Golden Stone Hatching On The Blackfoot River

Best Stonefly Nymph Patterns

Choosing the best stonefly nymph patterns is trickier than subsurface choices for most aquatic insects. This is due to many factors, starting with many stonefly’s extended life cycles. Caddis, Midge, Cranefly and Mayfly life cycles take place over a single year. That’s important because, when imitating the nymphal /pupal forms of those species, all nymphs are the same size

This is not true of the stonefly. Some stoneflies have a one-year cycle, while others have a 2- or 3-year cycle. This is significant for the nymphing angler, explained using our premier stonefly hatch, the Salmon Fly.

Yellow Sally Nymph
Golden Stone Nymph


The Salmon Fly has a 3-year life cycle and when mature, nymphs are approximately 51-54mm long. Simple math tells us this. 3-year old Salmon Fly nymphs are 51-54mm, 2-year old Salmon Fly Nymphs are 34-36mm long, and 1-year old nymphs are 17-18mm long. Due to natural mortality, there are many more 1-year old nymphs than 3-year old nymphs.

Gestation periods vary, with smaller stones having a shorter gestation period. Nemouras and Yellow Sallies are on a 1 year cycle. Skwalas and mid-size Goldens have a 2 year cycle, while larger Goldens join the Salmon Fly in 3 year cycles. This is important when choosing the best stonefly nymph for species with multi year cycles- the nymphs work in 2 or 3 sizes. 

Perhaps more importantly, stonefly nymphs with multi-year cycles are available to the trout year round. The best stonefly nymph patterns don’t just work at hatch time, they work all year. Stonefly nymphs are big, with year round availability- no wonder these nymphs are so important in a trout’s diet.

Starting seasonally, the Nemoura is the first important stonefly to appear in Missoula. This little black stonefly is very prolific, and when the nymphs stage in the shallows prior to emergence, the trout know. Our best stonefly nymph patterns for the Nemoura is the French SR Bullet in Black, followed by the Black Widow Perdigon. Both nymphs do double duty as a Capnia nymph as well, if a warmer spring has got the trout moving early enough to feed when they emerge. 

The Skwala is the first larger stonefly to start moving in Missoula, and when the nymphs start to stage, trout move to the shallows to follow them. The Peacock Double Bead Stone, Olive Double Bead Stone and the 20 Incher all work very well throughout the spring.

When the Salmon Flies begin to emerge, our best stonefly nymphs are the Black Double Bead Stone, the Tungsten Black Stone and the classic Bitch Creek. Depending on water levels, these nymphs will need additional weight to get to the fish. Also, in faster water, a flash of orange will often trigger the fish. As rivers drop and clear, a subtler nymph is needed.

The Yellow Sallies are an incredibly prolific nymph, and trout key on them sub-surface due to quantity. The G Kes, Iron Sally Jig and the Biot Epoxy Jig. All are very effective late spring and early summer. Again, depending on water levels, you may need additional weight, though in higher water the larger Golden Stone nymphs may be more effective.

The Golden Stones are made up of many different species, explaining the size variation from 6-12. While called Goldens, the nymphs run more to tan and darker, making the Double Bead Hare’s Ear Nymph, 20 Incher and the Natural Zirdle Jig are very effective during the hatch. Make sure to carry size variation in these flies to cover the size the trout are focusing on.

Double Bead Hare's Ear

Double Bead Hare’s Ear

20 Incher

20 Incher

Natural Jig Zirdle

Zirdle Jig Natural


The flies listed above are our best stonefly patterns that match a specific hatch, but day in and day out in Missoula, they might not be the best stonefly patterns. By sales in the shop, the Black/Brown TJ Hooker, the Jig Black/Brown Pat’s and the Brown Pat’s Rubberlegs are our best selling stonefly nymphs. These sell best in size 10-14

TJ Hooker Black/Brown

TJ Hooker

Jig Pats

Jig Pats

Pat's Rubberlegs

Pat’s Rubberlegs

These flies- call them nondescripts or generic-take fish at all times through the year. If you had to catch a fish, and we mean HAD TO catch a fish, these are the flies we choose. The best guides in Missoula agree- look in their nymph box and these are pretty much all you see. 

