Mahogany Nymph

Matching The Hatch And Identifying Insects

It’s a complicated world out there, the first time you dive in. Pteranarcys Californicus, Ephemerella Guttulata. It’s enough to send you back to the Royal Wulff and a Prince nymph. Which makes sense, because the only good description we’ve ever heard about why the Prince works, is it’s the nymphal form of the Royal Wulff! That’s a fly joke. You’ll get it before the end of this article, promise!

Insect identification is much easier than you think. Look at it this way. A guy walks down the street with a Chihuahua on a leash, and you think, nice dog. Right after comes a woman walking a Great Dane, and you think, nice dog. Now what on earth made you think those two animals were related to each other? Well, it starts with familiarity. 4 legs. Elongated snout, fur, canine teeth. Despite the size and color disparity, you know they’re both dogs. Because you’ve grown up around dogs, seen them all your life. it’s familiar.

As you spend time on the water, the sight of the insects will also become familiar. They’re smaller than a Great Dane, and no one will have them on a string, so you need to pay attention and look for them! The different ways aquatic insects fly, the way they emerge. As you start looking for insects, this all becomes nature, second nature, just as recognizing a dog did. And here’s another very positive thought about insect ID. You don’t need to know the latin name, or common name, of every bug that flies by. If a pale olive bug 11mm long flies by on July 5, find a fly in your box that’s pale olive and 11mm long, and tie it on. Simple as that. If the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop has done its job, you have that 11mm pale olive fly, and what they are is less important,

But there comes a time when you do want to know, and we get it. The MAngler has created a large online resource page called Hatches, which if we do say so ourselves, is pretty spiffy! Look at it, and the images will give you a good idea of what a caddis fly, mayfly and stonefly will look like. When you’re on the water, if you carry a net, looking at the real thing is a very simple task. Get a stocking  and stretch it over your landing net. Instant bug net, suitable for subsurface or in-flight grabbing. It’s easy to carry and store, and you don’t have an extra piece of tackle with you. There are also commercially available bug seines for this purpose as well. Start by kicking a few rocks directly upstream of the net, which is touching the bottom directly downstream of where you’re moving rocks. Look at what precipitates into the stocking. It will take a minute to get the hang of keeping the seined materials of the face of the stocking, but you will. You’re going to find more in the seine than just bugs! You’re going to have to move some stuff around to find the insects. Look and see what you’ve found. Are they big? Small? What color are they? How many of each are you finding? And once you’ve done that a couple of times. You’ll have identified the prevalent insect. If its brown, and 11mm long, tie on a nymph that’s brown and 11 mm long

Think about this. You’re a predator. An average hunter knows his quarry. A good hunter knows what his quarry is after for sustenance. We’re not on the plains of Africa, where predators congregate around water holes. Our prey lives in the water, so that doesn’t work! We have to learn about what our prey needs in other ways. When walking to the river, you’re paying attention.  See a spiders web? Look at it carefully. What’s in it. Shake a few branches next to the river as you walk AWAY from the put in. Let’s emphasize that. Most fishermen get no further from their car than it takes to drink a beer and get a new one. We tend to walk to where the path gets to be only a suggestion, and then start fishing. It makes a big difference. But we digress…..

You’re paying attention to your surroundings. You’re looking, and making the proper moves, to ascertain what the most abundant food form is. Shaking branches, looking for shucks along the shore, these are all things good anglers do to figure out what the trout are most likely to be feeding upon.

Aquatic insects are cyclical. If you see that pale olive insect in July this year, you’re going to see it again next year at the same time. The MAngler has a Hatch Chart in our Resource pages as well, detailing every insect important to the trout. The chart will say what species the insect is, and when it’s like to be found on the Blackfoot River, Clark Fork River, Rock Creek and the Bitterroot River. When you’re out on July 5, look at the hatch chart. It will give you a starting point to insect ID, because you can eliminate a lot of insects that won’t be on the water at that time of year. And you start looking at the bugs on the water.

