Top ten fly patterns.
Walk into any fly shop in southwest Montana and you’ll see hundreds of different fly patterns, all with the potential to catch fish. Unfortunately, you can only carry a small selection for a day on the water. After 20 years of guiding experience, here are some of the staples that are in my box every day.
The chubby is a great all-around dry fly. Its body sits low in the water with the foam keeping it afloat, and wings provide easy tracking even in the choppiest water. Keep it in several sizes and colors and fish it almost all season. Have some in a #6 with an orange body and it’s a salmon fly, a #14 in yellow and it’s a yellow sallie, a #10 with a tan body and it’s a hopper—the possibilities are endless.
The Fly Formally Known as Prince
It’s a prince nymph only better. The traditional goose biots that form the wings on a prince are replaced with holograph material, adding a little bling to an already great fly. Sizes 12-16 can be fished with all summer.
Pat’s Rubber Legs
A simple rubber-leg pattern fashioned after the age-old girdle bug is a staple in Montana and should be in every fisherman’s box. Make sure to have it in several sizes and colors—#6 in black and it’s a salmon fly nymph, #10 in coffee and black and it’s a golden stonefly, #12 in olive and black and it’s a skwala nymph. More fish get caught every year in Montana on this nymph than any other.
Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow
This streamer consistently puts fish in the boat no matter the river. This gaudy bugger/minnow is highly visible and can be fished all year. It comes in a variety of different color phases—I keep several of each with me at all times.
A perennial favorite. Depending on size, it can be almost any mayfly, caddis, or midge. It works great as a searching pattern when you’re not sure what to fish. I like the high-vis option with a red parachute—it doesn’t affect the fish and makes visibility on the water much easier.
CDC Emerger Mahogany
Any time there are mayflies around I go to this fly. You can fish it dry or in the film during a hatch, or when casting to rising fish. Better yet, fish it down deep as a nymph. The CDC holds an air bubble and makes a great representation of an emerging mayfly. It’s tied in a variety of colors, but mahogany works best throughout the year.
The Para Madam X with a royal body is a staple in my box. Fish it in #14 and it makes a great caddis—larger sizes represent everything from stoneflies to hoppers. The real draw is the peacock and red body with the rubber legs. This is a sure producer, and the dry fly to use when things get tough.
Forget everything you know about the traditional prince when you look at this. This attractor-type nymph burst on to the scene several years ago and quickly earned a place as one of the best flies around. I have several sizes in both yellow and green in my box at all times. It works great for caddis larva, stonefly nymphs, or as a general attractor.
Flashback Pheasant Tail
One of the traditional nymphs, but the addition of a holographic flash back makes this fly more attractive. Fish it any time mayflies might be on the water—it’s likely the best representation of a mayfly nymph around.
Purple Para Wulff
The purple haze dry fly came on the scene several years ago with unbelievable success. The purple para Wulff is just a purple haze with Wulff-style wings, making it much easier to see in bad light or when the water is choppy.
John Way is an outfitter and the owner of the Tackle Shop in Ennis.