While caddis hatches on the Yellowstone River were sort of “meh” in 2019, the nymph fishing during caddis season was quite good. Usually we fished our nymphs as droppers, sometimes deep under bobbers. Either way, my most-productive caddis/attractor nymph was an old tie by Matt Minch, the Copper Matt. Essentially a version of his Bead, Hare, and Copper with a peacock herl head and heavier wire ribing, I’ve been using the Copper Matt in larger sizes for at least ten years, to no better or different results than with the “BHC.” This year I happened to tie a few in smaller sizes in my box, probably due to guiding on the lower Madison during heavy caddis hatches and having strong success with them earlier in the season. The smaller size (#16) seemed to be the ticket. The fish loved this one this year. Let’s hope they do next year. My new fly tying vid for the pattern is embedded below.
Fly fishing the Boulder River is not something most visitors to the Livingston/Bozeman/Gardiner area think to try. In fact, not many anglers even know the Boulder exists, since it’s east of Livingston, rather than west and south like the rest of the region’s float rivers. The best way visitors can experience fly fishing the Boulder River is to take a float. Guided float trips require the use of whitewater rafts, due to the “bouncy” nature of the river (it’s very steep and fast), its many namesake rocks as well as a few other obstructions like low-head dams and log jams, and the terrible accesses, which in a couple cases require sliding the boat down (or up) steep, rocky slopes into (or out of) the river.
Fish populations in the lower, floatable portion of the Boulder include rainbow trout averaging 10 to 16 inches, browns averaging 12 to 18 inches but reaching trophy size, and some monstrously large whitefish.Fishing the Boulder when it’s between 1800cfs and 3000cfs means nymphing the perfect water: deep, slow, green runs. Basically the water that looks the best is the best. This is a mark of how little pressure this river has received so far this season. In two days of floating last week, we saw a total of three other boats, two guide rafts and one solo floater in a small boat. The pressure does increase a lot as the water drops, but it’s still a far cry from the popular Yellowstone or Madison.
From the moving raft, this is fast-paced nymph fishing, with casts flinging left and right, all while wearing a life jacket in case of a “Big Oops” on this rough river. When possible, it makes sense to pull the raft over into the few broad pools, then get out and wade fish the back sides of these riffle corners. While the fish disperse when the river drops from 1800 to 600cfs (after which it becomes far too low to float), for now they are concentrated in these obvious good areas.
On June 26, Kody Marr from Parks’ Fly Shop and I floated the lower Boulder, from 8-Mile Bridge to the town of Big Timber just above the Yellowstone. Flows were around 2200cfs. Big, but well under the 3000cfs cutoff I consider safe to float. Visibility was excellent at six or more feet. Unlike the Yellowstone, the Boulder basically stays clear even during runoff. It’s high flows that make it unfishable, seldom the color.
It took us a while to get the fishing dialed, but after we did, it was game on. The fish wanted Golden Stonefly nymphs and small attractors like Princes about equally at first, but as we got down towards Big Timber, a caddis hatch began. There were a few risers here and there, but the dry fly fishing here gets a lot better when the river drops some more, so we stuck with nymphs. The Prince was apparently close enough to the caddis pupae, because the trout were crushing it.
The best fish we landed is pictured above. It ate a Bead, Hare, and Copper nymph. We lost some that were certainly bigger, including a brown that might have been over 20 inches that Kody lost just before the takeout.
On the 27th, I guided a single angler on the Boulder, after the Yellowstone came up enough to make it a poor choice as we had planned. The Boulder rose too, to 2600cfs or thereabouts. While this made the fish shift almost exclusively to eating large stonefly/attractor nymphs (Stone Bombs and Mega Princes, both in #6), otherwise the fishing was great. Though she could not get out to wade the good corners due to a lack of wading shoes and poor balance, my angler still landed around 15 trout, including three browns over 15 inches, and lost easily twice that number that either shook the hook after a couple head-shakes due to a poor hookset or simply got downstream of the boat and pulled lose. A couple of these fish looked to beat the fish pictured below, the best she landed.
While it came up a bunch in the following days, as of this writing the Boulder is on the drop again and back under 3000cfs. I expect to guide on it at least three days a week from now through July, continuing to do so until it drops out of floatable shape sometime in the first week of August. I don’t have many open days in this period, but I do have a few. The Boulder makes a great alternative or add-on to the Yellowstone, particularly for experienced anglers eager for a change of pace. Interested?
Our weather forecast for the next week or so is calling for drastically below normal temperatures. Some days will see highs in the 50s even at low elevations! Runoff is now on the downward track everywhere, so this shot of cold weather is going to temporarily pull our normal summer rivers out of runoff. The Boulder in particular should be ready to float for the season by Monday and will probably not become unfishable again. The Yellowstone will be more marginal, but for anglers who want to “swing for the fences,” these runoff breaks are great times to pound the banks with streamers and stonefly nymphs.
