Choose Your Weapon

It’s about that time of year when non-skier types start pining for the longer, warmer days of spring. With lingering sub-zero days, constant wind-chill discomfort, and icy roads, the jonesing can set in hard. Getting to—and staying in—your favorite trout stream can become an exercise in survival.

For these first early-season days, you don’t need to pack the whole tackle shop. A few well-chosen patterns will suffice in most conditions on waters that aren’t still frozen over. The fish don’t tend to be picky, and as long as you find some good “winter” water—slower, deeper runs come to mind—persistence will pay more than pattern change or complexity. Here are five (or thereabouts) go-to flies for spring catching in southwest Montana.

Bead Head Prince Nymph: sizes 12-16
If you don’t have a few of these in your box somewhere, you either just ran out, or you just left Bob Wards with a plastic-wrapped beginner’s “outfit.” These are mandatory—any time, anywhere, and generally deep under an indicator for early-season purposes.

Red San Juan Worm: size 12(ish)
I told you this isn’t rocket science. These flies are especially helpful in off-color, questionable conditions. If you can see the fly through six inches of dirty water, the fish can see it through ten.

Pat’s Rubber Leg, Brown (aka Turd fly): sizes 8 & 10
This is a great fly to use as the point in a two-fly dropper rig. Generally best on stonefly water—I probably wouldn’t tie this one on at DePuy. Fish it with enough lead to get it bouncing on the bottom.

Black Woolly Bugger (bead head or non, flash added or not): sizes 4-10
This is about as ubiquitous and versatile as it gets: dead-drift it in colder water, or twitch or strip it when things warm a bit. Either way, hang a bobber above and a Prince Nymph off the back with lots of lead.

Bloom’s Weight Fly, Caddis Green: sizes 14 & 16
It’s tough to leave out some kind of caddis larva—so I didn’t. Springtime is caddis time virtually everywhere. This is my one concession to a more esoteric pattern. It’s still as simple as it gets… some green dubbing and a black tungsten bead.

Okay, so limiting it to five is tough. You would need to be a dyed-in-the-wool minimalist to carry only those bugs. Maybe five nymphs and five dries… Parachute Adams, Griffeth’s Gnat, Thorax baetis, etc… but enough about flies—go fish!

Mike Lum owns the Madison River Fishing Company in Ennis.