Montana Fly Fishing

Best Flies For Cutthroat Trout

Missoula Fly fishing guides will tell you if you catch a Brown Trout, you know what’s hatching. If you catch a Rainbow Trout, you know what’s hatching. But if you catch a Cutthroat Trout, well, you’ve just caught a Cutthroat! Lets take a look at some of the best flies for Cutthroat and what makes them so effective.

Dry Fly Patterns For Cutthroat

It’s no secret that Cutthroat Trout are free rising fish. Think of them as the 13 year old girls of the stream. They do like their bling when it comes to flies! Show them a bit of sparkle, give a bit of shine, and that usually brings the Cutties right to the top. If you’re prospecting for Cutthroat, any fly with a synthetic, sparkly body will often move them to the surface. We use a lot of Royal coloration style flies like the Royal Wulff, and love the Royal Hippie Stomper for luring the less than wiley Cutthroat to the surface.

That being said, the Cutthroat trout, when intent on a hatch, can be as selective as any trout on the planet. Find a blanket PMD hatch, and they will be just as focused on the Left Wing Crippled Emergent Nymph With Trailing Shuck, in the film, as any other trout. We’ve been there and done that at Kelly Creek in Idaho and other Cutthroat hot spots. Trout are trout, and during a hatch Cutthroat are just as fussy as any fish on the river, especially the big ones.

Something to remember when focusing on Cutthroat Trout. Fish your cast out to the bitter end, and by that we mean swinging the fly in a skitter below you. If we ever found ourselves stranded on a river with no food, fishing for sustenance, this is a very effective method of taking smaller Cutties. Oh, sure, once in a while a big one will surprise you, take the dry on the swing and completely snap you off on the tight line drag. But that swing at the end will bring the little guys up like magic. It’s an odd feeling, watching your dry swing across the surface, but the fish eat it up. The best fly for this is the Elk Hair Caddis. It’s a fly designed to skitter anyway, so the action is always there.

Nymph Patterns For Cutthroat

When it comes to nymphing for Cutthroat, it’s pretty much the same as for any other trout. Get your fly deep, keep it in the zone on a dead drift, and look for movement in your point fly or indicator. Again, we tend to favor a brighter fly, like the Fire Starter or the Tung Flash Prince. Both these flies are very visible sub-surface, and will catch the trout’s attention from a distance.

The swing on the nymph is less effective than the swing on the dry fly, but it’s still effective. But not for the same reason. Back in 1941, James Leisenring wrote a book called The Art Of Tying The Wet Fly, which became a very important work in angling lit for a long time. In the last chapter, he describes, the “Leisenring Lift”, a technique he used when sight fishing to nymphing trout. Spot a trout, dead drift your fly to the fish, and just as the fly is about to go past, gently lift the rod to catch the fish’s attention with a fly coming to the surface. Gary LaFontaine, in his studies underwater with scuba tanks, corroborated this and went one step further. He said it almost appeared instinctive. If a fly is pulled to the surface directly in front of a trout, coming from below the trout’s vision into its sight, it eats. This applies to all trout, not just Cutthroat. A swinging nymph, if by chance or planning, rises in front of a trout, it will eat. We like to think that’s some solace as your indicator goes by making a V-wake on the water! Not much, but some. Leisenring invented this technique for sight fishing to trout deeper in the water column, and it’s tremendously effective. A nymph at the end of a drift will simulate this action, but then it’s all about luck, really, as to whether the fly lifts up in front of a fish. Still an effective technique to be aware of.

Streamer Patterns For Cutthroat

Many anglers don’t use streamers for Cutthroat, in the mistaken belief that they don’t take them. This isn’t true. While Cutthroats certainly aren’t Brown Trout in their search for big meals, they will definitely take a streamer, especially the bigger fish in the river. It has been our experience however, that a smaller fly is much more effective than a big old Mongrel Meat or BeastMaster. Run a smaller Sculpzilla, or a Kreelex (back to bling!) and you’ll find yourself taking Cutties on a streamer. Cutthroat are less bold when it comes to streamer fishing. You’re not often going to find the rod shaking take of a big Rainbow Trout- Cutthroat are going to sidle out and nip at the fly in a less aggressive manner. If you’re craving a gut-punch take and the ripping head shake, you might ply your trade where the Browns, Brookies and Rainbows take up residence. But if you’re on Cutty water, and find a great streamer spot, don’t be afraid to tie one on and go for it. Scale down, keep the fly in the zone as long as possible, and you’ll be rewarded with some pretty sizable fish when you didn’t expect them.

Final Thoughts

The Cutthroat is a dry fisher’s dream. Free rising and relatively careless, they will often keep you active all day on the surface. But you’ll need to find them first, before you can get to that type of action. Head upstream on most tributaries, and you’ll start to see more and more Cutties. Bring your bling, bring that crazy attractor you tied late night in January when you were bored, and use them. You might not know what’s hatching when a Cutthroat sips in your dry, but at that point, does it really matter?!

