5 Best Hatches on Rock Creek

Rock Creek is the quintessential western river, and Missoula’s only Blue Ribbon trout stream. Many locals consider Rock Creek to be their home waters, and live for Rock Creek Hatches. If you could design a river for stoneflies, Rock Creek would be the model. Rock Creek’s high gradient creates fast, highly oxygenated water and a large cobbled bottom that is absolutely perfect stonefly habitat. Here is a list of our favorite Rock Creek Hatches.

Salmon Fly

Salmon Fly Hatch In Montana

Rock Creek is known the world over for its Salmon Fly hatch. Work in the shop mid-June through early July and you’ll hear 4-5 different languages spoken, all with one common denominator- Salmon Fly. That doesn’t need translation. Whether on foot or by boat, the Salmon Fly hatch on Rock Creek is a clarion call to anglers- big bugs here.

The start of the Salmon Fly hatch can be hampered by high water. Run-off traditionally ends just as the Salmon Flies are heating up. Rock Creek’s gradient means little to no silt, which allows Rock Creek to clear long before other local rivers will. Clear or not, the Salmon Flies will hatch and the trout will find them. Also, clear or not, Rock Creek is a tricky river to wade and row during the Salmon Fly hatch. Anglers can cover 25-30 miles in a day by boat- the river is moving that fast. Care needs to be taken in boat or on foot. While on safety, if you’re wading and see a Moose, go find somewhere else to fish. Get between a female moose and her calf and you have real problems.

Traditionally, the Salmon Flies begin hatching at the mouth of Rock Creek, and move 1-2 miles upstream each day on average. Many fishing reports reference “where” the hatch is on Rock Creek- it’s saying where the hatch is densest as it moves upriver. The density of the Salmon Fly hatch is truly magnificent. Find yourself in the thick of the hatch, and you can have Salmon Flies crawling all over you, the boat and every tree on shore. With every fish in the river up and looking for them.

Early in the season, we favor the large, foam Salmon Flies like Damien’s SUV or El Camino Grillo for their ability to float in high water. As the river drops, we go a bit smaller to a Goulds Half Down or a Morningwood Special. A Double Bead Black or Peacock Stonefly Nymph will work well subsurface.

Female Salmon Flies will live for 2-3 weeks in the trees, returning daily to lay new eggs. Over this time, they shrink in size and darken in color. As the hatch moves upstream, crafty anglers will take a smaller, darker pattern like a Bullethead Salmon Fly or Rogue Salmon Fly and go down low. While the crazy hatch (and crazy hatch chasers) might be at Mile 30, the adults are still there laying their eggs at Mile 6, and the trout are still eating them.

Fair warning. Rock Creek is Missoula’s most easily accessed river, with Rock Creek Road paralleling the river for 52 miles. It’s not a secret that the best Salmon Fly hatch in the world is here. If you’re looking to fish in solitude, not another angler within miles, Rock Creek during Salmon Flies may not be for you. Rock Creek is justifiably famous for this amazing hatch, but it draws a crowd. Be ready for that experience.

Golden Stones

Golden Stone Hatching On The Blackfoot River

The Golden Stones follow directly on the heels of the Salmon Fly on Rock Creek, and for many anglers provide more consistent fishing along the length of the river. The Salmon Fly can provide you with frenzied feeding, while the Golden will be consistent throughout the day. Unlike the single species Salmon Fly (Pteranarcys Californica) the Golden Stones are made up of many different but related species of stoneflies, which is why the Golden can vary in size from a 6 to a 12, with most in the 8-10 range. Be ready with multiple sizes and shapes to meet the changing hatch along Rock Creek. The size difference is why the Golden hatch is more consistent- more difficult for the fish to gorge on smaller flies and stop feeding.

The Goldens are coming off when the water is up, so a high floating fly is most effective at the start of the hatch. The Demoes Golden and the Morningwood Golden are both good foam flies that will absorb the pounding of Rock Creek. Because the Goldens will go almost through July, low floaters will work better near the end of the hatch. A Plan B Golden or Halfdown Golden are strong producers near the end of the hatch.

