The days are long now, and often warm. Runoff wanes. Water levels drop and water temperatures climb into the optimal range. Everything is green. Streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds all explode with life. Wild rose blooms on the banks and cottonwood fluff is in the air. Everywhere you look there are colorful songbirds, herons, sandhill cranes, and osprey. Gophers scatter in the fields as you bounce down the gravel road to your favorite stream. The deer are finding places to give birth to the next generation, or fattening up in the alfalfa fields. It’s quite a contrast to the short, chilly days of winter.
The biggest difference (to the flyrodder, at least) is the bugs. In winter, a calm day might produce a smattering if tiny midges and kindle the hope of finding a couple fish rising in the slowest currents. Now, on a calm afternoon or evening the space above the water is filled with a veritable smorgasbord. Mayflies. Stoneflies. Caddis. I’m talking about the drakes, PMDs, giant salmonflies, golden stones, smaller yellow and bright green “sallies”, Rhyacophila, Hydropsyche, and the list goes on.
The angler isn’t the only creature that takes notice of the bugs. The birds and garter snakes are snapping up the clumsy fliers and those that linger too long in the grass and willows. And the fish are “looking up” in expectation that their next meal has a high likelihood of coming off the surface.
It’s a dry fly paradise.
I hope that you spent some time this winter dialing in your fly boxes, because this is hatch matching season. Even if you don’t see fish actively rising, this is the time of year where searching the seams and riffles with your favorite dry fly can really produce. The fish have the feed bags on, and the surface takes are often startling in their aggression. On top of that, the fish seem to be in peak physical condition. With the exception of the cutthroats up in the highest country, the spawn is well behind them and the trout have had all spring to regain their fitness snacking below the surface. The water is cool, and well oxygenated. At this time of year, when your fly disappears in a swirl and you come tight, don’t be surprised if the fish goes airborne instantly. And if your barbless hook comes free on that leap, or during the following run, take solace in knowing that you at least got a good look at your prize, and that the next drift of the fly might raise another trout, even fatter and more lovely than the last.
Years ago, Gary La Fontaine tied the original buzzball on the Missouri River. Some say this fly looks like dead and decaying matter often seen floating in back eddies and that Gary tied the fly for midges shucks while hanging out at the Trout Shop in Craig. The hackle points touch the water in numerous places, making this fly buggy as all get out. I can’t really remember exactly when I came up with my version of the buzzball, but it was on the Missouri river in July during a caddis, probably around 2006 or so. My boat was on anchor in between the Trestles and we had fish eating caddis about 20 feet away. They wanted the buzzball but it was hard to see, the night before I had tied in a compara dun wing along with a trailing shuck so we tested the variation. It drifted through the pod and fish moved out of their lane to eat our buggy bug. A few springs later, our buddy Jake Chutz at Montana Fly Company coined the name “Comparabuzz” after the two of us spent a few days fishing midges on the Missouri. I tie this fly in several color combinations and have fished it all over North and South America with the great success. Our friend and fellow guide in Esquel, Martin Weaver, called me before my trip to Argentina cancelled (I am supposed to be down south right this very minute) to make sure I had tossed in a few dozen of these for him; this is one of his go to flies on Rio Tecka.
Originator: Joe Moore, BSA Co-owner
Hook: MFC Model 7000, TMC 100 or equivalent, #14, 16, or 18
Thread: Unit Thread 8/0 Black
Tail: Sparkle Emerger Yarn, Brown
Wing: Deer Hair or Widows Web, Light Tan
Hackle: Brown and Grizzly
Color combos – these all work well for midges, caddis and mayflies. Smaller stone flies as well.
West Yellowstone is one of those unique places in the world which offers dry fly fishing for nearly seven months of the year. Most of us in the shop prefer to fish dries whenever possible in our daily lives as anglers to our fishing programs as guides. From the Henry’s Fork to the Madison, to the Northeast Corner to the Firehole River, we do our best to fish it dry. The flies in this package represent some of the fishiest patterns in the shop; it’s a smattering of caddis and mayflies and includes four of Joe Moore’s original fly patterns.
The contents of the package is below.
1 x BSA Small Heavy Duty Waterproof Fly Box – FREE!
For the Holiday Season we are kicking things off with a 12 Days of Christmas run here on the blog, Instagram, FB and on our online fly shop. If you’re looking for that hard to find gift for that angler in your family, look no further. We will be featuring a new product every day or two from December 4th until December 19th, 2019. These aren’t just any old items; while Justin was down in Argentina hosting anglers, Jonathan and Joe combed through the shop and packaged up some super dope products that we believe in and use throughout the season while guiding, traveling and fishing ourselves. Each item will come with it’s own little surprise, like Cracker Jacks from days of old! We will be pushing these items out via Social Media as well, but feel free to visit the blog for more information if you steer away from Social Media.
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me….51 flies and the box is FREE!
After years of fishing and guiding in Patagonia, J3 (Jonathan, Justin and Joe) went through the fly bins here at the shop and hand picked their favorite flies for the rivers between San Martin and Esquel in Argentina and Region X in Chile. Time after time we have seen anglers show up in Patagonia with the wrong flies. Why travel 6000 miles and show up with a subpar box of bugs? This selection works throughout the entire season down south and is full of dry flies, tungsten bead heads and a solid selection of streamers including Jonathan’s tried and true Pancora Crab. For the past few years we have been putting together custom boxes for our travel customers, generally we send them along with a few more but this selection is a fantastic start. If you’re headed down to Patagonia this winter, or any winter for that matter, give us a shout and we will out line the gear you will need. Our selection comes with a total of 20 dry flies, 14 nymphs and 17 streamers for $150 including the box. Click here to buy the Patagonia Essentials fly selection on the online fly shop – It will not disappoint!