Additional Cutthroat Fly Patterns

Looking for more Cutthroat Flies? Check out our Attractor Flies by clicking here.

BWO Mayfly

Technical Dry Fly Fishing

. . . . .to fish fine and far off is the first and principal rule for trout angling

                                                                           Charles Cotton  1676

Fishermen were not always so adept at distance casting . . . . they were great skulkers and sneakers.

                                                                           M.R. Montgomery  (from Hooked by Raye Carrington)

Before we go all tech, lets get some basics under our belt. There’s no question that being further away will spook fewer trout. In direct contrast, the longer a cast, the less accuracy and control we have. The art of dry fly angling is finding the happy medium between not spooking the fish, yet having the control and accuracy to place our fly where we need it in a lifelike manner. This comes from practice. You’re going to surprise a few fish as you learn how to get close. We’ve gotten very adept at judging trout size by the V-wake it makes scooting to safety! Like all dry fly fishing, this is the first conundrum to solve. How far is fine, how close is accurate!

You’ve found a pod of fish, 25 strong, and they’re rising! Yay. It’s Ticos and you recognize that! Yay! Yay! And you knot on your favorite Trico and chuck it out there! Boo! Boo! Chuck it and chance it RARELY gets it done! Spend a minute, watch the rise forms. Check out the path the naturals are taking to get a feel for the currents. PICK A FISH. CAST TO THAT FISH. Focus on what you’re doing, and make the first cast count. Chuck and chance has the potential to spook a lot of fish, and put down the pod. Pick a fish on the edge of the pod, and pick that one off first. Then fish your way into the interior of the pod. Think before the excitement takes you.

One more thought on pods of fish. After you’ve been fishing a pod for a bit, you’re going to figure out the fish are pretty focused on one hatch stage. Good on you if you’ve figured it out! But if you haven’t, paying attention to the rise forms will be most important. Look for new entrants into the pod- a rise where there wasn’t one 30 seconds ago. Cast to that fish immediately. That fish has just arrived, and hasn’t had time to get focused on anything too specific. You have a good chance of taking the newcomer before it gets too wrapped up in what all the other fish are focused on.

You’ve made a bunch of casts that you thought were good, but nothing’s taken your fly. The casts weren’t as good as you thought- that’s what the trout have told you! Move your feet. Find a different place to stand. Change your angle and delivery. There is NO SUCH THING as a little drag when it comes to fishing, and even if you can’t see it, the fish can. It’s called micro drag, and it’s a killer. Changing your position will change the drift. Maybe it’s better. If it’s not, move again until you find the place where you can get a drag free drift. You are not a tree- you have feet. Use them!

Sometimes you find yourself in a position where you need a long cast, maybe even 50’. Often there’s some breeze, or other detriments to casting. It’s tough to power out a long cast and have the fly land with slack line. George Harvey designed a leader for this very situation. To build a good replica of this leader, start with a 7.5’ 2X leader. Knot on about 2-3’ of 3X tippet, and then add 3’ of 5X tippet (Adjust tippet and midsection sizes to suit your fly size). What this provides is an energy sink in the middle of your leader. So no matter how much energy you put into your cast to straighten the line, the leader will NOT transfer that energy to the tippet. So your fly, even at a distance, will land with some slack in the tippet, providing a drag free drift at the end of a long cast. You may have to fiddle with tippet and midsection lengths- it’s worth it to get it right and get the drag-free drift.

Where you stand in relation to the fish makes a lot of difference in your presentation. If you’re standing directly below a rising fish, you will be dealing with much less current on your line. It’s easier to control the drag from that position, but easier to line the fish. As you move to a position 90 degrees from the fish, you have greatly lessened the chance of lining the fish, but added so many additional currents you have to fight and adjust to for that drag free drift. Find your happy spot, where you can get to your chosen fish with a minimum of drag without lining the fish, and go from there. Every time you move your feet, you change the effects of the current on your fly. Watch your fly very carefully to see if it’s dragging. If the fish aren’t eating it, it’s probably dragging!

The crafty dry fly angler will sometimes move above the fish, and go for the downstream delivery. This has it’s own set of problems, not least that you’re so much more in the line of sight. The big advantage is the fly gets to the fish before the leader, providing a more lifelike presentation. It also gives you first shot at the fish at the top of the pod, which is often the largest. Again, drag control is paramount. Cast just above your targeted fish, and “check” (stop it somewhat suddenly, above the surface) the cast so it lands with some slack. Allow the fly to float over your intended fish. If it eats, classic angling has you say, “God Save The Queen” before striking. This allows the fly to enter the fishes mouth before striking, and lets the hook actually hook something! When fishing from below or the side, the hook is dragged through the mouth, and hooks as it goes by. From above, the fly will just slide out if you strike too quickly.