Western March Browns

March Brown Hatch Montana

To be honest, we flipped a coin between the WMB’s and the Skwala Stone. Both appear in the Spring, starting in late March and moving through run-off. Rock Creek hatches tends to be a bit behind in the Spring hatches because it’s in such a steep, narrow valley. Takes a few more warmer days to get the water temps to where the WMB’s will hatch. When they do, they come alive along the length of the river.

Don’t ask an angler where his favorite Western March Brown water is, because they’re not going to tell you! Rock Creek moves quickly, and there aren’t many places for a trout to set up for a mayfly hatch. It’s not the quick dart to the surface for big food like a stonefly. Look for the WMB’s along the edges of the river, and be ready with some strong mending to get the drift. The good news is the trout up and eating don’t tend to be fussy, and a well presented fly in the correct size and color is effective most of the time.

We favor the Hare’s Ear Dry or Parachute Adams when the Western March Browns are on the water. If you feel you need a bit more, the Last Chance Cripple will do the trick for the fussiest fish. If you see a few WMB’s flying but don’t see any active risers, work the fly over the good water. For some reason, prospecting with a WMB is effective, so take advantage of that.

Skwala Stonefly

Bitterroot Skwala Hatch

Rock Creek is a stonefly factory, and the Skwala is no exception. Depending on the weather, the Skwalas may start as early as mid March, but will be in full swing by the end of the month. Rock Creek is typically low and clear when the Skwalas hatch, so no 1X tippet on a short leader here. You’ll need to get out a bit, and work with the lightest tippet you can when using a Skwala.

The Skwalas are found along the length of the river, and in the Spring are not fished as heavily as other local waters, specifically the Bitterroot River. Just as Rock Creek is famous for the Salmon Fly, the Bitterroot River is famous for the Skwalas. A bit of contrarian fishing can reap big benefits with Skwalas on Rock Creek. The hatch isn’t as dense as the Bitterroot, but neither are the fishermen, so that can be a good trade off. It’s not that Rock Creek doesn’t get a strong hatch, it’s just not the strongest. Use that to your advantage.

We love the Morningwood Skwala on Rock Creek, as well as the Rogue Stone Skwala. These two flies are strong floaters, and will easily support a WMB nymph, like a Tungsten Jig Hare’s Ear, so you can double your chances at this time. If the day calls for a low floater, go with the Rastaman Skwala or the Half Down Skwala. Both are very effective in slower water as well as days when the fish are a bit sluggish.

October Caddis

October Caddis Hatch

Rock Creek is home to many caddis species, and late in the season the big boy comes out to play. The October Caddis is Missoula’s largest caddis species, and when they’re on the water, the trout are eating them. It’s rare to find enough October Caddis on the water to where the fish will set up and consistently rise to them, but that doesn’t matter!

If you see an October Caddis on the water, tie one on the end of your line and start prospecting. If there’s one, there’s more, and the trout know it. Work the likely water, and don’t be afraid to put 3-4 casts over a likely spot. Sometimes a few extra casts alert the trout to the hatch, and you’ll take a trout that thinks it’s missing something.

Our two favorite flies for this hatch are the Orange Elk Hair Caddis and the Orange Stimulator. Both are strong surface performers, while the Stimulator has the added bonus of floating high enough to use a dropper. The Bird Of Prey is a great October Caddis pupa, and you can also run an Umpqua Pheasant Tail Tungsten Jig to imitate the Mahogany nymphs that are also present in the Fall. Be ready for a explosive rises and hard subsurface takes to the October Caddis.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mention on Rock Creek hatches goes to the Spruce Moth. While not technically a hatch, and not always consistent, if Missoula has a big Spruce Moth year, Rock Creek will go crazy. The Spruce Moths appear in early August, when little food is available in-stream. When they come to the water, every trout in the river is looking for that bonus food. The Spruce Moth isn’t something to set your watch to, which is why it only gets honorable mention.

Additional Resources For Rock Creek Hatches

Floating The Blackfoot River

Best Guides In The Business

Sure, we’re completely prejudiced- what did you expect! But we feel Missoula fly fishing guides are the best guides in Montana, and we can back that up. On June 30, every guide in town has a huge decision to make before they even start their day on the water.  From the Missoulian Angler, they can head 80 miles west, east, south, northwest or southwest, choosing to fish on the Bitterroot River, Upper or Lower Clark Fork River, the Big Blackfoot River or Rock Creek. There are over 300 miles- yes, 300 miles!- of floatable river in about an hour’s drive from Missoula. That’s a lot of water to know and cover! Not trying to pick on our good friends on the Missouri, Bighorn and other tailwaters, but those rivers have limited areas to fish. Those guides know the fishable sections like they know their own face, but it’s not as much water to learn, not as many flies and not as many techniques to master.