On July 5, you see fish rising, and there’s a bug on the water that’s pale olive and 11mm long. You catch one, and it has an elongated body that curves upwards, 6 legs, large eyes and the wings stick straight up and back over the body. You’ve done some research, (or used your phone to access the Hatches Resource Page) and you ID the shape as a mayfly. Boom! It’s on like Donkey Kong! It’s like figuring out your first dog. The hard step is over. Now, any time you see that shape, regardless of size or color, you KNOW it’s a mayfly. The rest will follow, names, emergence times, etc.

The same will happen for stoneflies and caddis. You’ll ID your first one, and all of a sudden those worlds open up as well. And then, the river will start to look like a bug hatchery. When you’re not sure what exactly you’re looking for, it’s really difficult to find it! But as you spend more time on the water, and start to see the insects as stoneflies, or caddis, all of a sudden they seem to pop out for you.  You’ll be surprised you could have missed them all the other times you came to the river. You’ll start to understand what the birds are doing, wheeling across the surface of the water, and use their actions to locate insect activity. Patterns will start to emerge on the river, patterns that will provide you more successful angling in Missoula, and anywhere else you take the long rod out for trout. 

It’s a big step, learning to ID the different insects on the river. We know anglers who aren’t comfortable without knowing latin names, the range where they’re found, life cycles and the factors that trigger their emergence. Some just want to know the name so they buy the right flies! Other could care less, and just go a-fishing. Find your own comfort level, and don’t be influenced by others. At our Missoula fly shop, we have customers who really care, and we have people who used to care. It’s all good! Fly fishing is supposed to be fun, and it’s up to you to decide the level of fun you plan to attain. No matter what level of entomologist you plan to be, the MAngler plans to be there helping you get to the level you’re striving for, online and in the shop.

One last thought. You can look a little silly, running down the river in waders, waving a landing net in the air and cursing as your swipe completely misses the mark. Get over it! We’ve all been there, we just don’t talk about it anymore!!

Bitterroot River Fall Fly Fishing

Best Flies For September Fishing In Montana

September fly fishing in Missoula is arguably the best time of year. The water is low, reaching prime temps with longer, cooler nights with the most comfortable wading of the year. The bugs are diverse in size, ranging from size 6 hoppers to size 22 Blue Winged Olives. Subsurface, the nymphing is excellent with so much insect activity, while the streamer fishing comes on as September progresses. It doesn’t matter what type of fly fishing you’re looking for, if you’re in Missoula in September, you’re going to find it. Lets take a look at some of the best flies for September fly fishing in Montana.

Hoppers

September starts with the same flies as you’ve been using since August 10th. The grasshoppers have established, with fish on the prowl looking for a big, easy meal. Missoula hopper fishing starts in late July and depending on weather, may last into November! That’s over 3 months of fish seeing naturals, and their imitations. September is a good time to do a little experimenting with different hopper variations. We carry Pav’s Hopper in 5 different colors, and variations on the Morrish Hopper in 4 different colors. We have gray hoppers, blue hoppers and many pink ones. Why do they work? No idea, but they do. We watch Missoula’s best fly fishing guides shop every morning, and in September they will be looking for full fly bins. The theory is no one is buying them, so the fish haven’t seen too many. Think about expanding your hopper game in September to show the trout

something new and different.

Tricos

The same can be said for Tricos. In early September, you can almost set your watch by the trico hatch. The fish have been looking at naturals for almost a month, and they can get a bit snotty at this time of year. Think about some Trout Hunter tippet in 5.5X. Trout Hunter tippet is much softer than Rio, and allows your bug to float more naturally. The half sizes of tippet provide more stealth without sacrificing as much strength. Move to trico cripples and emergers, like the Sprout or the Quigley Cluster Midge. Ron’s Trico Spinner will produce consistently as well, though by this time of year he is way tired of tying them! Be ready to drop down to a size 20 as well, so make sure you’ve got your readers when you hit the water.

Blue WInged Olives

We’re all waiting for the magic moment in September- the first real rains of fall. If we’re lucky, the rain comes in about September 10th, and the entire complexion of fly fishing in Missoula changes. The weather change brings cooler temps and some clouds. The tricos trade out for Blue Winged Olives. Same size- different color. The week after the rains will prove to any angler that fish can see color! If you fish a trico through a BWO hatch or vice versa, you’re not going to be anywhere near as successful as you could be. Look for the classic figure 8 of a trico spinner cloud above the water, or get your nose close to the water and check what’s floating by. It makes a big difference!

