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Category: Fly Fishing Tips

Stillwater River Fishing Trips

Stillwater River Fishing Trips

I made a thorough post on the Stillwater River Fishing Trips I run in my raft over on the Parks’ Fly Shop blog. Rather than repeating myself, check it out.

If you’re based between Livingston and Columbus, I can also run walk & wade trips over there. While it’s a long drive for me, it’s actually a bit shorter than the drive to most places within Yellowstone Park, and pressure near the road is lighter.

On my walk-wade Stillwater River fishing trips, I focus on the areas upstream from the town of Absarokee after mid-July, when this stretch starts getting a bit “bony” to float. The best fishing is in August and September, when there isn’t enough water for kayaks, much less fishing rafts. In many respects, the wade-fishing near the Cliff Swallow, Buffalo Jump, and Moraine Fishing accesses resembles fishing the Gardner River in Yellowstone Park, right down to the preponderance of 8-14″ rainbow and brown trout, with the occasional bigger one, cutthroat, or brook trout thrown in for good measure. Virtually all fishing will be dry-dropper.

Angler with nice lower Stillwater River rainbow.

If you’re interested in walk-wading this area, the Stillwater’s main tributary the Rosebud may also be of interest. It fishes similarly to the Stillwater, and it’s easy to fish one river half the day and one the other half.

Walk-float combo trips are also possible in this area. Most of the time, we’ll combine half the day on the upper Stillwater or Rosebud wading and the other half on the far lower Stillwater floating.

While I run an occasional half-day float on the lower Stillwater, the distances involved in getting to the upper Stillwater to wade mean any trips involving a wading component really need to be full-days. Normal rates & policies apply. Visit this page for more information on my guide service.

Drag Sculpin Fly Tying Video

Drag Sculpin Fly Tying Video

The Drag Sculpin is a pattern I use with one of the most effective (and easiest!) tactics for producing larger trout on the Yellowstone River: the “indicator drift, mend, and drag” technique which is most effective in July and August. I’ll cover this technique in more detail in a later post, but the basics are simple: fish a streamer with a small nymph on the dropper, aiming to run the fly on a “near dead drift” through good seams and soft spots behind boulders, especially just off steep shelves near the bank with turbulent water to provide cover and oxygen. When the water’s still up in midsummer, this is far more effective than stripping streamers away from the shore, since the fish hold in the “Y-axis” upstream to downstream slow spots and don’t like to move to chase food or smaller fish that get in their way. In essence, you’re looking for a “get out of my face” strike.

Drag Sculpin Intro

This is a basic jig-style pattern. The hard part will be finding the large 90-degree jig hook and large brass bead used. Even with the jig hook, you’ll lose quite a few. Thankfully, the pattern is quick to tie (when you’re not busy yakking into a video camera like I was) and uses a minimum of cheap materials.

The olive variation given here is without question the most consistent color for large streamers in the area, but other good baitfish colors also work: black, gold/tan, white, brown over yellow, etc.

Drag Sculpin Recipe

Hook: Eagle Claw #630, size-1. This is a 90-degree long-shank jig hook with few substitutes. You will probably have to order them online. NOTE: This hook tends to run dull, so expect to sharpen them before fishing.

Bead: 1/4″ brass. Here black, but gold or copper would also work depending on fly color.

Thread: 3/0 to match fly color, here olive.

Tail: Holo gold Ice Wing Fiber or similar fine gold flash. Gold or pearl will be the best colors regardless of the overall color of the fly you tie, except perhaps if you’re tying a black one.

Body: Gold, rootbeer, or pearl tinsel or other bright chenille. Here I believe I used Estaz, but it doesn’t matter.

Legs: Several barred rubber legs to match or slightly contrast the overall color tone of the fly. Here, mud brown barred chartreuse Wapsi Round Rubber.

Throat: Holographic red Flashabou or similar.

Wing: Magnum rabbit strip, here olive variant.

Head: Dubbing brush, here an Ep Foxy Brush in olive, though the precise material doesn’t matter. If the head appears too thick and full, trim it slightly flatter on top and bottom.



Pink Lightning Bug Fly Tying Video

Pink Lightning Bug Fly Tying Video

Pink Lightning Bug Introduction

Pink Lightning Bug nymphs are among the top winter flies in the region, especially on the Missouri River where they’re effective from now through mid-May. Suggestive of eggs and scuds, and to a lesser extent mayflies and midges, spin up a few Pink Lightning Bugs to try in your home waters this winter. Trail one of these behind a larger pink fly such as the Amex Jig I posted previously.

Pink Lightning Bug Recipe

Hook: Standard scud, #16-18. #18 is usually best.