If you’re having trouble with upstream presentation accuracy, use the Montana mend. This drives Easterners crazy, but it really works. Cast the fly about 8’ beyond the fish, and then swing your rod upstream, pointed at the horizon or slightly above. When the fly is in line to float in the path you want, quickly lower the rod tip. You may need to add a mend as well.  If the fish doesn’t eat, patience is the name of the game. If you rip the fly off the water to cast again, you stand a good chance of spooking a lot of fish. Let the cast drift out of the pod, as you control the swing with your rod tip. When it’s clear of the risers, then gently, gently start the process again.

You make all these adjustments because you don’t just need a drag free drift, you need an accurate drag free drift. Trout have established feeding lanes, and they’re not going to leave them to provide you with a bit of sport. The feeding lanes will vary by the size of the bug. The green drake, with it’s massive mayfly size, is worth ranging a bit left or right to eat, as the caloric return is worth the extra expenditure of energy. But if you’re fishing tricos, a trout’s feeding lane may be 4” wide. You need to get your fly in the lane before the fish will eat it. With no drag. So accuracy counts. Which is why it often pays to be a great skulker and sneaker!

Drag-free drift. So easy to write, so difficult to achieve! We all talk about mending, but for the wading angler, mending can be difficult. Moving the line on the water near feeding fish can create panic, and ruin the fishing. Knowing the casts that can provide an aerial mend (a mend created in the air prior to the line hitting the water) can be invaluable in dry fly presentation. While many casts exist to provide that, we find you really only need two for 90% of your dry fly situations. The reach cast, which can be done to the left or the right, will place the line on the water either above or below its normal landing spot, providing a mend before the cast has landed. This will take some practice, as you’re working with more line, and the physical reach definitely affects your accuracy.

The other cast we use a lot is the steeple, or puddle cast. Stretch out more line than you need, and throw your cast high above the fish. The cast will straighten, and then fall in a heap above the fish. Yes, wind will really affect how this cast lands. Make too much slack, and the fish might eat and you won’t be able to set the hook. But at least the fish ate, and that’s a start! It’s all about the drift!

We’re saying that again, it’s all about the drift. From the moment you see the first fish rise, you’re on top of your game. Choose your fish, and move your feet to get the correct drift. Move again if it’s not working. Vary your presentation, and use the different casts to get a longer and better drift. Adjust your leader as needed, again to give the fly a drag free drift. Yes, it’s good to read this stuff, and have the intellectual knowledge to hit the stream. Knowing some solutions will really help when the angling gets tricky.

However, there’s nothing like being on water, and  actually practicing these things to make you better. There will be some bumps in the road, no doubt. Which are made much more aggravating, as it looks like every rising fish is giving your fly the fin as it floats (drags!) by. That can scramble your brain! Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, when the fish are ignoring your offerings while rising right next door, it pays to take five. Step back to the bank, or turn so you can’t see the action. Reassess, and pretend it’s happening to your buddy. What would you tell them to do? Chances are the same advice will work for you, if you just take the time to think it through.  Chuck it and Chance it? That’s for the other schlubs. You’re about to start making the smart moves to make you a better dry fly angler.

Trico Spinner Fly Fishing

The Lowdown on Cripples, Duns, Spinners and Emergers

So much gets written about matching the mayfly hatch. And rightfully so, because when the hatch is at its most intense, the fish are the most focused. They can concentrate on one very particular phase of the hatch, or in one spot on the water column, and if you’re not there, well the trout aren’t going to change their feeding to make you happy!

Trout have an IQ of 4. We use this to set up this example of how a trout feeds during a hatch. Imagine a person with an IQ of 4, standing in front of a conveyor belt, which is bringing things by. Apples, cherries, tomatoes, strawberries, red seedless grapes, raspberries and radishes.  All similar, but different. And all of a sudden, many cherries are coming past and the person at the conveyor belt eats one. It’s good, and they eat again. Imagine the focus needed with a 4 IQ to concentrate on finding cherries. It takes all they’ve got. They lock in, and everything else is out of the picture.

That’s a trout in a feeding lane. They’re on a fly, concentrating for their lives, and nothing is going to break that intensity. As anglers, we might put on a tomato- hey it’s close! But it’s NOT a cherry. It goes by. Same with a raspberry, or cranberry or strawberry. You need to be exact, because the fish isn’t coming out of their little cone of concentration to think of anything else. They don’t have the brain power.

Now, so many cherries are coming down the conveyor belt that some have stems and some don’t. Some are solid red, and some are red/yellow. Again, the person at the conveyor belt gets focused on stems, or no stem, and the feeding process becomes that much more complex. All of a sudden, the person pulling food off the conveyor belt is only eating cherries with no stems that are red/yellow. Yes, there are other cherries going past, but now the focus is tighter, and the food source has become more limited. We think that’s the simplest way to understand what’s occurring during a strong mayfly hatch.