As the BWO’s start, the basic patterns will work. A simple Parachute BWO or Comparadun will take fish consistently at the start of the hatch. But as the BWO’s extend through September, growing in numbers, the fish get a lot more selective. The Last Chance Cripple or Quigley Split Flag Cripple will start to be more effective for fussy trout. Again, shift down with your tippet size to give your fly the best chance at a drag free drift. Watch rise forms very carefully when BWO’s are on the water. Many fish focus on emerging nymphs, and while you’ll see concentric “rise” rings, it’s the fish’s back that breaks the surface, not the mouth. Drop an unweighted Size 18 Pheasant Tail about 4 inches off the back of your dry and watch your catch rate skyrocket.

Mahoganies

In the middle of the month, the Mahoganies start to make their annual appearance. This size 14 mayfly is tough to miss on a Fall afternoon, and provides a steady hatch for the next 3 weeks. The Parachute Pheasant Tail, Purple Haze or Brindle Chute all in size 14-16 are excellent choices at this time, with the Brindle Chute out performing most other flies when the Mahoganies are on, especially on the Bitterroot River where it was invented. Again, as the hatch progresses, start to get a bit more technical with your flies. Bring some Last Chance Cripples or Sparkle Duns when the fish are ignoring your standard fare.

October Caddis

At the end of the month, you can start looking for the October caddis to appear. If you think you can’t miss the Mahoganies, you REALLY can’t miss the October Caddis. This size 8-10 orange caddis is a favorite of fish on the Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, Rock Creek and the Clark Fork River. If you see one, tie one on. The fish are looking for them and will eat even when the naturals aren’t strong. Both the Orange Elk Hair Caddis and the Orange Goddard Caddis will float a small dropper as well, so make sure to utilize that option as well. The Birds of Prey October Caddis Pupa is deadly subsurface, and if you’re not getting the action you’re looking for on top, get down with the pupa to bring your fish count up.

Nymphs

With all the hatches across Missoula’s rivers, the nymphing can be off the hook! With lower water levels the droppers are shorter and easier to control, especially on the Bitterroot River and Rock Creek. Don’t be afraid to go small. Early in September, the SR Bullet Black in a size 18 is a great trico nymph. When the weather changes the rivers to BWO’s, switch to an SR Bullet Olive and keep raking in the fish. A Pheasant Tail Jig will outperform most anything for the Mahogany nymph, and don’t forget the October Caddis Pupa. It should be said again, if fish aren’t eating on the surface, they’re eating underneath- dry flies get the ink, nymphs get the fish. Especially at the end of the month, when the cold weather tells the fish winter is coming, and they need to eat.

Streamers

The same weather that moves trout to nymph hard also moves fish to eat streamers. When the days start to get cooler and shorter, a great way to start the day is working a small to midsize streamer around the likely areas. If your streamer choice is comfortable to cast on a 5-6 weight, it’s proabably the correct size. This is conventional wisdom, but there are exceptions. In the big water of the lower Clark Fork River and the lower Blackfoot River (which is now bereft of tubers due to the cold) a big streamer run deep will still work its magic. If you’re a streamer-maniac, the last week of September can be prime time, moving bigger fish looking to take in a few calories before the real weather gets here. Pick your spots to run the Mongrel Meat or Sex Dungeons, or go smaller with a Baby Gonga or Dirty Hippie.

Final Thoughts

Whatever you’re looking for when you head to the water, September fly fishing in Missoula has the answer. Whether you want technical dry fly fishing, prospecting with dries, focused Euronymphing, Hopper/dropper or streamer action, somewhere on Missoula’s diverse rivers you’re going to find it. The weather is relatively mild, the wading is easy, the rivers are at good flows and better temps, and you can expect good days on the water. If you live here, carve out some time to fish during some of the year’s best fly fishing in Missoula. If you’re traveling from out of town, get ready to see some of the best fly fishing Missoula has to offer. We’ll see you in the shop, or hear from you online! 