Pat’s Rubberlegs and TJ Hookers are simple to tie, sink well, and easily customized to match any stonefly hatch across the country. Because they’re easy to tie in smaller sizes, unlike their more complicated cousins, they cover the immature nymphs extremely well. 


When we said if you had to catch a fish, this is why. The Pat’s Rubberlegs and the TJ Hooker are NEVER the wrong fly to use wherever multi-year cycle stoneflies are found. Because stonefly nymphs are found every day of the year in edible sizes, they work year round. 

Edible size is defined this way, using the PMD as an example. There are always PMD Mayfly nymphs present in Missoula waters, as well as across the west. However, when an 8mm insect lays hundreds of eggs, when those eggs hatch, the nymphs aren’t a food source for the trout- they’re too small. So while they’re always in the water, at the start of their life cycle, they aren’t food for trout. They need time to grow to edible size.

This is in contrast to the Salmon Fly, Skwala and Golden Stone nymphs. They take 2 plus years to gestate, which means even after the hatch, there are edible nymphs available to trout. It’s like the San Juan Worm or a size 16 Pheasant Tail- at any given point in the year, these food forms are available to the trout. When you don’t know what’s going on, put on a TJ Hooker or a Pat’s until you do know what’s going on.

There’s a chance, with those two flies, you may not have to figure out what’s going on, as they will make enough happen to keep an angler happy on the water.

When you go to choose the best stonefly nymph patterns, the options are numerous. Choice can depend on size and weight- you can use a size 4 nymph under an indicator, but not in a Dry/Dropper rig. Are you looking for trout keying on a hatch, or are you searching with a food form available year round. Hatch matchers are often bigger, and better when more focused in size and color. Searching works better with a generic stonefly nymph. But when you’re on a western freestone river, the one thing we do know is you need an array of stonefly nymphs- not to bump up our sales, but because they work!

Blackfoot River Montana Salmonfly Hatch

What is the best fly rod length

It’s a thorny question, one that brings out the opinion of anyone asked. When you buy a fly rod, you make a choice. And with the cost of fly rods, it must be a well thought out choice. When deciding on the best fly rod length, here are the things to think about.

The Physics Of Rod Length

The only thing about rod length that can’t change is physics. From a physics standpoint, longer rods mend better and hold more energy- allowing longer casts. Shorter rods fight fish better. Those two statements can’t be refuted. Mending and fish fighting are easy to understand, distance a bit more so.

A longer rod (in the fly fishing industry, that’s over 9’) generates more energy, and casts further. However, that energy needs to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is you. Think about spey rods. They can be 16’ long, and a good spey caster throws 140 feet plus. You need two hands/arms to generate the power to make a rod that long work. Try casting a spey rod with one hand, and if you do, don’t sprain anything. The energy required and the swing weight will tear your wrist up. When we say swing weight, we mean the energy required to maintain position while the front or back cast extends to load the rod.

This holds true for all fly casting- all rod lengths and line weights. A 10’ 9 weight will cast further than a 9’ 9wt, which casts further than an 8’ 9wt. However, energy generation and swing weight multiplies with length, making a 10’ 9wt a beast to cast. Swing weight and energy generation lessen as the line weight lessens, but is still present. All rods need energy and have a swing weight- it gets more pronounced the longer the rod

Manufacturing Fly Rods

Manufacturers tell you a 9’ rod is the best fly rod length. This is based on two premises. Prior to graphite, cane and fiberglass rod makers knew the physics, but the materials made length difficult to achieve. With graphite, longer rods were now a better option. However, ferruling and blank rolling became issues.

In graphite’s infancy, ferrules were terrible. They created flat spots in the action, so rods were two pieces to minimize that affect. A 10 foot rod needed two 5’ pieces, and early graphite rolling machines couldn’t handle that length. The best they could roll consistently were 4.5 foot lengths. You didn’t want crappy ferrules or a curved blank, so manufacturing settled on 9 feet.

The other factor is development. Manufacturers have been working with 9’ rods for 50 years. You can be sure they have that taper DOWN. Spend 50 years refining anything, and it gets pretty darn good. Even with exponentially better ferrules and rolling machines, the tapers developed by the manufacturers still focus on 9’ feet, where the most R&D work has been done.