Every river in Missoula has it’s own unique characteristics. When you’re floating on Rock Creek, you’re moving fast! Covering 20-25 river miles is not uncommon on that river in the last weeks of June. It’s narrow and popular, which means the guides need to be on the lookout for wading fishermen (of which there are many), sweepers, and all the other hazards that come with any river. Add tying on flies and providing drinks, and a guide has his hands full when floating Rock Creek.

The Bitterroot is almost the polar opposite of Rock Creek. Rock Creek flows along the base of a canyon for much of its length. It rarely changes its channels, so where you floated last year will be the way to go this year as well. Not so on the Bitterroot. Every June, Missoula fly fishing guides need to relearn the Bitterroot. Channels change, so you need to make the right choices when floating. That spot that was so good this spring? It’s gone. Post run-off, the best Missoula guides are scouting the Bitterroot, trying to locate where the fish have relocated to. Sure, the 10-14” fish are where they always are, but the big boys are a different story. They have to be relocated every year. Our guides definitely pool their resources on the Bitterroot, finding out what channels are open, and where it’s best to float.  As the river drops into summertime, new challenges pop up- finding the channels with enough water to float, and finding the trout that have become skittish in the bright sun and warm temperatures. It’s what makes the Bitterroot such a challenging, demanding river. It’s a changing, and every year it takes a knowledgeable, skilled guide to find the fish and get them into the net.

The Blackfoot can be one of the trickiest rivers to row in the state. Those magnificent boulders and deep shelves that give this river character are also definite navigational challenges. Late June can be a very exacting time on the river, with the boulders, crags and sweepers getting up near the surface where they can some damage, but with so much push from the high water that a guide has to get his rowing line through some stretches perfectly, or you’re going to find yourself in a bit of mischief. And like the Bitterroot, as the Blackfoot drops, the guides again have to find the sun shy fish and navigate a river that may be 1/8 the size it was 5 weeks ago! It takes a guide with the skill of a white water rafter to navigate the Blackfoot, and Missoula can fill any two local taprooms (day off) with guides who can row like fury, fish with passion and instruct with grace and elegance.

When it comes to the Clark Fork, it’s a tale of two rivers. The Upper Clark Fork River is narrow, tricky to row and fish from a boat, and can be a bit stingy. But when it’s on, it’s fire, and no one is there. It can provide an amazing experience on a smaller river. As the Clark Fork transitions from a smaller river to the largest in the state, the water varies wildly, from huge logjams to the urban town float, where you can fish a great river and stop at 3-4 riverside bars in Missoula and enjoy a cold beverage or a hot lunch! Better know which town channel to take, or you’ll miss the take out by 4 miles! Once the Bitterroot enters, the Clark Fork gets big and slow. You can find some amazing technical dry fly fishing to the largest rising fish in Missoula. The nymphing can be spectacular, and streamers can move a Brownie fatter than an average trout is long on almost any cast!

Let’s toss this in. We’re a two hour run to the Missouri river or the upper Bighole river. Three to the Beaverhead river or the headwaters of the Missouri. Don’t think Missoula guides aren’t familiar with these waters as well.

It’s 7:30 am and Missoula’s best fly fishing guides are texting, talking and planning their day. What’s hot, what’s not. They’ll be meeting their guests, and having a conversation with them. What are they expecting fom their day? (Missoula’s Best Guides) Lots of fish, dries, scenery, technical? This all goes into the mix as the guides ponder their four distinct options, the four distinct personalities that make Missoula such an eclectic fly fishing destination.

That’s not all that goes into a float trip, not by a longshot. Gas, clean boat and rig, delicious lunch and a positive attitude are a given. The guides need to know the water they’re going to take you to. It doesn’t work to see the take out 2 hours after putting in, or still see the put in 9 hours into the day. Missoula guides can manage a day on the water to perfection, having you home for dinner or squeezing the most out of the day. They know every shuttle driver in 100 miles from the shop. They’re prepared to fish any river at any time. While all the rivers have much of the same hatches, each river has its favorite flies and best angling practices. The guides need to be tricked out with the best flies for wherever their fancy takes them.