Now let’s get to mayflies. When the blanket hatch is on, like PMD’s, Tricos or Blue Winged Olives, there are many stages of the fly coming past the trout. The fully emerged dun, drying its wings in preparation to fly off. Emergers, which are nymphs breaking their way through the surface film in preparation to become duns. And then there are the cripples. A cripple is a fly that has not successfully made it from emerger to dun. When asked, we say a cripple is simply an emerger that wasn’t capable of becoming a dun. All of these different stages of the same insect are going by at the same time, and like the person at the conveyor belt, the trout will often focus on only one stage.

Quick note. This is most prevalent in a blanket hatch. In contrast, the Green Drakes don’t often come off in huge numbers. They are a sparser emerging insect, and when they come off, there aren’t enough bugs to get the fish focused on one stage. Trout eat the insect that’s going by- dun, emerger or cripple. It takes a lot of bugs to get the fish focused on one stage, and one stage only.

The best guides in Missoula, the best anglers in Missoula and all the shop people will start with a cripple. They often don’t change from that choice, and for very good reason. Nature is a harsh place. If a trout expends 4 calories to move for food, it needs to take in more than 4 calories to survive. We’ve all seen trout come from 5 feet away to eat a hopper. Because the energy expended will be more than replaced with the caloric intake from a hopper. Contrast that with a trico or BWO. Those bugs are tiny, and the reward is much less. A trout will not range far to take in few calories. It’s a fact of nature.

A cripple, to a trout, is a stationary meal. They can’t get away. And that’s critical for a feeding fish. Once the energy is expended, the trout can’t get it back. A cripple is an insect that WILL NOT fly off just at the moment of rising. Again, we’ve all seen fish come out of the water chasing an insect. It’s trying to take in calories to offset the energy expended. It NEEDS the reward at the end of the energy use. Miss that meal too many times, and it starts to die. Not friendly, but true. When an animal is crippled, it becomes easier prey for the predator. Slower to move, easier to eat. Just what every predator is looking for. When there are enough cripples on the water to allow a trout to focus on that phase, they will often do it.

There are more than one type of cripples. You have the failed emerger, caught in its shuck with the wings ¼ to ¾ extended. A cripple may have gotten 10% out of its shuck before failure, or 90%. The wings may be almost fully extended, or maybe just a nub has come out. This is such a boon to the fly fisherman. Once an insect has completely emerged into a dun, they are all exactly alike in size and color (for the most part). But a cripple can vary in length, depending on how far it got in the emerging process. And exact size replication isn’t always as critical with a cripple as it is with a nymph or dun.

The other type of cripple is a mayfly that has emerged, but then ran into problems. Blown over by wind, or simply collapsing onto its side from the energy expended while emerging. Once a mayfly’s wings touch the water, it’s done. They don’t have the strength to pull their wings out of the suction created by the meniscus. Close inspection of the bugs floating by you will sometimes show an insect frantically beating one free wing as the other remains in the surface film. That bug is a cripple, but of the second variety.

An emerger, or a nymph that is breaking through the meniscus, is also exceedingly vulnerable at that time. It takes a moment to get to the surface, push its wings from its thorax through the meniscus, and then crawl out through the hole created to emerge as a dun. It has been likened that a mayfly nymph pushing through the meniscus is akin to a person digging through 3 feet of dirt. Not an easy task. So there are many insects just beneath the surface struggling to get to the surface, and that’s also a stage that a trout will focus on.

Vince Marinaro wrote a book on dry fly fishing called In The Ring Of The Rise. Well worth reading. In that book, he details the different rise forms created by feeding trout. Not every trout that breaks the surface is taking a bug off the surface. That bears repeating. Not every trout that breaks the surface is taking a bug off the surface. In a slow glide, on a still day when the fish are podded up, you can hear the “Chup, Chup, Chup” of fish breaking the surface and taking flies. If you look closely at those rise forms, you will see tiny air bubbles coming from around the take point, A tiny bit of air gets trapped in the trout’s upper jaw, and the bubbles escape when the jaw goes beneath the surface. Chup is the sound it makes.

If only we had a dollar for every time we cast over fish that were breaking the surface but not taking from the surface! We wouldn’t be writing this blog. We’d be retired, and hiring the best guide in Missoula to take us fishing every day!!! When a trout is taking an emerger, it’s eating just below the surface, and its back breaks the water as Mr. Big returns to its feeding station.  And no, the trout is not going to come up that extra half millimeter to make you happy! The best way to handle this is to drop a 6” piece of leader off your dry or cripple, and tie on an unweighted nymph. The short dropper will keep the nymph at the correct depth, and you’ll start to take those “rising” trout. Look for bubbles (or the lack of) to identify those rises.

