Picking flies for any given day can be an overwhelming task. My advice? Keep it simple. Here are five flies every southwest Montana angler should have on-hand.
Bloom’s Parachute Caddis
If I had to pick one dry caddis pattern to fish with for the rest of my life, this would be it. It sits low, floats well, and is highly visible. This fly is deadly on the Gallatin in summer, especially because the tan version doubles as a spruce-moth imitation and can hold up almost any dropper. Available in sizes 12-18.
This is a tough pattern to justify. It’s super flashy, it’s tied in all the colors of the rainbow, and to the human eye, it doesn’t imitate anything. But it’s a fish-catching machine and a must-have if you’re nymphing the Madison River. Best size range is 14-18 and my top three colors are silver, pearl, and purple.
Wilcox’s Little Green Machine
The Green Machine loosely resembles mayfly nymphs, caddis, and midge larvae, which is probably the reason it’s so effective. In order of preference, it’s available in pheasant tail, gray, and chartreuse, sizes 16-20. It’s a great pattern in all of our rivers, but it really shines in both the Missouri and Madison, where it imitates several insects well.
This is a hugely underrated classic. When you see a Zonker, there is no question that it looks like a small fish. And what eats small fish? Big fish. The design of this fly is a great combination that allows it to be stripped, dead-drifted, and swung, and because the hook rides up, you’re less likely to get hung up on the bottom. It’s tied in a wide variety of colors and sizes, but the natural/pearl and tan/copper combinations tend to be the most reliable in sizes 8 and 10.
Royal Wulff Cripple
It’s pretty hard to improve on a classic, such as the Royal Wulff, but it’s been done. Like the lightning bug, it doesn’t imitate anything especially well, but fish eat it. It’s a must-have dry for the Yellowstone River or on your favorite little creek. Best in sizes 14-18.
Jimmy Armijo-Grover is the general manager of Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and has been obsessed with fly tying and fly fishing since the age of 10.