Bead: 3/32″ to 5/64″ nickel, in either brass or tungsten.

Thread: 8/0 hot pink or fluorescent fire orange.

Tail: Shell pink Antron yarn. Use 2/3 of the the bundle of fibers on #16 and half on #18. The tail should be rather full.

Abdomen: Holographic pink Flashabou doubled around the thread when it’s tied in.

Rib: Small to extra-small red Ultra Wire.

Wing Case: Medium pearl tinsel.

Thorax: Ball of pink dubbing slightly darker than the body and tail, dubbed loose for movement.

Weekly Fly Tying Video: Pennant Dun Mayfly-Style Attractor

Weekly Fly Tying Video: Pennant Dun Mayfly-Style Attractor

I developed the Pennant Dun in early fall 2020 as a tiny, delicate, yet buoyant and visible mayfly-style attractor dry. Its effectiveness largely derives from its unusual wing and hackle design, which allows for a large wing on a small fly.

While I’m still working on other versions of the basic pattern that are more imitative, as well as using the wing/hackle method on larger attractor-style patterns (a variation of Mike Mercer’s Missing Link using this wing style is in the works, for example), the copper and purple versions of this pattern were good attractors on the Yellowstone River on early fall mornings, when there were a few midges and mayflies hatching, but no real specific hatches.


Hook: #14-20 standard emerger hook, here #18.

Thread: 8/0, here purple. Note that the thread will show through the body material, so sometimes it’s good to change thread colors after tying the body, depending on the effect you wish to produce. On the copper version of this fly, I use rusty brown thread under the tail and body, but fire orange for the hackle, wing, and head. I want the hot orange head, but it makes the body too orange if I use it for the whole fly.

Body: Veevus Body Quill, here claret.

Hackle: 1x oversized dun-grizzly, dun badger, or light dun.

Wing: Silver MFC Widow’s Web, trimmed into a pennant shape.

Three Features of Good Mayfly Dry Flies

Three Features of Good Mayfly Dry Flies

The other day I was thinking about common features of virtually all the mayfly dry fly patterns I use to imitate emergers, cripples, and duns, and realized all of them share at least two out of three characteristics, and many feature all three. Here are these features:

1. I exclusively tie/fish patterns suggestive of “impaired” insects.

Trout have evolved to eat bugs that aren’t going to fly away. For this reason, they prefer to eat cripples, emergers, stillborn insects, and drowned duns when possible. Your traditional Catskill-style dry flies that float on the foam on a glass of beer look cool, but they don’t look like they’re struggling. On the other hand, many popular patterns already imitate impaired insects. The classic Sparkle Dun suggests both emergers and cripples, while parachute dries look a lot like drowned duns, for example.

How do you make a pattern look impaired? Thankfully, there are some easy tricks. In fact, two of the three techniques below are easier than techniques for tying unimpaired insects.

  1. Use trailing shuck material for a tail. See the Purple Hazy Cripple above for an example. On this pattern, the tail is either golden brown Widow’s Web or brown Sparkle Emerger Yarn.
  2. Trim the hackle underneath the hook so the pattern rides low in the film, or use parachute hackle. It’s hard to see in the photo above, but the cripple has about 40% of the hackle under the hook trimmed almost to the shank.
  3. Use  the “cripple-style” wing. See above.

2. All of the mayfly patterns I use have slender bodies with slight segmentation and a faintly glossy appearance.

If you look at a real mayfly of virtually any species, they have very slender bodies with prominent segmentation and a somewhat “slick” appearance. To match this appearance on all but the smallest mayflies, here are the three best methods for creating bodies that look like this:

  1. Use turkey biots, either with the fuzzy edge of the biot “out” or in. On the Soda Fountain Parachute dry above, they’re tied facing out. Alternately, use a rooster or peacock quill to create a similar body.
  2. Use spandex (as on the Hazy Cripple above) or Hareline’s Micro Tubing (exremely fine surgical or bead-stringing plastic tubing that has been colored).
  3. Use tying thread ribbed with Krystal Flash and then coated with head cement, super glue, or UV resin, as on the red Missing Link below. This is a great choice for patterns featuring crossover appeal to midges and mayfly spinners as well as emerger/cripple/dun mayflies. Photo courtesy Umpqua Feather Merchants.