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!

Salmonfly Pattern Blackfoot River

Thoughts On Fly Patterns For Fishing Montana In June

June fly fishing in Montana. It’s why so many of us live in Missoula! The best fly fishing in Missoula, the best fly fishing in Montana is happening right now. Salmon Flies. Because when the big dog barks. . . . . .  Green Drakes. Big fish rising consistently. With summer just around the corner, so a smattering of Pale Morning Duns, Pale Evening Duns and Golden Stones will round out the month. If there was ever a time to do a little distancing, pretty much pick a spot on the Clark Fork River, Blackfoot River, Rock Creek or the Bitterroot River for the next four weeks, and enjoy the best fly fishing of the year.

Picking favorite flies for this month is a pamphlet length affair. So we’re going to concentrate on a style of fly, and then apply that style to all the different hatches that are bursting out right now. And we’re going to be talking about a specific type of imitation, and that’s the ass in the water fly.

A very good outfitter in Missoula invented the Gould’s Half-down Salmon Fly, and he told us this story about the first time he used it. He said he knew he had a winner, and couldn’t wait to tie it on. When the first salmon fly starts to fly, he puts it on a clients rod, who does nothing for 45 minutes. So he takes and early lunch, feeds his guests and then asks if he could borrow the rod, and of course the guy says sure. Off he goes, up the stream, to find out why the magic isn’t working.

Third cast along the shore, and a beautiful 15” trout gently twists its pectoral fins and lazily drifts to the top of Rock Creek, and sips that salmon fly just like a mayfly. Released, and a couple casts later another nice trout slips up and sucks it down, same slow rise form. And the big 500 watt lightbulb went off over his head. The bug is SUBMERGED! It can’t get away! Why waste energy slashing at a trapped insect when a slow sip is just as effective. Back to the clients, and tells them to look for a subtle rise, not the classic Rock Creek slash, and they were off to the races. An epic day on a fly that imitates, what in mayfly terms, would be a cripple. This is basically a stonefly Klinkhamer.

We carry a lot of stone flies that ride with a half submerged body, in addition to the Half-down. The 64 Impala Salmon Fly, The El Camino Grillo and the Demoes Mill all float with a submerged abdomen. As long as you dress them correctly! For these flies, we use a gel floatant and only apply it on the front half of the fly. We want the rear to sink, so no floatant on the rear of the fly. It makes these flies a bit trickier to see, and they may not float a dropper as well. A small price to pay for flies that really connect with the fish. That ass in the water sends a message to the deeps- this fly aint going anywhere.

If you’re looking for the same “action” in a mayfly imitation, look for the Sprout and the Sparkle Dun to provide that sunken backside that’s so irresistible to trout. Once again, the submerged abdomen means the fly is trapped, and is worth the energy expenditure to move for. Breaking the meniscus with the abdomen is a clear call to all trout- this fly is easy pickings. Get your Sprouts and Sparkle Duns in all the June hatches you plan to meet on any of your fishing adventures.

So while this may not detail the exact flies you need for June, it certainly helps you get started with knowing which of the hatches are present, and gives a strategy for meeting them. To be honest, the fishing in June might not be this technical. The water is still big, and the fish are hugging the shore. As the flies zip by, the fish don’t always have a lot of time to make a decision, so you can use pretty much any hatch matching fly and be sure of some success. Big Orange and medium Gold/Tan cover the stoneflies, while pale mint green and pale olive cover the Green Drakes and PMD’s/PED’s. Stop by our Missoula fly shop or check out our online store to find the flies you need for June fly fishing in Missoula, and then get on the water. Don’t squander the years best fly fishing in Montana!

Trico Nymph

Small Nymphs For Trout

There’s a small but dedicated cadre of nymph fishermen who go small all the time. It seems contra-indicated in Missoula, where you’re surrounded by Salmon Fly, Golden Stone and Skwala nymphs, but we’ve seen the proof, and tiny nymphs work in Missoula. We’re talking about size 18 and smaller, mostly used on a standard nymph rig. They can be used on a euronymph rig, but you’ll need to take extra steps in rigging to get the smaller flies deep enough quickly enough.