Here’s the graph of predicted streamflows for the Boulder. It is fishable from 3000 down to about 500cfs. 800-2000 is prime. As you can, it’s looking great for next week.
Here’s the graph for the Yellowstone at Corwin Springs. We consider the Yellowstone fishable when it’s at a bit over 10,000cfs at this gauging station, though 8,000 is better.
If the above predicted flows hold out, we expect excellent float conditions for experienced anglers from Sunday the 23rd through the last full week of June, with conditions deteriorating on the Yellowstone in particular for a week or so thereafter.
Availability for Boulder River trips is limited to June 26. Availability for Yellowstone River trips is limited to the 24th-27th and the 29th. Because the above flows are not guaranteed, we would not be willing to accept a float trip booking unless clients are staying in a location (Gardiner, Livingston, Paradise Valley, Mammoth, Bozeman) where they would be able to head over to the Lower Madison for the float if the above doesn’t pan out. Want to roll those dice? We often see some of our best big fish fishing of the year during runoff breaks like those we expect.
This is a classic stillwater streamer suggestive of small perch. Given that the main forage fish in our NEWEST private fishery are perch, and they’re devoured by brown trout averaging over 20 inches, this is a neat one…
Hook: Standard 3xl streamer, #6-14
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: Orange hackle fibers
Body: Olive chenille
Rib: Gold tinsel, Flashabou, etc.
Throat: Orange hackle fibers
Wing: Natural gray mallard flank feather fibers
Head: Tying thread and glossy head cement.
I developed this nymph on and mostly for the Gibbon, but it’s a good choice anytime you’re looking for a changeup from a conventional Prince. Fish it either under a big bushy dry or in a bobber or Euro-nymphing rig.
Hook: Any standard-length jig nymph hook, #12-18. Here, #16.
Bead: Gold slotted tungsten to match hook. Here 3/32″.
Thread: 8/0 black.
Shuck: Short tuft of crinkled ginger synthetic yarn.
Rib: Small to medium gold Ultra Wire, here Brassie.
Abdomen: 2-4 strands of peacock herl, depending on hook size and herl quality. Here 3 strands are used.
Wing: Tuft of cream or white crinkled synthetic yarn, clipped Serendipity-style.
“Hackle:” Brown dubbing blend of your choice, tied loop-style and if necessary trimmed to length. Here brown acrylic and pheasant tail Ice Dub are used, but squirrel, hare’s ear, or other nymph dubbings would also work.
Tis the season for this one on private ranch lakes as well as public lowland reservoirs in Montana. In a couple weeks these will be nailing it on Cascade and other small lakes in YNP, most of which are still inaccessible due to snow and marsh.
Hook: 1x short, 1x strong scud hook, #12-20, here #18. #18 is typically the best size overall.
Thread: 8/0 black except 8/0 white on pearl color.
Hackle: Gray speckled hen, partridge, or grizzly hen.
Abdomen: One strand holographic Flashabou doubled around the tying thread (or two strands secured in standard fashion), or pearl Flashabou on pearl. Good colors include black (presented here), red, chartreuse, gold, copper, purple, olive, and silver.
Thorax: 2-4 strands of peacock herl, depending on hook size.
The UDO Worm is a great oddball worm in its own right (see the third image at the beginning of the video), but more importantly it illustrates how adhesives can be used to “construct” flies.
Hook: Any curved shank scud, octopus, or bait hook featuring an offset shank, all the way from “huge” to “tiny.”
Weight: .010 or .015 lead wire, optional.
Thread: Red, 3/0 to 10/0 depending on fly size.
Body: Holographic red Flashabou over thread.
Coloration: Black nail polish.
Coatings: 1. UV cure resin, here Loon UV Thin. 2. Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails or similar clear nail polish. Omit UV cure on small sizes, consider adding an additional layer of it on the largest sizes.
Flows on the Yellowstone and Boulder Rivers are currently nosediving due to drastically below normal temps. This is setting these rivers up for a brief window of clear (clear enough) water over the next week to ten days, particularly during the early to middle part of next week. These mid-snowmelt windows of fishable conditions only occur about one year in three and can produce the best fishing for large trout of the season. This is true for experienced anglers, anyway.
See for yourself.
I do not suggest booking a float trip at this time unless you are prepared to drive to the lower Madison River if things turn out to not follow the predicted flows noted above. That said, keep an eye on things. If the above forecasts do pan out and you can book a float on short notice, I strongly encourage you to consider it for Tuesday or Wednesday, the 28th or 29th.
Note that this same cooldown should make the Yellowstone in its Black and Grand Canyons, Slough Creek, the Gardner, and the Firehole/Gibbon/Madison ALL fishable for the opening weekend of the Yellowstone season, and the few days thereafter. I will post more details on this late in the week.
In this previous post, I talk about reasons to fish imitations of impaired insects, including both aquatic insects that are struggling or dead and terrestrial insects that have fallen into the water. In this post, I give three easy tips for creating imitations of impaired insects. Since all terrestrial insects are by their nature impaired, since no grasshopper or ant or whatever chooses to drop into the water for a dip, I’ll focus on aquatic insect imitations.