The Missoulian Angler has the largest fly selection in town, and over the course of the year, we see just about every guide in Missoula. Matt Robb, Russell Parks, Damon Cox, Tony Reinhardt, Chase Harrison, Dustin Stenson, Joe Boone, Greg Inglis and Scott Stanko– we see them all. And it’s the same thing every day, where am I going to fish. Decades of experience walk through our shop daily, and we watch the wheels spinning. We hear the slyly crafted questions and the tell-tale hints that might lead to the mother-lode.  Or it could be as simple as calling Tommy at Four Rivers Shuttle or Pat Bond and ask where they have the fewest boats! So many strategies employed to find our guests the best fly fishing in Montana.

But it all boils down to one thing. Once you’ve committed, once the best fishing guides in Missoula have decided on, that 6 mile float, 9 mile float or 13 mile float, you know there’s still 290 MILES of river you’re not fishing that day.  Was it the best call? Was it an average call. Did you float lockjaw territory? When you’re as diverse as Missoula, when you can basically dial up about any type of fishing you’re looking for, from blanket hatches to technical Euronymphing, Missoula, Montana always has that mystery about it. You’ll know about how your day is going to go tomorrow morning, when todays fishing is grist for the mill! And once again, the choice is there.  That’s the face every guide wears in the morning, what is he missing. But here’s a fact, and you can take it to the bank (Haha!), whatever water you’re fishing, Missoula’s guides will fish the ever-loving crap out of it.

Missoula’s best guides have a skill set that is rivalled by few. They can row. The best guides in Missoula row the trickiest and rockiest rivers in Montana on a daily basis, adjusting as the rivers change from day to day. Imagine the skill set needed to work in 4 separate buildings, separated into multiple offices, that can change on a daily basis. That’s a guide’s life in Missoula. It takes a while to get familiar with all the water around Missoula, knowing the best flies and techniques for each river. Luckily, the city and the rivers are a magnet, attracting and keeping guides for decades. When we say Missoula guides are amongst the best in the state, we can back that up with diversity, skills and preparation.

It’s a passion, but it’s a business as well. Missoula fly fishing guides approach each day as craftsmen, knowing each day will be different, and confident they will rise to the challenge. They have the option of fishing over 300 miles of river, know what’s fishing, finding out what their guests want, balance that against where the best fishing is, and make the call. With fly boxes stuffed to the gills (Haha) with the best flies for every river, they have a full tank of gas, and their sunglasses are on! These guides are ready for their clients, ready for the rivers, and ready to make your day the best fly fishing Missoula has to offer!

Fly Fishing Montana

Missoula Fishing Spots

If you’re here to find secret Missoula fishing spots, you can stop reading! Not that we won’t be talking about plenty of different spots to fish near Missoula. Don’t get us wrong, we are more than happy to share some of our favorite spots in person, but the internet is not the place to do that. We’ve seen it happen. Publish a spot, and 30 anglers descend on it. When you visit our Missoula Fly shop, we can spread the love around the area, not send every angler to the same rock in the Bitterroot River.

Here’s the thing about finding fly fishing spots in Missoula- there are 340 floatable miles of river within an hour’s drive of Missoula. If you’re a wading angler, there’s a lot more! Of course, some spots are more popular than others, but with very little work you can separate yourself from other fishermen. Because of the massive amounts of river mileage, anglers spread out and often you’ll have a section of river or stream completely to yourself.

An absolutely amazing thing about Missoula area fishing, and throughout Montana, is our river access laws. We feel they are the best in the country. Simply stated, if you access a river legally, and stay below the established high water mark, you may travel up or downstream as far as you would like. Unlike other states, where the water is public but the streambed is owned by the landowner, below the high water mark is public land in Montana. Legal accesses are from other public lands, including bridge abutments or highway crossings. When you see the T-Shirts all over Missoula that say Public Land Owner, this is one of the reasons! Private water? Not really in this state.

