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.

Best Flies For August Fishing In Montana

When you study rivers and their make-up, you learn the month of August defines a rivers carrying capacity. For our purposes, carrying capacity is defined as the amount of trout biomass, or the total weight of the trout population, a river can support throughout the year. August sets carrying capacity as the most difficult time of year for the trout. Missoula’s freestone rivers- Rock Creek, the Bitterroot River, the Big Blackfoot River and the Clark Fork River– are at their lowest and warmest points in the heat of the summer. Competition for holding lies and food is intense at this time, and fish that can’t locate homes or food won’t make it to the September rains. August is the month when rivers in Missoula make their statement about how the fishing will be for the next 11 months.

This is both good and bad for the angler. Obviously, a scorching August makes trout habitat more difficult to maintain, with trout under considerable stress in Missoula and across Montana. But competition for food and space has a considerable upside for the angler as well. The trout are hungry, and food is scarce. The fish are willing to roam farther from their feeding lies to eat, and certainly less selective. A well presented fly will often take fish even if it’s not an exact match, due to lack of food present in Montana rivers.


Except for the trico hatch!  The tiny trico is the only aquatic hatch to come off with any regularity in the month of August, and when it comes off, it’s a blanket hatch. Trico-maniacs are dedicated anglers, focused and intense about being on the water when the tricos both hatch and fall. The trico is one of the few mayflies important to the angler that hatches at the same time the spinners fall. It is also the only hatch where the males and females differ significantly in color. For the hatch matching dry fly angler, the trico is paradise masquerading as sheer torment. At any given moment, you have male and female spinners, male and female duns floating as well as male and female cripples on the water. Tricos hatch in such great numbers that the water is covered with insects, with extremely selective to the sex, stage and size of the fly.

No other hatch offers this diversity in fly possibilities. A book has been written about meeting the trico hatch, providing strategies and ideas on how to approach this complex blanket hatch. The most important is make sure you have a wide variety of flies when you go to the water. We know, sounds like thinly veiled sales pitch, but it’s true. Our favorite trico pattern in the shop in the shop is Ron’s Trico. This simple pattern has been a top producer for as many years as Ron Beck, the Missoulian Angler’s longest tenured employee (and dedicated trico-maniac), has been tying them. The Trico Sprout is also an excellent cover for the cripples that are always present, while the Female Comparadun will work as a full floating dry, or as a cripple if you choose to dress only the wings. 5-6X tippet is the norm for these size 18-20 flies, and with the low, clear water a decent cast is imperative. Tiny flies mean narrow feeding lanes, so your cast needs to be on target, drifting correctly and be the stage, sex and size the trout is looking for. As we said, a hatch matchers paradise.


But it’s not always so tricky in August. The Spruce Moths will be out in full force in the first two weeks, and trout feast on them as they come down to the water. Clocking in at a size 10 or 12, these flies are easy for the trout to find and easy for the angler to see. Again, Ron has created our best Spruce Moth imitation, the Mangler Moth. Made from spun and clipped deer hair, it perfectly mimics the mottled color of the Spruce Moth and floats like a cork. We also really enjoy the Spruce Almighty, with its lower floating profile, and the parachute Spruce Moth, which is the easiest of all our imitations to see. No need for super fine tippet on these guys, 3-4X will get it done when the Sprucies are coming off.

August is terrestrial time in Missoula and throughout Montana. Ants and Beetles are active all day with the heat, and consistently finding their way on to the water. Many times the random rise you see close to the shoreline is to an ant or beetle, and it’s the rare trout that won’t take either if they’re looking up. Again, with less access to food in the rivers, ants and beetles become a critical part of the trout’s diet. The Ant Acid in Purple or Red have proven to be extremely effective, as well as the foam beetle. Take your terrestrial fishing to the next level and try a Sunken Ant along the shoreline. Ants aren’t designed to float, and trout take them anywhere in the water column.

Hoppers also make their grand entrance in August, and we all know what that means. On the hottest, windiest days, the hoppers are up and flying. As the wind buffets them about, they can hit the water with a significant splat, alerting the trout to their presence. Those monster rises mid river in the heat of the day are almost always to a hopper. Because hoppers don’t enter the water with any regularity, you have to be ready on every cast, and ready for some dry spells in between strikes. But the ferocity of the take and the size of the fish that recognize hoppers as a valid food form makes hopper fishing so worthwhile in late August. The Morrish Hopper in all its color variations has proven to be the most consistent hopper we sell. The Parachute Hopper runs a close second, followed by the Henneberry Hopper. When hoppers are on, pretty much any hopper that catches your fancy will catch the trout’s as well.


The phrase originated as Hopper/Dropper, and now morphed into Dry/Dropper. But the original indicator fly was the hopper, because the nymph fishing in August can be great. The fish are looking to feed, stay out of the sun and away from the surface where they’re vulnerable. You can use pretty much any nymph in your box (within reason!) but we definitely prefer the Tungsten Bead Jig Nymphs. They sink like bricks, ride hook point up to snag less, and get to where trout live and stay there. Exactly what you’re looking for in a subsurface fly! Don’t be afraid to go with a size 16 or 18 nymph. The river is filled with smaller nymphs, and while they don’t look like much to you, the trout are accustomed to these smaller flies and take them without hesitation.


A quick word about streamers. The dedicated streamer angler has put away the 7wt rod. The giant streamers, so effective in June, are too big to effectively fish in August water But trout haven’t stopped eating minnows. Scale back your fly’s size, and the bruisers will prove just as happy to eat a big meal in August as they were 6 weeks ago. Look for a slim, smaller fly like the Sculpzilla, the Kreelix or even the Baby Gonga. If you can throw the streamer comfortably on your 5 weight rod, you’ve scaled back enough. The smaller streamers make less commotion when they land, and in clear water present a less more lifelike appearance than their larger brethren. Predators are predators, and few turn down a well presented, easily captured meal!