3. The vast majority of the mayfly patterns I use utilize hydrophobic synthetic yarn (poly yarn) for their wings.

Fly Tying Video: TJ Hooker Fly Pattern – Stonefly Nymph and Sculpin Combo

Fly Tying Video: TJ Hooker Fly Pattern – Stonefly Nymph and Sculpin Combo

TJ Hooker Fly Pattern

The TJ Hooker fly is similar in some respects to the Zirdle Bug in that it’s a combination streamer and stonefly nymph. When it’s fished dead-drift, it looks like a stonefly, while when it’s twitched or dragged (or even mended) it looks like a small sculpin. This combination is ideal when float-fishing or Euro-nymphing on foot, because it allows multiple types of presentation in one cast. The version given here is heavy and mostly intended for Euro-nymphing in the fall (hence the orange bead, suggestive of eggs), but it’s also effective during the summer when tied with standard beads or no bead at all. Don’t hesitate to fish small ones as droppers under large hoppers!

TJ Hooker Fly Video

TJ Hooker Fly Recipe

Hook: #6-16 2xl barbed 60-degree jig hook, here a Kumoto KJ2322 #12. Note that this hook is rather oversized and a #12 looks like a #10 in similar hooks from Daiichi and probably most other brands. Feel free to substitute a 90-degree jig hook for use with brass beads, or even a standard 2xl nymph hook.

Bead: Here a 5/32″ orange slotted tungsten “jig” bead. Standard versions of the fly use gold or black beads. For lighter rigging, use a brass bead or none at all.

Weight: .010 to .025 lead or lead-free wire, optional.

Thread #1: Brown 6/0. Match the chenille color roughly when changing colors.

Tail: Marabou or chickabou. Here bar-dyed MFC Buggerbou in tan/brown is used. Feel free to change colors as desired.

Body: Chenille, here #0 Cascade Crest New Age Chenille in “Henry’s Lake.” Feel free to use your preferred color.

Legs: 2-3 strands MFC Sexi-Floss tied Girdle Bug-style. Here size small copper brown legs are used. Feel free to substitute.

Thread #2: Fl. fire orange 6/0 to create a hotspot. Standard versions of the pattern omit this.

Collar: A couple turns of Brownstone SLF dubbing to distinguish versions of this pattern with extra weight from those that don’t in my fly box. This step is purely optional.

Fly Tying Vid – Delektable Bug Stonefly

Fly Tying Vid – Delektable Bug Stonefly

The Delektable Bug by Dan Delekta of Beartooth Fly Fishing is a large, aggressive stonefly nymph pattern with “a lot going on.” This version has the chenille body and abundant legs of a Pat’s Rubber Legs (aka Girdle Bug aka Turd), but also a marabou tail and a collar hackle. It has risen to become my best or second-best style of stonefly nymph over the past couple seasons, now certainly eclipsing the basic Pat’s. This variant is tied on a jig hook and has a couple small material additions in an experiment to cross over to appealing to fish who like my OTHER favorite stonefly lately, the Bomb Series nymphs, in this case the brown Stone Bomb. Otherwise it’s identical except in color to the basic Bug.

The basic Bug is the least-complicated version of a whole family of Delektable stonefly nymphs including the Braided Stone, the Hurless, the Mega Prince, the Mr. Rubber Legs, and the Stoner. Most are available in standard or flashback variants. These other variants add, subtract, or change a few materials, but otherwise use a similar tying process. For example the Mega Prince has a peacock herl body instead of chenille and adds biot wings, while the Hurless simply has a body of ostrich herl.

In most respects I use “Delektables” of one breed or another in the same situations where I would use other rubberleg stoneflies. I find the chenille-bodied version given here generally more effective when the water is high and/or off-color, as well as for ornery fall-run brown trout, while during the summer when the water is lower and clearer I prefer the similar Mega Prince or Mr. Rubberlegs.

The 2020 Delektable Flies catalog can be viewed here if you’d like to the stock color combinations and tying procedures:

Note that I have no business relationship with Delektable or Beartooth. I just use some of the flies.

NOTE ON FISHING DATES MENTIONED IN THIS VIDEO: The streamflow predictions for the Boulder have changed and it is now forecast to remain above 2000cfs through at least June 17, alas. I now expect it to drop into shape around June 20, 2020.


Note that the following recipe is a “generic” recipe for the pattern. For specifics on the variant given here, watch the video. Note that the pattern given in the video is actually an experiment, not a standard color variant. The video is intended to introduce the style of fly, not a specific recipe.

Hook: 3xl curved shank nymph such as a Dai-Riki #185

Bead: Brass or tungsten to match hook size.

Thread: To match or contrast body chenille.

Antennae: Silicone legs.

Head: Ball of Ice Dub over thread wraps securing the antennae.

Weight: .010 to .035 lead or lead-free wire, depending on hook size.

Tail #1: Marabou or chickabou tied short or clipped short.