Before we get into some of the best fly fishing near Missoula, MT, let’s take a minute to talk about places you might not want to wade. First is the lower Clark Fork River, which we classify as below Missoula where the Bitterroot River enters. While there are some wading opportunities west on the Clark Fork, much of it is too big to effectively wade fish. The banks are steep, the water fast and deep six feet from shore. On foot, you can get into a lot of trouble in a hurry on the lower Clark Fork River. If you have a boat, that’s a whole different story!

The Blackfoot River is another one that has some very tricky wading situations. I know, I know, Brad Pitt waded it in the River Runs Through It. It’s a movie, not a documentary! It’s wonderfully dramatic to float down the river while fighting a fish, but truthfully, it might not be your best move. Don’t be a hero like Brad! While the Blackfoot is one of our favorite rivers in the Missoula area and Western Montana to float, wading is tough sledding. The banks are steep, the river deepens rapidly, high gradient means it’s quite fast and if you’re not paying attention, you can make one step and go from knee deep to over your head. When you do find a place to access and wade, it’s often very limited. Just like the Clark Fork River, there are spots where you can wade but they are few and far between.

Now that we’ve saved you a bit of time on places that may be less productive to explore as a wade fisherman, let’s touch on a few Missoula fishing spots to get you started catching trout. Again, these places that we are about to mention are no secrets and more often than not, you will have some company. But all of these streams we talk about have plenty of room to spread out and you shouldn’t have a problem finding a spot all to yourself.

Rock Creek Salmonflies

Rock Creek

Our most popular blue ribbon stream in Montana for wade fishing is Rock Creek. If you know anything about Missoula area fishing, then you’ve probably heard of Rock Creek. There’s good reason, as Rock Creek is a wade fishing paradise filled with naive Cutthroats, big Brown Trout and feisty Rainbows. While there is a short season for boats during higher water, the wade fisherman has Rock Creek to themselves for most of the season. We usually tell people that the first of many streams you should explore in Missoula is Rock Creek. Rock Creek Road parallels the Creek for over 50 miles, with multiple access points along the length. With 3,000 fish per mile, it doesn’t really matter what access point you choose. Figuring out where to fish on Rock Creek is as simple as driving up the road and picking a spot that makes you happy. It’s the smallest river in the Missoula area, which means wading opportunities abound. Honestly, the whole stream fishes great during all seasons from the bottom all the way to the top. The lower 11 miles is a paved road and after that it turns into a dirt road (sometimes it feels more like on continuous pothole!) with access points along the whole way. With Moose, Deer, Bighorn Sheep and thousands of trout per mile, there’s no wonder why Rock Creek in Montana is a destination for fisherman all over the world.

Bitterroot River

Another river to explore is the upper Bitterroot River. The main stem of the Bitterroot can be heavily used (at least by Montana standards) by boats, and can be a less than spectacular wade fishing experience. You can make your main stem wading experience better with this simple trick. When you get to an access point in the morning, head upstream. All the boats are going downstream, and the boats from the next access point above haven’t gotten that far. About lunch time, head back to the access point and go downstream. Most of the boats have passed, and you’ll miss the boats coming downstream. If you have a raft, there are many stretches of the Bitterrroot River you can get to with very few anglers. While there are wade fishing spots throughout the main stem that fish very well for the angler on foot, it is the upper stretches, into the East and Westfork of the Bitterroot River. Typically the West Fork of the Bitterroot holds bigger fish and takes a little more pressure, while the East Fork of the Bitterroot holds smaller fish with a bit less pressure. If neither of these are your jam, then explore one of the many great tributaries that drain into the mainstem as you drive toward the East and West Forks.

Clark Fork River Through Town

Some of the best fly fishing near Missoula, Mt is found in downtown Missoula. Urban fishing is often ignored when talking about fly fishing spots in Missoula. Many of our guides float this stretch to get away from other boats, and are often rewarded with some of the best fly fishing in Missoula. From East Missoula all the way down to Kona Bridge, the town section of the Clark Fork can offer some great fishing for the angler with a time budget, and College students without a car and fishing between classes. With plenty of breweries and restaurants nearby, it’s easy to take a break and catch a quick meal or beverage, and then get right back at it! Some of the biggest trout we’ve seen come out of the Clark Fork in Missoula. Just because the surroundings are more urban than expected, the fishing in town can be absolutely exceptional.