Attractor Patterns

August is the fly tyer’s month as well. Remember that fly you tied late at night, purple, chartreuse and orange. You looked at it the next morning and thought, “What was I thinking?!” August is the time to fish that fly, and any other attractor that strikes your fancy. Food is scarce, and trout are willing to be more liberal about what constitutes food and what doesn’t. August is when oddball flies really shine. The trout are heavily fished late June and July, and very familiar with tried and true patterns. Show them something they’re never seen, like your late-night concoction, and you’ll be surprised by the gullibility of August trout.

Final Thoughts

August is a month where getting on the water can be a challenge. Heat, low clear water and the concern for the trout’s well being all come into play. But it can be a great month to angle. Fish the edges of the day if you can, and when we say edges we MEAN edges! If you’ve never tried mousing after dark, August is the perfect time to make that plunge. The weather is grand, with big fish responding to lower light and lower water temperatures. Flashlights and a little pre-scouting are certainly not remiss if you plan to be out after dark. And this is information you won’t get many other places, because we’re more about real fishing! If you fall in after dark in August, it’s not as cold as the other months!! If you are fishing mid-day with a hopper, fight the fish hard and fast, releasing them in cold water so they live to fight another day. August gets a bum rap from so many anglers, but if you put your time in, find the trico hatch, come prepared with hoppers, nymphs and streamers, you’ll find August to be an exceptionally rewarding time to be on the water.

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.

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Montana Guided Fly Fishing Float Trip
Montana Guided Fly Fishing Float Trip

Missoula Tricos – Sunny Side Up

The trico is a purely American phenomenon. You can tell by the name. When the British named their mayflies, they used terms like Little Marryat and Greenwell’s Glory. We just shorten the latin name, Tricorythides! The trico has also been known by other names, like the Little White Curse. At size 18-20, it’s a small fly. We all take trico flies for granted, but John Geirach once wrote the greatest advance in fly fishing in his lifetime was not in lines or rods, but tiny hooks to mimic the small insects trout eat.

CDC Hi-Vis Trico Spinner is one of Missoula Fly Fishing Guides favorite flies for the Trico hatch.

Tricos begin hatching in early to mid-August, and last through September, depending on the weather around Missoula Montana. Tricos are a bridge between the excellent post run-off fly fishing and classic fall fly fishing. Tricos are an anomaly in the mayfly world. They are one of the few mayflies that react positively to the sun. The brighter the day, the better tricos hatch. Also, the spinners fall at the same time as the adults emerge. An exciting aspect of the hatch is the trico clouds that appear over the water. The mating insects and the spinners ball up above the water, flying in a figure 8 pattern. It starts about 10 feet above the river surface, and slowly descends. Be ready, because when the trico ball hits the water, the fish are feeding! Female tricos, with their white abdomen are easily distinguishable from the all black males. The multitude of choices for the trico can make fly choice a bit difficult. Adult, emerger or spinner, male or female. When everything is dropping on the water, it can be a tricky riddle to unravel.

But not as tricky as the Pale Morning Dun hatch. While there are a lot of insect stages on the water, the tricos are so small, and food sources so scarce at this time of year, the trout seem to be less picky. We have found that a male spinner is effective most of the time, and is our go to fly. Yes, you will find fish that will refuse it, and having a few different flies is always useful, but for the most part a size 18 and 20 spinner gets the job done.

Tricos are crawler nymphs, and are found in the riffles. This is where to start looking for the trico clouds, over the riffles. But trout rarely feed on tricos in riffles. Not enough caloric intake for the energy expended to feed in the faster water. So the best trico water is a riffle that opens up into a pool. The trout set up in the pools and feed on the tricos coming out of the riffle. This also explains why the spinner is more effective in pools. The adults are drying their wings, then leaving the surface, while the spinners are floating downstream in the last throes of life. The spinner is simply on the water longer.

In Missoula, the Clark Fork River and Bitterroot River boast excellent trico water for fly fisherman. Those rivers are a little lower gradient and have more areas of slower water. While the tricos will appear on the Blackfoot River and Rock Creek, high gradients mean the areas where fish feed on tricos are limited. Once you’ve located fish eating tricos, on any Missoula river, you’re going to find them there as long as the tricos hatch. Tricos are very consistent, and the trout count on that daily meal. They emerge at the same time, in the same way, and the trout are almost trained to be there to eat. It’s one of the most appealing factors about the tricos to anglers and fly fishing guides, their consistency.

After working at the Missoulian Angler for almost 30 years, Ron Beck has invented some of the most effective flies we have seen. His Peacock Trico Spinner is one of our all time favorites. One of the many flies he teaches in his advanced Fly Tying Classes in the Winter months.

With the small size of the fly, it’s also a time for small tippets. Tricos demand 5 or 6X, so they float correctly on the water. A soft tippet material is preferable for this hatch. Our favorite is the Trouthunter tippet. Quite soft, and it also comes in half sizes, to provide exact matching with a bit of extra strength. The least effective tippet for tricos is Maxima. It’s such a stiff mono that it often impedes the flies natural float. It can be done, but there are other products that make it easier.

The favorite trico in our fly shop is the Peacock Trico. Invented by Ron beck at the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop, a serious trico fisherman, it has been honed to perfection by hours and hours of on water testing. The Missoulian Angler Fly Shop also carries Hi-Vis tricos that are a little easier to see on the water. We also have the largest fly selection in town, so you know we’re going to have a trico pattern that will fill your needs and take fish.
With its consistent nature and scarcity of hatches, the tricos are an important summer occurrence for fly fishing around Missoula, and provides excellent fishing during some of the hottest days of the year.

Additional Trico Resources