While we’re on the subject of critically watching rise forms, we’re going to talk about spinners. A spinner is a spent mayfly that has returned to the water to die. The classic form is both wings flat against the water, like a cross, though many spinners will have both wings flat on the same side, and their body curled around their wings. Again, the spinner is a stage of life where it CANNOT escape. The rise form to a spinner is very distinct. It looks as if the trout is coming up and just kissing the surface. Very subtle, very gentle. The PMD’s and Ped’s generate a lot of spinners, and once you’ve started to study rise forms, and see the differences in them, the spinner rise will be quite noticeable. Have some spinners with you, and all of a sudden those fish that went begging are in your net.

Duns. Spinners. Emergers. Cripples. We bandy those terms about like it’s general knowledge, but trust us, that information was hard won. It’s attention to detail that gets you to that point. Learning how trout operate and feed takes time on the water. Watching different rise forms is not easy. It’s tough to take a step back and think when you’re surrounded by trout breaking the surface in a feeding frenzy. But if you take 3 minutes to just look, if you’ve prepared your fly box with the different stages of a mayfly’s life cycle, adding in the failures known as cripples, you’re going to start talking more about how many fish you caught, and less about how many fish were rising!

Fly Fishing Floatant 101

You think to yourself, does anyone really think about fly fishing floatant? Heck, in this industry, Gink is a noun and a verb! Most people come in, say I need some floatant, we hand them something and off they go. Looking at flies or doing something more important than thinking about the stuff that keeps the fly floating. But as everyone who’s been in a fly shop knows, there’s a lot more to think about than the old tried and true. And keep in mind, as we talk about this stuff, it might be used for the same purpose, but it’s different stuff in the bottle. Each of the different floatants we carry have their champions. If one isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to try something else. Of course, nothing is going to keep a dragging fly afloat, so keep that in mind as you tend to your leader!

Gel Fly fishing Floatant

Of course Gink works. So does Aquel and High and Dry gel floatant. Those are the ones we carry, and there’s a lot more out there as well. They all work, and they all work pretty much the same. You start with a DRY fly. That means a fly that hasn’t gotten wet yet. Because all these paste floatants work in the same way, they waterproof the fly. The best way to use them is to get a little on the tips of your fingers, and lightly coat the fly with the paste. You’re NOT trying to saturate the fly with these pastes. You can waterlog a fly with Gink as easily as you can with water. Resist the temptation to squirt a dollop on your fly and work it in. It will make the fly sink.

Liquid Fly Fishing Floatant

Fairly new to the consumer market are the liquid floatants, like Fly-Agra and High And Dry Liquid Floatant. Angler have been mixing Mucilin and lighter fluid for years and using that as a liquid floatant as well, but truthfully, these work a little better. First off, the bottles actually seal, so the stuff doesn’t run all over your vest. Mucilin and lighter fluid leaves a permanent stain, and no matter how tightly you seal the baby food jar, the lighter fluid eats at the seal and at some point, it leaks. The newer liquid floatants don’t have that problem.

To use a liquid floatant, you take a DRY fly, attach it to your leader, and dip it in the bottle. Swish it about a bit, and pull it out. Shake the excess back into the bottle, and give the fly a few quick flicks through the air and give it a minute to dry. The liquid evaporates quickly, and the fly is completely coated with fly fishing floatant. That’s the difference between Fly-Agra and Gink. The main ingredient in Fly-Agra evaporates, so your fly isn’t saturated any longer. Gink doesn’t evaporate, so a full soaking doesn’t get it done.

Fly-Agra can be used on the water because it dries so quickly, of course. But it’s even more effective when you pre-treat your flies the night before. Some of our Missoula fly shop guys keep a wide lid jar on their tying bench about half full of Fly-Agra. Once you’ve got a few flies tied, take a pair of forceps, clip the fly by the hook bend and dip it in the goo. Pull it out, and then rattle the forceps off the inner edge of the jar. This knocks the excess off. Then use the forceps to stick the fly in some sort of drying rack (We often use a Styrofoam cup with something in the bottom to keel it) and let it dry. DO NOT forget to put the flies in your box the next morning. We’ve never done that, of course, we just read about it in a magazine!

It works better because most of the actual floatant stays on the fly. No matter how gently you flick your fly on the water to dry it, your fly is traveling at a tremendous speed when the fly curls back during the cast. Applying High And Dry Liquid Floatant prior to use allows all the fly fishing floatant to stay on the fly. Hareline makes a product called Watershed that is specifically designed for pre-treating flies at the bench, and it’s fantastic.

Powder Fly Fishing Floatant

You can also buy different dessicants, which is fancy for a dust that absorbs water out of the fly. They seem to have started with people taking the crystals packed with electronics and grinding it up. Boy does this stuff work on a saturated fly, defined as a fly that’s become waterlogged, or worse, schmucked by a 4” Squawker! The dust will pull the moisture out and revitalize the sodden fly.