We understand the conundrum. You’re standing on the bank of a river that’s 80’ wide. It takes some mental gymnastics to convince yourself that any trout would be looking for food that small. It’s also easy to fall into the mindset of even if the trout are eating them, how are they going to find something 5mm long in such a huge area. But it makes sense to go tiny more often then most of us do, and this is why.

Midges are one of the most prolific insects in any body of water. In Missoula rivers, we tend to focus on them in Winter, when they continue to hatch, and are eaten by the trout on the surface. But the next time you’re on the water in Spring, Fall or Summer, look for midges flying. You’ll find them. The fish don’t care (see Skwala, Salmon and Golden!) but the insects are out and moving. This means the Midge larva are available to trout 365 days a year. Consistent food will find consistent feeders.

There is also a constant supply of tiny mayfly nymphs year round as well. When a mayfly lays its eggs, it lays anywhere from 100-500. When they hatch, they are close to microscopic, and of little value to the fish. But there are a lot of them. With some growth, they hit a size 22 and the fish begin to take notice. This is an extremely plentiful food source, and as mayflies hatch from Spring to Fall, this underwater cycle goes on for 9 months as well. Add caddis larva and stoneflies to that same cycle as well, and the trout has a myriad food supply if they can find the correct lie.

The last factor comes into play when you’re fishing hard fished water. When a stream is seeing a lot of anglers, and the fish are getting hooked frequently, they rapidly learn larger food forms are dangerous to their health! Think about the Yellow Breeches in PA, the Farmington in CT and the San Juan or Green River out west. These rivers see 100’s of anglers every day. These highly educated fish have seen it all, and a larger fly simply doesn’t look natural to these fish any longer. But a tiny fly, by definition, has less going on. They’re easier to imitate, and they look more realistic to the trout. When you’re struggling to find a place to access the water due to pressure, you might use your down time to rig tiny for more success.

Tiny nymphs take the same care in rigging as tiny dries. You have to go to light tippet, 5X and thinner. The thinner tippet allows the fly to behave in a more natural way, as well as allowing these lighter flies to sink faster. This is also the place where your microshot comes into play. This type of fishing is way too subtle for a B or BB size lead weight- you need to get your tiny weight out, and rig accordingly. The large lead is simply too dramatic with a smaller fly, dragging the nymph in an unrealistic way along the bottom. Because the rig is so lightweight, scale your indicator down as well. You don’t need a ¾” inch Thing-A-Ma-Bobber to hold these flies up, and on hard fished waters a smaller, lighter indicator is so much less intrusive.

Depth control is crucial with tiny nymphs. While a trout may roam 2-3 feet to take a Salmon Fly nymph, they’re not going to move far to take a 5mm insect. You need to put these flies directly in front of the trout, or they’re not going to eat them. The energy expenditure is too great for the calories taken in. “Foam is Home” is never so important as when fishing tiny. The foam you see on the surface tells you where the currents are coming together in the river, which in turn tells you where the majority of food will be. Get your indicator in the foam line and let it ride.

Classic depth of your nymph is 1.5 times the depth of the water. But when going tiny, use a bit more length from your indicator. Tiny flies don’t sink all that rapidly, even with microshot, so they don’t stretch out tippet as well as a larger fly does. The extra length allows the fly to reach the depth needed to take fish. The only time this might not apply is if you’re using a small perdigon in your rig. Perdigons, with their tungsten bead and coated bodies, sink very rapidly. With a perdigon, you may be able to run less length from your indicator because the sink rate is so much greater. As a rule, tiny flies will require tiny adjustments to your leader to be effective.

Some may be asking why you don’t take a fast sinking fly like a wire worm or Pat’s Rubberlegs and attach it above the smaller fly to get it to sink more rapidly. This technique certainly works in less pressured water, where fish are less apt to shy from a larger bug. But in those high pressure situations, a larger bug may serve to drive the fish away. Also, at least in Montana, the maximum legal number of flies that can be used is two. We prefer to have two effective bugs if we can, so the larger bug is less useful in those situations. Go with two effective bugs, not a single fly and what’s essentially weight.

