Big Hole River, it’s a similar story, said Dan Leavens from the Stonefly Inn. Attractor patterns are generally the name of the game.

But if you’re going to use a dropper, Leavens recommends not using anything with a beadhead if you want to avoid catching whitefish.

The water flows on the Big Hole are really solid and so the fishing promises to continue to be good, he said. However, hatches are generally two weeks late and he expects that will be the case with hoppers as well.

Right now it is just too green to get the grasshoppers to move down to the river banks, he said.

Another good option is the upper Beaverhead River, which is fishing well on caddis, PMDs and yellow sallies. Don’t plan on being by yourself though, Leavens said.

“You just have to remind yourself that when there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of fish and that’s why they’re there,” he said.

On the hot days, try getting out early or late, Leavens said. If you try to float through the middle of the day, expect to have some slow fishing.

To see river flows, click here.

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