1. Tie Patterns to Float Low in the Water
Imitations of impaired aquatic insects don’t float high and perky. They float low in the surface film or even slightly underneath it. All flies tied to suggest these insects should do the same. There are a lot of ways of accomplishing this.
For mayflies, caddisflies, and midges, tying flies that either have hackle only above the hook (parachute and paraloop flies), have the hackle trimmed underneath, as in my Hazy Cripple series and most other cripple-style patterns, or lack hackle entirely, as in the Sparkle Dun or No Hackle flies, is the easiest way of accomplishing this.
Here’s an Improved Sparkle Dun, for example:
With stoneflies, use predominately natural materials such as hair and synthetic materials such as acrylic yarn rather than foam, or tie patterns whose back ends lack foam so they ride underwater while the front half is above. The Parks’ Salmonfly is a good example, as is the more-popular Sunken Stone.
Here’s a Sunken Stone:
2. Include Nymphal or Pupal Shucks or Elements Suggestive of Egg-Laying
Impaired insects that are emerging often get trapped in their nymphal shucks, and through natural selection the trout have “learned” that these insects are easy prey and won’t fly away anytime soon. Likewise, insects that are egglaying have to dip their abdomens in the water and often get sucked under in doing so. The Sunken Stone pictured above features a brown egg sack suggestive of egglaying for just this reason, and is a good example of how to accomplish this for stoneflies.
Both egg sacks and nymphal/pupal shucks can be imitated by using a tuft of sparkly synthetic yarn in place of a tail. On mayflies, this shuck is usually brown, but olive or gray are good choices for some insects. The shuck should be paler than but otherwise match the general coloration of the nymph. On midges, gray is almost always a good color. On caddis, amber or ginger are good colors most of the time, one reason my Clacka Caddis has a ginger tail regardless of the overall color of the pattern. Tan and olive can also be good. Match the general color of the pupa.
Here’s my Clacka Caddis, in pink, an attractor color. Note the shuck, and also the fact that the hackle is trimmed underneath as I note above:
3. Tie Wings Either Spent or “Damaged.”
Dead insects or living ones with bent, broken, or otherwise damaged wings aren’t going to fly away. Match these features with “spent” wings tied to either side of the fly or a short “butt” wing. All species of common aquatic insects except stoneflies can be tied with butt-style wings. All insects can be tied with spent wings, though their orientation should be slightly different with mayflies vs caddis and stoneflies.
Here’s a good example of a wing butt for a mayfly or midge, as illustrated by the short bit of white yarn protruding from under the hackle on my Purple Hazy Cripple. Note also the trailing nymphal shuck. The hackle is trimmed short under the fly as well, though this is not obvious from the pic:
The common feature of spent wings on all aquatic insect imitations is that they should be splayed out to the sides of the fly. With caddis, stoneflies, and midges, these should have a rearward orientation, with the wings protruding in a general “vee” shape. With caddis and midges, the wings should be at least roughly divided to either side of the fly at about a 45-degree angle. Here’s my version of a Caddis Cripple dry showing this feature, as well as clipped hackle to help the fly ride low:
With stoneflies, which normally carry their wings folded flat over their backs and only spread them to fly, there’s no need to “split” the wing, though you may if you like. Instead, simply splaying the wing completely over the top of the fly works fine. You can do this on an already-tied fly by mashing your thumb on top of the wing at its tie-in point to give it a crumpled appearance.
With mayflies, a truly spent fly, whether a drowned dun or an egg-layer that has dropped its eggs and died, lays with its wings at almost 90-degree angles to the sides. This is shown in all of the popular spinner patterns, as well as this image of the real thing:
That said, fishing imitations of spent mayflies underwater is very effective, and when spent mayflies are sucked under, their wings will splay backward somewhat. This can be matched by tying the wings back at 45 degrees as noted above for caddis and midges, or by using soft hackle that will naturally sweep back and pulsate in the current.
There are certainly other ways of matching impaired insects, but the above tips will put you on the right track, and are the three I use the most. Happy fishing and tying!
Fly Tying Vid: Squirrel Tail Carp Clouser
This is my favorite pattern for carp fishing the upper Missouri River near Toston, Montana, about 2hr 15min from Gardiner. Montana isn’t exactly known as a carp-fishing mecca, and the Missouri is usually known only for its trout, but this stretch of river is shallow and clear enough to offer sight-fishing opportunities for carp averaging 4 to 12lbs. They make a great changeup for trout fishing in August and early September.
Hook: Clouser-style, #2-6.
Thread: 3/0 or 6/0 brown.
Eyes: Black bead chain, brass, or lead (lightest to heaviest). Tie a variety of weights.
Belly: Natural gray squirrel tail.
Flash: Black, medium brown, or root beer Krystal Flash, or a mix of two of the above. Keep the flash sparse.
Wing: Natural fox squirrel tail.