If you’re using a fly with CDC in it, the dust is almost a necessity. Paste fly fishing floatants don’t always work well with CDC, because if the paste is over applied it will matt the CDC feather, rendering it useless. Fly-Agra and other liquids will work on CDC, but you really want to flick that stuff out on the drying casts, again to eliminate matting. The only exception to this is Lochsa Floatant, by Loon. It is absolute magic on CDC, and is what many in the shop recommend for CDC flies. That stuff really works.

We carry a couple of different dessicants, Shimizaki and Frogs Fanny, and they are used in a completely different way. The Shimizaki has a wide lid- you drop the fly in, close the lid, and shake the bottle around. The dessicant pulls the water out of the fly. As the Shimizaki gets a bit grainy, meaning the fine powder has been removed, Missoula’s best fly fishing guides will pour a bit into the palm of their hand, rub the fly against it in their palm, and return the unused portion to the bottle. Shimizaki is designed that way. If it was all dust and no granules, it would over adhere to the soaked fly, and not last as long. The larger Shimizaki chunks are designed to crumble into dust as the bottle is shaken.

Frogs Fanny is a different style of dessicant. It resembles flakes, and comes in a bottle that has an applicator brush in the cap. Hold your soaked dry fly, dip the brush into the bottle and use the brush to push the Frog’s Fanny into all the nooks and crannies of your fly. The brush gets the Frog’s Fanny into places the dust doesn’t always penetrate. A good thing. Frog’s Fanny is very light, and on a windy day, it sometimes feels like no flakes get from brush to fly. A bad thing. Again, both have their adherents. Both standard Shimizaki and Frogs Fanny are white, and the dessicating process leaves a white dust on your fly. Not a bad thing with PMD’s and Golden Stones, but they do turn your Ants, Beetles and BWO’s a bit lighter in color, which some find annoying. Shimizaki us available in a dark dun color, so when the fly leaves the bottle, it’s the correct color. Some use the Shimizaki because it doesn’t blow away in the wind. Others use the Frog’s Fanny because the brush gets the dust where it needs to be, and uses less on larger flies. Again, try them out and see how they work for you. But, it must be said that the Shimizaki lasts longer than the Frog’s Fanny.

A quick note on Frog’s Fanny. It also has a refracting quality about it that works as an attractant to fish. Many times we will hit a fly with Frog’s Fanny, and have a fish take on the next cast. Re-Frog, and another fish. Take this a further step, and it applies to nymphing as well. Many of the Tungsten Jigs, like the Howell’s Shuck It Jig or the Tactical Fast Water Prince are collared with CDC hackle. If you take the time to dress your nymph with Frog’s Fanny, the CDC retains its air capturing qualities, and is more attractive to the fish. It can be a bit of a pain in the tuckus, dusting every 4-5 casts, but in that perfect seam, or when the fish have lockjaw, every little bit can help.

Final Thoughts

There are certain flies that require specific applications of floatant, such as a Half Down Stonefly or a Sprout. (Flies For June)These are flies where only half the fly receives floatant. The paste floatant has traditionally been used on these flies, as it is a lot more accurate in its application. However, some have taken to putting Fly-Agra into an old Frog’s Fanny bottle, giving them a brush to apply the liquid floatant to specific areas of a fly. Pretty good thinking, as far as we’re concerned. The Frog’s Fanny itself can also be applied to specific regions of a fly as well, utilizing the brush.

So when you stop by our Missoula Fly Shop for floatant, we may just hand you a bottle and say good to go. And you will be! But there are a lot of floatant options out there. Each one is extremely good at what it does, though they don’t all do the same thing. You’ll find the best guides fishing in Missoula have 2 or 3 floatants with them at all times, and there’s good reason for it. While one will get the job done, it might pay to expand your floatant selection. You’ll find your fly floating longer and higher if you do!

Montana Stonefly Hatch

Best Flies For July In Montana

For Missoula, and most of Montana, July fly fishing comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. It starts like a house afire, and it often ends up just being hot! Montana rivers start the month high, cold and green, and end it low and clear. For the wading angler, this can be a blessing, for the floating angler, not as much. For those who float or row, early July can be the trickiest time of the year. As the water drops, the rivers teeth start to stick up and come into play. But the water isn’t actually low, it’s just lower.  Still a lot of push in the river, and the snags, rocks and sweepers are now a lot closer to the surface, and a lot more dangerous. Pay attention when rowing in early July! But we digress. . . . . . .

Stoneflies

If you want, July can start BIG! Not as big and bright as June, as the Salmon Flies are starting to wane, but they’re still around, coming back to the water to lay their eggs. The Rogue Salmon Fly or the Morning Wood Special in a size 6-8 can work very effectively, as the adult salmon flies are shrinking as they return to lay eggs. They get smaller and darker as the hatch progresses, and your flies should reflect that. However . . . .

