Fishing the iconic Salmonfly (Pteronarcys californica) hatch on the Fifty-Mile Riffle is an epic experience to say the least. Snow-capped mountains and lush green hillsides frame a robust river flush with the bounty of early season snowmelt. Tremendous browns and rainbows rise eagerly to engulf massive insects from the surface. It’s the stuff of legends.
Though, like many phenomenons, they are all too often elusive. One day you’re a bit too far upstream of the hatch, the next day you’re too far behind it. Sometimes you’re right smack in the middle of the hatch, but the fish have seen too many bugs and reject your fly as if to say “sorry Sucker, better luck next time”.
Every so often, when the stars align, you get to watch in amazement as big trout erupt on your dry fly, and tear upstream in a violent and powerful run. On days like these you can do no wrong, it’s as if every trophy trout in the river has been waiting all year just to eat your fly. Though, sadly, that’s not the norm. The reason those epic days are so special is because they so rarely happen.
I’ve spent many days watching perfect drifts go unrewarded during the Madison’s salmonfly hatch with perfectly presented stonefly imitations. Over the years I’ve been forced to look past the obvious attraction of the Hollywood Hatch, and look deeper for other ways to feed these crafty trout. More times than not, the answer has been with Arctopsyche grandis.
Arctopsyche grandis is a large (size #8-10) chocolate-colored caddis that is conveniently at its peak of activity on the Madison River when salmonflies are hatching.
A. grandis are predominantly nocturnal, but at their peak abundance, the sheer volume of insects provides an ample supply of unlucky individuals who fall or get blown from stream side vegetation into the drift. Just like Salmonflies, Arctopsyche adults can be seen fluttering haphazardly across the surface, especially close to the banks, on windy afternoons.
Conveniently, many of the Madison’s best brown trout occupy those prime lies along the bank, hunting opportunistically for any and all insects that come their way, not just the immense stoneflies.
I generally prefer to present a single dry fly to these sneaky bank feeders. I like a 10-12 foot leader (depending on wind), with a long 2-3 foot tippet section of soft monofilament. When casting from the drift boat, I find a downstream presentation with a reach cast to be the most effective. When wading, I like to approach from below my target, fishing upstream with an elevated pile cast and a slight reach to the bank side.
Dry fly patterns like a size #10 Royal Stimulator, #10 Micro-Chubby, or #10 PMX are all great searching patterns when Arctopsyche are active. All of these flies are also great imitations for the multitude of smaller stoneflies which are present at these times.
When dry fly fishing isn’t producing, often in the week or so leading up to the hatch, larval imitations of A. grandis can be seriously effective. These large larvae are found in size #8-10 on the Madison with a bright olive body and a dark brown head. Nymph patterns like the BSA Beadhead Caddis Pupa, and a Tungsten King Prince are a great choice.
Don’t get me wrong, on days when the infamous fish on the Madison are crushing Salmonfly dries I will cast them until my arm falls off. But when they’re not, you will most likely find me fishing an Arctopsyche imitation….with a bent rod.
So, keep an eye out for these large, chocolate-colored caddis the next time you’re fishing the Madison during stonefly activity, and keep their imitations on deck if you’re watching too many of your own perfect drifts with a Salmonfly go unrewarded.
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
Originator: Joe Moore, BSA Co-owner
Hook: MFC 7000, Barbless MFC 7000KBL, or equivalent. Size 14
Thread: Danville 6/0 Rusty Brown or your choice
Tail/Trailing Shuck: Sparkle Emerger Yarn – Brown
Abdomen: Superfine Dry Fly Dubbing, Olive
Thorax: Olive Goose Biot, tied flat side up
Wing post: Calf tail, white. Try using a synthetic like tan or grey Widows Web as a “cheat” if you are tying these on your own!
Hackle: Grizzly, tied parachute style. Whiting 100 packs are a great way to get the perfect feathers for parachutes.
Notes: My Para-shuck series of dries, tied by MFC, is a variation of the classic parachute style and has worked well for us all over Yellowstone Country. The Flav Para-shuck in particular works great on Hebgen Lake during the Callibaetis hatch, in the NE Corner of the Park for drake mackerel emergers, and on the Madison and Henry’s Fork for its original purpose as a Flav imitation.
Originator: Fulling Mill
Hook: Tactical barbless 60 deg jig hook, #12
Thread: 8/0 Olive
Bead: 1/8” Brass or Tungsten (Black Nickel)
Tail: Olive Chickabou
Legs: Olive dyed partridge or hen soft hackle
Body: Olive hares ear or hares ear blend
Rib: Ultra Wire, Brassie, Chartreuse
Notes: It’s a beadhead soft-hackle micro woolly bugger on a super sharp, barbless jig hook. About the only way you can’t fish this, is as a dry fly, other than that, you can’t go wrong. Rigged as a dropper under a Chubby? Yes. Rigged in a team of nymphs under an indicator, in either moving or still water? Yes. Euro nymphed. Yes. Swung like a soft hackle? Yes. Slow retrieved on an intermediate line just above the weeds on a lake during the damsel hatch. Oh, yes. Stripped on a small stream for trout? Yeah, that too. Another really fun and effective all around pattern to have in your box. Once you start using it, you’ll find more and more times to fish it.
Originator: Legends vary on the exact origins of this pattern, but modern literature attributes it to Pat Bennett, of Hyde Outfitters, Island Park, ID
Hook: 3x long Nymph Hook. Size 4 – 12.
Weight: This can be tied either weighted with lead or non-lead wire, or unweighted for shallow water applications.
Thread: Uni 6/0, brown or your own favorite.
Tail, Legs, and Antennae: MFC Sexi Floss, Medium (brown). Switch it up with MFC Barred Sexi Floss, Medium (brown, copper, or golden yellow) for a great look.
Body: Medium Chenille, brown. Drop down to small chenille for the smallest hook sizes.
Notes: In one word: Essential. Nearly all of our local rivers have significant populations of golden stones, salmonflies, skwalas, and/or nocturnal stoneflies thanks to clean, well oxygenated water. Regionally, this pattern, with its size, color, and weight variations, can be fished effectively 365 days a year. That is because the larger stonefly species spend multiple years in the nymphal stage, making them always available to the trout, even immediately after the year’s primary hatch. Fish it weighted and deep with a smaller dropper during winter and off hatch times. Fish it shallow and unweighted, perhaps as a dropper off a big dry, when the hatch is imminent and the stonefly nymphs are migrating to shore. Really, just fish it. The advantage to tying your own here is that you can mix up the colors and weights. We like to use a different color thread on the weighted vs. unweighted ties so we can tell them apart in the flybox.