Clark Fork Rainbow Trout Downtown Missoula
Missoulian Angler Fly Shop owner Taylor Scott with a big Rainbow Trout in downtown Missoula

Many of our Missoula fly shop staff have fished these streams their whole lives, and know Missoula rivers like the back of their hand. Ron, our longest tenured employee, has worked in the shop since the late 80’s and has fished Montana for over 40 years. He spent many summers when he made it a point to fish a new stream every week, and he is the most knowledgeable person you will find on the local waters. He’s a walking encyclopedia of Western Montana fly fishing. We encourage you to explore in the same manner. Grab a map, pick a stream around Missoula and go. You would be hard pressed to find a strem in Western Montana that doesn’t hold trout and you may just find your own secret spot, where you never see another angler, or even footprints.

We said we weren’t going to get specific on a lot of streams on the internet. That being said, we love sharing some of our favorite fishing spots when you stop by our fly shop in Missoula . We’re more than happy to help you find a great fishing spot, even if you don’t need to purchase anything. Advice is always free at the Missoulian Angler and we love meeting new people who have the passion to explore Missoula fishing spots.

Missoula Montana Guided Fly Fishing Trip

Come enjoy a day on the river with Missoula’s best fly fishing guides. We float the Bitterroot River, Blackfoot River and the Clark Fork River. All gear, lunch and transportation provided.

Learn More
Montana Guided Fly Fishing Float Trip

Spring Fly Fishing Pre Game Tips

Spring is almost here. We see it in the longer days and slightly warmer temps. We start dreaming about the fishing…. will it be awesome? How’s the snowpack, and when’s run-off coming? Will spring be warm or cold? Will 2018’s high water translate into more fish recruitment? How has the Bitterroot river changed over the winter? We can spend hours pondering these questions.

Questions we can’t answer and won’t know the answers to till April 30. 

Here’s a suggestion. While wondering about the weather, the hatches and the river, take care of business where you can. Pull out your tackle bag, vest, etc, and take a look. Take some time to do some preseason chores so that your first spring fly fishing trip of the year is enjoyable.

Remember that submerged fence post on the Clark Fork river you wrapped your line around late last fall? It might be time to check the first 30 feet of your fly line for chips, abrasion and just plain wear. While you’re at it, check the welded loop. If the loop is fraying, you might want to replace it. If you don’t want to tie the nail knot, bring it to the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop and we’ll put a leader butt on your line. At a bare minimum, wash the last 30 feet of fly line in soapy water. It will float, mend and shoot so much better.

Take a look at your leaders and tippet. Don’t just check to make sure you still have 3-4-5X, but pull the little elastic aside, and make sure you’re not down to three wraps. If the tippet spools you’re using have different packaging than what’s on display now, it might be time to replace that nylon. Manufacturers change packaging every 5-6 years. That will help you date your tippet! If you’re using fluorocarbon, that doesn’t apply, as it doesn’t degrade. You still have to check under the elastic with fluorocarbon!

Check the laces on your boots. Try and remember if you had a leak in your waders last time you wore them. If you think you did, then check. The easiest way to check for a leak is with a hair dryer and some soapy water. Fill the waders with air using the hair dryer, and then paint the suspect areas with soapy water. If bubbles form in the soapy water, you have a leak. Better to patch now than leak in March.

Open up your reel. If you dunked it last year, it has dirt and scree in it. Get some Q-Tips, and swipe around inside the spindle receiver of the spool. Try to stay away from WD-40, as it gums up in reels. Once you’ve got it cleaned, check manufacturers instructions for lubrication, and do it. A clean reel is a smooth, functional reel, and that pays dividends for the rest of the season. Rattle the handle. If it’s loose, get some Loc-Tite and screw it back on. Make sure the handle rotates before the Loc-Tite sets!

Clean your cooler!! If you have a raft and trailer, do the maintenance there as well.

Take a look at your flies. Take out the shredded streamers and the hackleless dries! If you store your standard dries in foam, pull them out and steam the hackle straight. Use a teakettle and a pair of forceps to accomplish this. Then let the flies dry and put them in a compartment box. Foam and standard hackle don’t mix.