When you’ve found a likely spot, don’t be in a hurry to move. This is delicate nymphing, and not easy to control because of the light weight. Drag, any drag at all, will keep these flies from sinking. So you might want to make more than a few passes where you think the fish are. Not every presentation is perfect. Allow some wiggle room to make sure your fly is getting to the fish in a natural way, It won’t happen every cast, so make sure you make enough casts that it does actually happen! Drag is the enemy at all times, but its affects are magnified with lighter flies and longer leaders.

It’s so easy to fall into the thought pattern of big flies taking big fish. Which is true in so many times and in so many places. But while it’s a good thought, it’s not the only way to think about what will take trout. Trout are always on the lookout for a consistent food source, and tiny nymphs are there all the time. A constant stream of small food is as good as minimal stream of large food, from a caloric standpoint. If you can broaden your nymph selection to cover the tiny flies that are so abundant in the river, you’re going to find yourself getting into more trout. Plus, think how much fun you’ll have learning that when on a big river, the tiny flies are as effective, if not more so than those size 4 Double Bead Stones!

Best Jig Nymphs For Trout

At the Missoulian Angler, the jig nymph has positively changed fly fishing success rates to such a point they outsell standard nymphs a pace of 3:1. They are considered to be some of the best trout nymphs by many. Unless a very specific hatch matcher is needed, it’s rare for anyone in the fly shop to recommend a standard nymph. Why has the jig nymph so quickly and completely changed the way we fish? For all the same reasons the jig nymph will change the way you fish whenever you decide to catch some fish and go deep!

It starts with a slotted tungsten bead. The fishhook is a product of 1000’s of years of design, and it’s designed so it aligns itself in the water shank up, hook point down. By definition, a jig rides hook point up, shank down. It’s the tungsten bead, with its high density and excellent weight to size ratio that changes the hook from riding point down to point up. Of course, enough weight to offset the balance of the hook also means the jig fly sinks faster than a classic nymph tied with a standard bead.

We all want our trout nymphs close to the bottom, and the tungsten bead helps in that aspect. But as every angler knows, the bottom is also an excellent place to snag. This often starts the process of re-rigging, which often gives us a chance to closely examine the cost benefits of being close to the bottom. The jig style nymph shines in this aspect as well.

Riding hook point up, the jig nymph is significantly less prone to snagging on the bottom. You can do it, but with the hook point up, there’s less chance of snagging to a point you can’t get your fly back. When you see the jig nymph is less prone to snags, you’ll regain the confidence that every fourth cast won’t be so costly. You’ll start to work closer to the bottom, where the fish are looking for food. The tungsten jig s get you closer to the bottom, and snag less. You fish longer, rig less, and stop worrying about cost benefits!

Many jig nymphs are the flies you’re already using, tied on an inverted hook. The Pat’s Rubberlegs, Pheasant Tail Nymph and Hare’s Ear Nymph immediately come to mind. These flies produce everywhere a line gets wet. Now they’re available as jig nymphs, and these top producers just got more effective. If you’re looking to ease your way into jig nymphing, going with a classic fly, inverted as a jig, to jumpstart your entrance into this fly style.

The jig style has also spawned its own style of fly. Loosely known as the Perdigon, this jig nymph is sparse and has a coated body. It’s designed to sink rapidly, getting where the fish are faster than any other nymph we sell. Make sure to vary your sizes, to match your local insects. Be ready to be closer to the bottom, and then be ready to start taking more and bigger fish! It’s what the jig nymph is all about!

Here is a list of some of the best nymph patterns tied with the Jig style hook that work across the country.

Top 9 Tungsten Jig Nymphs

PT Hot Spot Jig Orange Fly

PT Hot Spot – Orange

SR Bullet Olive Fly

Bullet Quill

TH Duracell Jig

TH Duracell

Hare's Ear Jig

Hare’s Ear Jig

Yellow Spot Jig Fly

Yellowspot Jig

Pheasant Tail Jig

Pheasant Tail Jig

TJ Hooker Black/Brown

TJ Hooker

Natural Jig Zirdle

Zirdle Jig

Pink Jig Squirmie Wormie

Squirmie Wormy Jig

Click here to view a complete list of our top Jig nymphs