Tails #2: Same as antennae.

Body: Speckled crystal chenille such as Nature’s Spirit New Age Chenille.

Legs: Same as antennae.

Hackle: Full, webby saddle or hen hackle to match the body color.

Fly Tying Vid: Clouser Swimming Nymph

Fly Tying Vid: Clouser Swimming Nymph

This variation of the Clouser Swimming Nymph includes bead chain eyes to make it ride upside-down. This is an excellent stillwater pattern in both cold water (trout) and warmwater (bass, crappie, and panfish) settings. It is especially evocative of damselfly nymphs, though it possesses crossover appeal as a leech, small crayfish, or large mayfly.  You can fish it deep on a sink-tip or twitched shallow over the weed-tops on a floating line.

Hook: Dai-Riki #285 or other curved-shank 3xl nymph hook, #8-14, particularly #12.

Weight: A few turns of .010 to .25 lead or lead-free wire at the center of the hook shank.

Thread: 8/0 to match the fly body color. Here, olive-dun. Other good color variants are black, rust, and tan.

Eyes: Black or gold bead-chain. Adjust eye size to change the sink rate.

Tail: Olive-dyed grizzly chickabou or standard marabou.

Rib: Copper wire, color to match or contrast body. Here, brassie copper Ultra-Wire is used.

Abdomen: Olive Hare’s Ear Dubbing, thin.

Wing Case: Several strands of peacock herl.

Thorax: Same as abdomen, full.

Legs: Olive-dyed or natural brown India Hen back or similar buggy, webby feather, tied in vee-style.

Sources for Streamflow Data

Sources for Streamflow Data

Virtually all fly fishing guides and outfitters in Montana watch streamflow data and streamflow forecasts like hawks, especially during runoff season (that is to say: right now) and when summer thunderstorms are rolling around. This is no different than farmers watching the weather forecasts. Here are the important sites to allow YOU to check streamflows, both right now and expected flows for the days ahead.

Montana Streamflow Data: This site returns data from all USGS gauging stations in Montana. The site is organized by river drainage, then from upstream gauging stations to downstream stations. In my area, the Yellowstone Basin graphs from the Lamar River in Yellowstone Park down to the graph at Springdale are the graphs I use most often, with the Stillwater graph secondary. By far the most important graphs for general streamflow are the Corwin Springs and Livingston graphs on the Yellowstone, while the Lamar and Gardner graphs are important for telling me about sudden rises in water level (which are almost always accompanied by mud) due to storms.

Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service – Billings: Here’s the streamflow prediction site for eastern Montana. This site shows flow graphs noted in the previous link, but also shows predicted flows for the next few days for most gauging stations. The basic graph pictured below is most useful during the spring runoff season when we are trying to plan for future trips based on weather forecast. If you’re looking at a big predicted bump coming up, it’s best to get fishing beforehand, because that bump means mud.

This site also includes an option to view “Probability Information.” This is a longer-range forecast of predicted flows, but it isn’t updated very often and I often find it inaccurate. Here’s a sample graph of probability information:

Select the above graph by clicking the dropdown menu off the lower right corner of the graph, then selecting “Flow – Weekly Chance of Exceeding Levels.” This is most useful to anglers, as flow rather than gauge height determines fishability. Too much water and things are too rough, and probably muddy to boot.

Fly Tying Vid: Barry Reynolds’ Pike Bunny

Fly Tying Vid: Barry Reynolds’ Pike Bunny

Barry Reynolds’ Pike Bunny is a straightforward, simple pike (and bass) bunny streamer that derives its durability from strategically finishing the fly well behind the hook eye and from lots of adhesives. This is a small one, but they can be tied with magnum rabbit strips as large as 3/0 or 4/0.

Fish the pattern on a floating line in shallow water or on a sink-tip deep.

Hook: Standard bass/pike, #4/0 to 4.

Thread: 3/0 or 6/0 to match the front rabbit strip.

Eyes: Clear Cure Eyes or similar weightless dumbbells, or use doll-style eyes secured at the end of the tying process.

Flash: Sea green Polarflash, but any flash to match or contrast the rear rabbit strip will do.

Tail: Standard rabbit strip on sizes #1-6, magnum rabbit strip on larger sizes. Good colors are yellow, chartreuse, white, black, or barred combinations of the above. Here I’ve used barred chartreuse over yellow.

Body: Standard rabbit strip wrapped forward. Use the same color strip as the rear, or contrast. Red is a good alternate front color.

Gills/Blood: Red flash, here Kreinik Flash, but again any flash will do.

Head: Several coats of Thin or Thick UV resin topped with head cement to remove any tackiness.