Go through your vest and determine if you really need a third flashlight, or 4 almost empty bottles of Gink. If you want to transfer Gink from one bottle to another, run it under hot water for a minute, it pours better. Look at your net. Check the bag for cracks or torn attachment points. If it’s a Rising Net, drink what’s left in the handle. We have a feeling the rubber stopper doesn’t add to the flavor. Start the year fresh with a new fill, and let the old stuff motivate you through spring maintenance!

Or if your a dedicated angler like shop staff Bryce Hasquet, you fish all winter long!

When rods were made of cane and lines made of silk, this off-season maintenance was critical. But with the ease of care and durability of modern equipment, it’s easy to skip this step. We can’t tell you how many reels come into our Missoula fly shop that squeak when you wind them. Or how often we have to tell people their waders need to be completely dry, and then the Aquaseal takes 24 hours to cure. An ounce of prevention will make your first days on the water enjoyable, dry and effective, instead of damp, annoying and frustrating. It won’t take anywhere near as long as you think it will, and hey, while you’re playing with your tackle, you’ll REALLY be focused on your Spring fly fishing!

Rock Creek Cuttthroat

The Perdigon Nymph

When first shown a Perdigon nymph, you ask yourself what’s up with this fly? It has an extremely sparse tail, very thin body often made of thread, and coated with a hard shell. The colors are mostly neutral, sometimes with a hot spot, and are the exact opposite of a classic nymph. There’s not much to a Perdigon, and it’s not what you expect in a fly pattern.

But Perdigons are amongst the most effective flies the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop sells. They work on all Missoula river, The Clark Fork River, Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River and Rock Creek, as well as all the tributaries and lakes! They work because they do exactly what a nymph needs to do to be effective.

Polly Rosborough self-published his classic book, Tying and Fishing The Fuzzy Nymph, in 1965. His theory was motion in a fly provided life-like action, separating the fly from inanimate objects and attracted fish. This was conventional wisdom in the U.S. for a long time, and for many still is. Hackled nymphs, fuzzy nymphs and spiky dubbed nymphs all utilize fibers extending from the body to give action to the fly.

We all know that nymphs live on the bottom of the river and the trout are on the bottom as well for easy access to the nymphs. We all know that a sky diver, to slow their descent, will spread their arms and legs wide to slow down their drop rate.

A fuzzy nymph, by definition, has extending fibers. These fibers act as the arms and legs of the sky divers do, slowing the descent of the fly. A slower descent delays the fly from getting to where the fish are. The slower the sink rate of the fly, the longer the controlled cast must be to give the fly time to sink to the correct level. There is no denying classic (fuzzy) nymphs work, we see proof of that every time we go fly fishing!

The Perdigon is more effective than the standard nymph. The slim design and clear, smooth coating allow this fly to sink at maximum sink rate. With no extending fibers, nothing impedes its descent. Additionally, the smooth UV resin coating also removes friction, also adding speed to the Perdigon’s sink rate. The Perdigon gets to the bottom in a hurry, and it stays there. You can use a shorter cast to reach your depth or use a longer cast and be in the zone for a longer time, showing your fly to more trout.

The business axiom of Location, Location, Location is the reason the Perdigon works. It may go against conventional fly fishing wisdom with its lack of life giving fibers. But the tail is mobile, and it gets down to where the fish are. If you show a standard nymph to 3 fish due to its sink rate, you have 3 chances a trout makes a mistake and eats the artificial. If your Perdigon is seen by 10 fish, you have 10 chances to have your fly eaten. Trout are comfortable on the bottom, and rarely selective in their daily feeding patterns. The Perdigon comes at feeding fish in an expected way, making them almost a no brainer for trout to eat.

From a fly fisherman’s standpoint, the Perdigon gets where it needs to be and stays there. From a fly tyers standpoint, the Perdigon is one of the simplest flies to tie. Depending on the Perdigon size and pattern, it may take just as long to get that pesky 3/32” bead on your jig hook than it takes to tie the thread body! Fly tyers will have a lot of Perdigons and won’t worry about losing a couple. Now you’re fishing those tight, tricky spots because you’re not worried about leaving 20 minutes of tying time in a submerged snag. You’re taking bigger fish from the better holding water, because replacement is so simple.