The best fly fishing guides in Missoula will tell you the moment the Golden Stones appear in numbers, it’s time to drop the big guy and go for the gold. The goldens are a more consistent hatch along the river, and the fish will rise more readily to the golden. Maybe they taste better? We don’t know that, but we do know they’re usually more productive as we head into July. If you’re not ready to abandon the salmon fly altogether, we can suggest a few “Tweener” flies. A tweener is a fly that does double duty- could be a golden, could be a salmon fly. A great example of this is the El Camino Grillo Golden in the larger sizes. Fits the bill for a big golden or small salmon fly.  A long time stalwart in Missoula is the PK Golden, and don’t sleep on the Plan B either. While it may sound like a second tier fly, the Plan B is a go-to for Missoula fly fishing guides.

Streamers

Lets go back to big for just a second. At the beginning of July, when the rivers are full and maybe still a bit off color, a streamer will often move the biggest fish in the river. The lack of clarity in the water helps them feel safe, and the higher water means the fish are hugging the banks looking for an easy meal they don’t need to move far for. A streamer worked along the shoreline doesn’t give the trout a lot of time to make up its mind, and the vicious hit of a big trout bent on making the most of what the river rips by can about knock the rod out of your hands! Agreed, the surface activity can be so good that you don’t think past the meniscus, but the trout are feeding at all levels of the river. If you’re on the water early and there’s no movement on top, it’s a great time to mobilize big fish with big flies.

Mayflies

The Pale Morning Duns and the Pale Evening Duns are also out in big numbers in the month of July. Look for the PMD’s to come off anywhere from 9:00 am  to 1:00 pm depending on weather. Soft water and longer glides can offer some of the most exciting fishing in Montana and locally, with blanket hatches of PMD’s coming off steadily for 1-2 hours. Have a good selection of bugs, as the fish can get a bit snotty. The Tilt Wing PMD and the Last Chance Cripple cover a lot of the stages of the adult life cycle, and are go-to flies when the hatch is on. The Parachute PMD is easier to see, and is also very effective.

The Pale Evening Duns can be a bit trickier to find. They’re extremely weather dependent. If the day has hit 95 degrees (not uncommon in mid-July- bring your sunscreen!) the PED’s might not come off till about 15 minutes before dark. Be ready, so you’re not trying to tie your fly on in twilight! The same bugs that work for the PMD’s will work for the PED’s as well. If the day was cool or cloudy, they may start to appear as early as 7:30. Make sure you’re ready on the water when they come off, because they are going to. It just depends on the day.

The Rusty Spinner deserves a paragraph all its own. Both the PMD’s and the PED’s will morph into Rusty Spinners, so there are a lot of them on the water. The spinner is a spent mayfly that has returned to the water to die. Their wings are flat to the surface, and they are very difficult to see if you’re not looking for them. They will  come off at dusk or dawn, or both. If you’re an early riser, you might find some early risers! If you’re out late, and the trout have spurned your classic PED patterns, switch over to a Hi-Viz Rusty Spinner. You will be astounded at how popular that darn near invisible (to us) fly is to the trout.

Caddis

The reason you might not be ready for the PED’s is the Tan Caddis. When they are on, they are ON! They will also come off around dusk on the Clark Fork River, Rock Creek, the Bitterroot River, the Big Blackfoot River and all across Montana. The Tan Caddis may be the most popular fly in the entire state.  If you run across a blanket hatch, and there are few fish rising, move directly to the Deep Caddis Pupa Tan or Translucent Pupa Tan. Those insects on the surface didn’t appear from nowhere, and if the fish aren’t feeding on the surface, they’re feeding underneath! If you find them rising in faster water, nothing works better than a Tan Elk Hair Caddis. Find them in some slower water, and the X-Caddis Tan is often the answer. The Tan Caddis is also a great searching fly throughout the day, and will move fish at the strangest times in the strangest places!

Terrestrials

These hatches are huge as the month of July starts, but wane as the month goes on, until what was once a blizzard is now a mere localized squall. As the water drops and clears, and the aquatic food sources begin to dry up, the fish need to widen their gaze, and start looking for alternative meals. The big hope is the Spruce Moth. They can be huge in the last weeks of July, depending upon the weather.  You can hear the landowners curse as the tops of their trees are destroyed, but to the trout, they can be a huge bridge between the cornucopia of early July and the tricos of August. Ron Beck’s MAngler Moth is every guide’s favorite fly, but don’t lose sight of the Spruce Almighty, or even a big tan caddis when the Spruce Moths are on the water.

This is also the time that your Ants and beetles begin to shine. The hot days get those bugs moving around, and every time the wind blows, more enter the river systems. We enjoy the Foam Beetle, as it floats well, and is almost easily seen. The Ant-Acid has become very popular in the last couple of years, as has the ????. It’s a bit early to look to the hopper, unless July has been brutally hot, but the hopper days are coming, rest assured. Patience is required when fishing terrestrials, as the fish aren’t always looking up when we think they should be . . . . .