Flies – Left side of the box: (2) #4 Royal Water Walkers, (3) #8 Black & Tan Chubby Chernobyl, (2) #12 Fathead Cicadas, (1) #12 Swisher’s PMX, (2) #12 & #14 Jojo’s Chubbinator, (2) #14 & #16 Arrick’s Ant, (2) #14 & #16 Harrop’s PMD Paraspinner, (2) #14 Red Missing Link, (2) #16 Purple Haze, (1) #12 Red SJW, (1) #12 Tan SJW, (2) #14 AZ Hare’s Ear Dark, (2) #14 AZ Hare’s Ear Light, (2) #16 AZ Hare’s Ear Dark, (2) #16 AZ Hare’s Ear Light, (2) #16 R/L Tactical PT, (2) #16 BH Pheasant Tail. Right side of the box: (1) #4 Olive and White Barely Legal, (2) #6 Olive BSA Bouface leeches, (2) #6 Black BSA Bouface leeches, (2) #6 BH Olive Crystal Bugger, (2) Olive #4 BSA Best Fly Ever, (2) Black #4 BSA Best Fly Ever, (2) #4 Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow Sculpins, (2) #4 The Professor’s Pancora Crab, (2) #8 The Professor’s Pancora Crab
On a whim, we decided it was the perfect day to float the river. The name of the game was salmonflies, and our plan was to toss big dry flies in an attempt to entice a quality trout to feast. Aussie Mickey, Belen, and I rotated between working the oars and casting the big bug close to the banks. Hummingbird-sized naturals buzzed around us as we drifted downstream. It was not only the perfect day to be a fly fisher, but it also felt like it was the perfect day to be alive. Birds were chirping, the sun was out, and we had the usual Montana breeze to keep us comfortable. When I set out that morning I had one goal in mind: catch a quality fish on a big salmon fly dry pattern. “Just one”, I told the guys, “just one big eat from a quality fish.”
Early on, our day was mostly about fighting through the wind with our casts and with the driftboat, untangling our flies from the bushes when we tossed them too close to the bank, and listening to Mickey raise his voice in frustration each time he missed a fish. Wave-trains came and went, and we fished on. Every time we passed an overhanging bush someone would say, “There has to be a fish there.” We knew it was only a matter of time until that statement would ring true.
Over the years I have discovered that there is a vast diversity among fly fishers, and their angling goals. Some anglers are out to catch as many fish as possible, some want to catch only big fish, and others are in it just for the sake of being outside. And, some anglers have more elaborate goals such as catching a specific species of fish, maybe on a specific body of water, or on a specific fly. Goals vary and change regularly, and it is not uncommon to change them multiple times within a trip.
The more I am out on the water the more I find myself in pursuit of new (to me) goals. If my varied pursuits have taught me anything it’s that fly fishing is not always about catching high numbers of fish. Don’t get me wrong, I love days where it seems like I can’t keep the fish off of my flies even if I tried. But, fishing for numbers isn’t the only thing that makes this sport worthwhile. On this specific day, for example, I was pursuing one specific “eat” with one specific fly.
Mickey was on the oars, Belen was up front, and I was pulling duty as the “tailgunner.” We were coming upon one of those infamous fly-hungry, overhanging bushes. Mickey slid the boat into position as we approached our target. “Get it in there! Get it in there”, Mickey repeated. Belen took the first shot and barely missed what we all thought was the feeding lane. It was my turn to take a swing. We were halfway past the shadow being cast by the bush. This was my window. I plopped my false Pteronarcys down on target and it floated into the shadows right off the bank. All of a sudden there was a wake and a fish’s body halfway out of the water coming at my fly. It hit the dry like a freight train and before I even had time to think I was locked in with a fat female brown trout. We all jumped and hollered with excitement as I fought the bulldogging fish.
With that “one quality fish” on the big bug in my hands I found myself overwhelmed with satisfaction. We conducted a quick photo shoot as I held her in the water to regain strength after our brief encounter. I admired the sheer beauty of this fish. Her buttery-brown skin glistened in the sunlight and her belly spilled over my fingers, filled with salmonflies. She swam away as quickly as she ate my fly leaving me with wet hands and an incredible memory. After multiple high-fives and a few moments of reliving the event we pressed on downstream. We rose a few other fish that day, but nothing compared to the strike of that brown beauty.
No other feeling in the world compares to the feeling of accomplishment. That feeling of being on top of the world and nothing on Heaven or Earth can tear you down. To me, that feeling is one of the main reasons why fly fishing is such an addictive sport. As anglers we find ourselves in relentless pursuit of fish, and often times that pursuit is riddled with failures and near successes. It’s these trials that make the successful days that much more satisfying, because we know how much work it took to find ourselves in those moments of triumph. On this particular summer day I found myself basking in triumph. From the moment we launched the boat that morning I knew what I wanted that day to be all about. That day was all about the eat.