The Perdigon is a newer concept in nymph imitation in the U.S., stemming from Euro nymphing. But we’re finding these nymphs work just as well in a dry/dropper set up as well. You don’t have to Euro nymph to make use of a Euro nymph!

Here is some of our favorite Perdigon Nymphs for fishing in Montana and across the country.

Pale Morning Duns and Pale Evening Duns

Why are we grouping these two together, when they’re so taxonomically different? Because the same fly that works in the morning will work in the evening, so with the same imitation, we lump them together. The PMD’s and PED’s are the first hatches post run-off that can be wader friendly for fly fishing, and the PMD’s are a classic mayfly hatch. PMD’s have been known to darn near blanket the waters on the Clark Fork River and Bitterroot River, and they’re also very prevalent on Rock Creek and the Blackfoot River. This is a very important insect for Missoula rivers and it’s fisherman.

When we say classic mayfly hatch, it comes from the view many anglers take, declaring matching the hatch as the premiere challenge in fly fishing. During a blanket hatch, the fish definitely key in on certain stages of emergence and adulthood. Because of the feeding complexity, the PMD is a hatch where you buy flies wide and shallow. That means if you buy 6 PMD’s, get two parachutes, two cripples and two emergers. That way, you’re better able to match the insect stage being focused on, instead of having six adults when the trout want cripples. It’s not a bad way to buy flies at any time, but especially important with an abundance of insects. The PED’s aren’t always as abundant, but since you’ll already have a wide array of flies, you’ll be ready!

The PMD nymphs are crawlers, and very poor swimmers. After bottom release, their ascent to the surface is quite feeble. The long, slow rise to the surface gives trout time to gorge, and during emergence trout may be found higher in the water column, following nymphs to the surface. The PMD emergence is one time you may not want your nymph on the bottom, but suspended a little higher up. It’s an exciting way to nymph, sight fishing to suspended fish. A jig Pheasant Tail or a Racing Gold Perdigon is effective at this time. After ascent, PMD’s emerge from their shucks a couple of inches from the surface and finish floating to the meniscus to emerge as adults.

Trout can very specifically target PMD’s after emergence from their shuck but not yet to the surface. Pay close attention to the rise form. If there are no bubbles trailing the rise, chances are very good the fish didn’t break the surface with its mouth, but with its back. Floating a dry fly over a fish that’s not coming to the surface is exceptionally frustrating! If there are no bubbles, attach an emerger or a nymph on a dropper about 4 inches long. This will allow the fly to sink just under the surface film, but not too deeply. You’ll take a lot of “risers” this way.

With the PMD, it’s a good time to talk about the difference between a cripple and an emerger. Our best answer is about 1 second. Mother Nature is not always kind, and when the emergence process is interrupted, the insect quickly goes from emerger to cripple. It’s not as complicated as some people make it out to be. Both cripples and emergers are found in the surface film, and often imitated by the same fly, like a Film Critic. The PMD, with its slow emergence, provides multiple opportunities to use a fly in the film. A rise form to a fly in the film may or may not leave bubbles. Just adds to the puzzle!

Once a PMD has broken through the meniscus and emerged, it must wait for its wings to dry before flying. Depending on weather conditions, an adult can ride on the surface for quite a long distance, again providing the trout with quality feeding opportunities. A Tiltwing Dun or simple parachutes are excellent imitations for the adult.

So let’s make things complicated. PMD’s and PED’s also fall as brown spinners, which is imitated by the Hi-Vis Rusty Spinner. A spinner is a spent adult, returning to the water to finish its life cycle. These spinner falls can occur early in the morning, late at night, or, our favorite, during the hatch. So quite often, you will have the option of Rusty Spinners during the emergence, which adds complexity to matching the hatch. Again, we return to the classic concept of a mayfly hatch. You can find a group of rising fish, and while one may be taking emergers, the fish next to it may be taking adults, cripples or spinners. Which can make matching the hatch an interesting proposition. But isn’t that why we choose to pursue a fish with a measured IQ of 4, to keep things interesting!

Fisherman and guides are pretty spoiled in Missoula, MT having so many great hatches for fly fishing and the PMD is one hatch that last longer then most. This makes it a very important insect and there should be plenty of different stages of imitations in your fly box.

Additional PMD and PED Resources