Nymphs

So go to the nymph!! Pick a good, basic nymph in a size 14-16 and fish the crap out of it. Jig nymphs sink faster- never the wrong choice. The fish are missing their regular meals, and will move a good distance to find some food. If you come across a good deep hole, the Pats Rubberlegs is still a top producer, especislly on the Clark Fork River. Stoneflies nymphs in Missoula have a 2-3 year lifespan, so the Pat’s is always a good bet in the deeper parts of the river.  A Double Bead Stone may be a bit much, but you’re sure going to get down to the bottom of the river with that fly in late July!

Mousing

There’s another terrestrial that deserves special mention in July, and that’s the mouse. Yes, the mouse. Late in the month, when the rivers have calmed down, and the heat of the day has driven the big fish deep into the shade, the mouse can be magic. It takes a little intestinal fortitude to fish rodentia, as the best mouse fishing is found after dark. We find its best to do your mousing in water you’re familiar with- a little prescouting doesn’t hurt either. A flashlight or headlamp is also highly recommended. The big Browns across Montana come out to feed after dark, and its not what you think it is. Darkness hides them from predators, and they will move into shallow water to feed. Work the top of a pool, right where the riffle comes in, and the tail out, where the water shallows back up again. At night, the big fish are in skinny water, and that’s where you need to be. If the mouse isn’t producing, switch to a streamer. Same place, just sub-surface. The takes can be brutally hard. But truthfully, we’re looking for the sippers, the trout that’s so big it takes your mouse with hardly a sign. That’s why you’re on the water after midnight, for the fish that hasn’t seen the sun for 3 years!

Final Thoughts

In like a lion, out like a lamb. The wading is tough in the beginning, awesome at the end. Reverse that for floating. You start the month with 2X tippet, and can find yourself with 4’ of 5X on July 31st. That’s what July is in Missoula and across Montana, the month with the biggest change. Be ready to match the hatches, be ready to make your own with some terrestrials, or get down to where the fish are when the hatches wane and the sun comes out. You get to see it all in July.

Bitterroot River Fly Fishing

The Best Spring Fly Fishing In Montana

Missoula spring fly fishing is like few others in the west. Some of the best fishing of the year starts in March, and it starts on the surface! That’s correct, we have stellar dry fly fishing in March and April. Whether you’re a fan of throwing a big dry fly like a Skwala stonefly, searching with a Nemoura or take pride in hatch matching with a Western March Brown or Blue Winged Olive, Missoula’s spring dry fly fishing will make you smile. The Bitterroot River and its epic Skwala hatch is famous in Montana, and for good reason. What’s less known is Rock Creek and the Clark Fork River also have strong Skwala populations, along with excellent WMB and BWO hatches. While most anglers are focused on the Bitterroot River, the adventurous angler will find spring dry fly fishing throughout the Missoula area.

You can expect surface action from late morning through the afternoon. Missoula’s fly fishing in March and April is temperature dependent, meaning the warmer it gets, the sooner the dry fly fishing starts. If the day stays on the cold and wet side, that activates the BWO’s to epic hatches! Montana’s spring dry fly fishing is focused on Missoula, due to our warmer early season weather. It’s tough to find better spring dry fly fishing in Montana. It’s a lot of fun to be able to start the season on the surface!

Coming off the cold winter, the big dogs are coming out of hibernation, and they’re looking to feed. Every angler knows big flies take big fish, so if you’re looking to see Brother TwoFoot, you may want to turn that dry into a streamer! Many who take advantage of spring fly fishing in Missoula will start their day with the big rod and the big flies, working the edges and holes to sting those big, hungry trout. When the dry flies truly establish later in the day, some anglers will put the big flies away, but don’t kid yourself. The longer you fish the streamer, the longer the Big Dog barks! We love to take those early spring streamer junkies to the Blackfoot River, letting those steep ledges and deep holes divulge their early season secrets.

Which brings us to old reliable. Why does the nymph get such a poor rap, when it’s hands down the most effective way of putting trout in your net. Spring fly fishing in Missoula offers multiple nymphing opportunities, including shallow water sight nymphing with a Skwala or Nemoura nymph, or working a little deeper with your Pheasant Tails and Hare’s Ears. For the first time since late fall, there are lots of nymphs on the move, and early season trout will key on this new and abundant food source. You can get way serious and run a double nymph rig, or you can combine the great spring dry fly fishing with your subsurface hunting and rig up a dry/dropper. However you plan to approach it, the nymph is always the workhorse, the producer, for any angler.

When you start the season early, the weather can be as exciting as the fishing, so be prepared for a Montana Spring fly fishing! But no matter what the weather is above the surface, the trout are eating, and eating hard.

The Missoulian Angler Fly Shop is offering three great deals for experiencing the best spring fly fishing in Montana. Click the button below to see more details.