How Usage Affects Fly Rod Length

But the real measure of best fly rod length is usage. How will the rod be used, where will the rod be used. What do you NEED from your fly rod. Let’s look at this from a trout fishing perspective.

Well, it doesn’t make much sense to use an 11’ rod on a stream 8 feet wide. That’s problematic from the word go. Conversely, it doesn’t make much sense to use 7’ rod on a river 100 yards wide. Neither rod works well in those situations

Small waters fish better with a shorter rod, it’s as simple as that. They’re lighter in hand, more accurate and less fatiguing. When a long cast is 35 feet, a 7’ rod will make the required mends and other presentations. Small waters, for the most part, have smaller fish, and you can throw small streamers with a shorter rod. You can Euronymph with a short rod on small water- not as well as with a longer rod, but it can be done.

Yes, short rods are more accurate. Imagine pressing a door bell. It’s easy with a pencil, more difficult with a 36 inch dowel, harder yet with a 7’ stick and even more so with a 10’ stick. Short equals accurate.

In our minds, the best fly rod length comes down to distance and mending. We have big rivers in Missoula, which require both. We throw big streamers, dry/droppers and massive double nymph rigs, sometimes with lead.

When casting some of that junk, one thing a long rod does that few think of is keeping the fly away from your nose! Just sayin’. . .

How To Choose The Best Fly Rod Length

If we had to make a bold statement, if you fish water 25’ or wider, a 9’ rod or longer is the way to go. That comes with this caveat, in fertile land, where trees grow thick, a 25’ stream can have a covering canopy, or close to it. Short may be a better option in that environ. With that explained, if you fish water without a canopy, get a 9’ or longer rod, even if it’s 15 feet wide. If you can wade the smaller waters, you can use a longer rod. One of the best features of a river is no trees in it to foul up the back cast.

Wow, bet you thought it was going to be more complicated. Nope. Straight physics says a longer rod works better, except for fighting fish. And face it, we’re catching trout. While they get big, and 4-6 weights are considered light tackle fishing, trout are not tarpon or wahoo.  They fight, but with 5X coming in at 5 lb test, you can land trout comparatively quickly. The longer rod is not going to significantly fatigue most anglers when fighting trout, nor overly tire from casting a longer rod all day.

The longer rod mends better, adds distance, and fights the wind better. It’s simple math.  

However, another reason for short rods in fertile land. The longer the rod, the trickier it is to maneuver through the brush. We know a lot of long rodders who break the rod down to two pieces for easier maneuvering. The longer rod helps keep your fly out of the brush when back casting, but does put you closer to the trees. In our experience, there are less trees than bankside brush.

How long is too long for the best fly rod length? Tenkara rods can be13 feet long, but they weigh less and cast shorter distances. Distance equals energy expended. Tenkara rods have swing weight, and need to be maneuvered through brush, but on the whole aren’t fatiguing. A 13’ 5wt is a trout spey rod, with a handle configuration for both hands while casting.  

For those casting, not Euronymphing or Tenkara fishing, we consider 10’ to be as long as you want to go for single handed casting. Above that length, the rod gets unwieldly to handle, and exponentially more fatiguing as the line weight increases. You also lose accuracy, though the more you use a longer rod, the more accurate you become. For dries and smaller nymph rigs, you can also utilize the extra energy from a long rod by dropping down a line weight. We say a 10’ 4 will do everything a 9’ 5wt does, except cast larger streamers. This math holds true for any length/line weight comparison.

When you start thinking about 7 weights and higher, or using sink tips, a 9’ rod has proven to be the best tool for the job. 9’ rods have a manageable swing weight, and the shorter length applies more leverage for heavier/sunken fly lines during pickup. They don’t fight fish as well as a shorter rod, but since heavier lines are thrown longer distances, we accept the more strenuous fight for cast for distance.

When you think of the best fly rod length, think about the waters you fish most often. Factor in the physics of fly fishing, your comfort zone, what’s available from the manufacturer and what feels best in your hand. Don’t immediately discount a 10’ rod or a 7’ rod- both have their place on the water. But we say go longer whenever possible, because the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.