9 Tips for Fly Fishing the Trico Hatch

Photo by Matt Saliga

-Tip #1 Be Prepared

The Trico Mayfly is not a favored hatch by many guides in Montana. It is very complex, with males and females, spinners, adults and cripples. They love the sun, so every facet of presentation is magnified with the brightness. The sun also makes the trout spooky. Tricos are tiny, so they’re difficult to see. Tiny also means the trout’s feeding lanes are minuscule, so casting accuracy is imperative. All this adds up to a tricky day of fly fishing when confronting the Trico hatch. Be ready to have some frustration, and just because there are 40 fish rising, don’t expect the fishing to be lights out unless you have some experience with tiny flies, complex hatches and long fine leaders.

-Tip #2 Quarter Downstream

The classic upstream presentation is not the best way to approach a Trico hatch. Too much going on over a trout’s head with that presentation. Our guides favor a quartering downstream presentation. Stand to the side of the rising fish, and cast your fly down and across, perhaps just a little long. Lift the rod up slightly. Moving the fly into the trouts feeding lane, and let it float downstream to the trout. The trout sees the fly first, not the leader and line, providing a more natural presentation. Make sure to pause before setting the hook, so you don’t pull the fly out of the fishes mouth.

-Tip #3 Long Leaders

A long leader accomplishes two different goals when utilized. Firstly, it provides greater separation of the relatively heavy fly line from the fly, and therefore the trout. Additionally, a longer leader allows the fly to float more naturally. Our fly fishing guides will spend a bit of time fussing with a guest’s leader, finding the optimal length. Optimal length is defined this way- find the longest, finest leader that the guest can comfortably cast, and go with that set-up. If you’re not with a guide, this is still good advice. Go as long and as fine as you can control,

-Tip #4 Statue Of Liberty

Trout are rising, adrenaline is high, and takes are scarce. Finally, an eat to your fly! You haul back on your rod like you’re setting a Pat’s Rubberlegs on a 6 foot dropper, and snap, no more fly, no more fish. When fishing tiny mayflies on fine tippet, the classic trout set is less than optimal. It’s too easy to over strike, losing fly and trout. The best way to set a hook with fine tippet is the Statue of Liberty set. When the trout eats, straighten your arm and lift into the Statue of Liberty pose. It’s doubtful you’ll get all the way there! When you feel pressure, simply stop moving, and allow the trout to move away on a very loosely set drag. This will improve your hook up rate dramatically.

Trico Nymph
Photo by Bob Henricks

-Tip #5 Timing the Eat

There can be so many Tricos on the rivers in Montana that the fish don’t rise to an individual insect. They simply rise to a rhythm, taking the flies that are above them. When you find a trout rhythm rising, you need to have your imitation overhead when the trout comes to the surface. This is a double edged sword! Getting your fly there at just the right time can be very tricky. But if you do get the fly there with a good drift, it’s not getting refused! The trout is on a timing schedule, not on a specific insect stage. So your fly choice is correct, the only question is will it be there on time.

-Tip #6 Reach Cast

The reach cast is one of the most important casts in a fly anglers arsenal. A standard cast consists of the tip of the rod following the path of the fly line as the cast unrolls. The tip moves in a straight line towards the direction of the cast. A Reach cast works differently. As the cast is unrolling, the rod is dropped to the side. This sideways movement of the line is an aerial mend. A standard cast is mended by lifting the line off the water and manipulating it. Not always easy, and with a trico, almost guaranteed to drown the fly. The reach cast accomplishes the mend during the cast, so the line lands on the water pre-mended. It lengthens your drift and minimizes on water disturbance. The reach cast can be done to both the left and right side, depending on what mend is required. It’s not a simple cast, but it’s well worth learning, because of the additional drift and minimal disturbance it provides.

-Tip #7 Drowned Trico

The drowned Trico is a multi-purpose imitation. In a standard hatch situation, it perfectly imitates an insect not fully emerged. If you read the rise form, and the trout isn’t coming all the way to the surface, the drowned Trico gets to the level where the fish is feeding. The drowned Trico also is the perfect imitation in the gyres, or back eddies. Tricos that find themselves caught in back eddies are easy targets for trout.  Especially since many back eddies have massive amounts of foam swirling through. You can see the foam moving as the trout feed beneath it. The drowned Trico, with its bead head, will drop down through that foam to where the trout are feeding. It’s a great fly to get to the fish that normally never see a fly.

-Tip #8 Half Size Tippet

Sales pitch alert! We carry TroutHunter tippet in sizes 4X, 4.5X, 5X, 5.5X and 6X. This micro-managing of tippet size allows the angler to maximize tippet strength while minimizing drag. Guides pay attention to every facet of their fishing tactics, and they will tell you that all leader material has different characteristics. TroutHunter tippet is very soft for its diameter. While that might not be desirable when casting a weighted nymph or streamer, soft tippet allows a tiny dry to float with less microdrag. While not many people talk about the properties of monofilament, it’s a real thing, so use that knowledge to your advantage.

-Tip #9 Choose Your Trout

It’s an easy trap to fall into when you find a pod of fish taking Tricos on the Bitterroot River and Clark Fork River near Missoula. 25 fish are rising, so you cast out in the middle and assume a fish will eat your bug. That’s not a winning strategy. From a stationary position, you will only get so long a drift before drag sets in. If you haven’t targeted a specific fish, and cast within your drift range, the chances your fly will find a feeding lane before dragging are minimal. Choose your target, time the rise, and place your fly in a specific lane. That will bring your catch rate up significantly over chuck and chance it.

Additional Trico Resources