Hatch Profile – Callibaetis – Three Geeky Bug Facts That Will Help You Catch More Fish

Hatch Profile – Callibaetis – Three Geeky Bug Facts That Will Help You Catch More Fish

In many ways the hopes and dreams of fly fishers rest on the existence of bugs. Sure, you can venture out onto your favorite piece of water on any given day and catch some fish, many times lots of fish, when there is seemingly no bug activity. But, those aren’t the days that get etched into your memory. Those aren’t necessarily the days that inspire you to make life decisions. Like, say, picking a college that is surrounded by the most prolific dry fly fishing on the East Coast, or, perhaps picking a wedding date in late September which, conveniently, doesn’t overlap with any major trout stream hatches…hypothetically speaking, of course.

Streamer fishing has its virtues; “the tug is the drug”. And, nymph fishing most certainly produces more than it’s fair share of memorable days and 3-dimensional challenges. But, nothing in our sport tops the visceral experience that is watching a body of water come to life with an exuberance of bug activity, and the ensuing trout feeding frenzy. In my opinion, nothing illustrates that better than a Callibaetis spinner fall on western stillwaters.

Callibaetis mayflies have a massive distribution across most of North America. It is the western subspecies (Callibaetis ferrugineus hageni), though, that produces inspirational fishing on countless lakes, and several notable rivers, in the Rocky Mountain West.

Callibaetis mayflies live in stillwater environments. They thrive in water that has rich weed growth. And, while the emergences are often inconspicuous, the spinner falls are the stuff of legends.

Callibaetis mayflies, along with their diminutive brethren Tricos and Midges, are responsible for the legendary “Gulper” fishing that happens on Hebgen Lake each summer from late-July to mid-September. The shallow, weedy arms of Hebgen Lake are such ideal habitat for Callibaetis mayflies that they produce an awe inspiring amount of insects. Dense spinner falls occur here, and trout rise to the spent adults with such rhythm and regularity that you can hear the fish rising with an audible gulp that resonates across the glass flat waters.

Warm, calm mornings are ideal conditions for these size #14-16 speckle winged mayflies to form mating flights. It is impossible to miss them when they are around as seemingly billions of adults will dance above the water in a rhythmic undulation. When it is good, and it often is in Big Sky Country, spinners will blanket the water, and everything on the water, including fishermen.

Callibaetis spinners are unmistakable due to the unique speckled blotches present on only the leading edge of their fore wings, and their two long, widely separated tails. Their bodies range in color from brownish-olive to tan to light grey with a majority of spinners displaying a lighter tanish-grey coloration on the bottom of their abdomen and a darker, blotchy charcoal color on the top.

Here are Three Geeky Bug Facts about Callibaetis that will help you catch more fish.


1. Callibaetis are Multi-brooded

When we think about the life cycle and seasonality of mayfly hatches, we generally reference a particular bug with its spot in the seasonal lineup of hatches. Certain bugs, like March Browns, hatch in the early season, and they are followed by summertime hatches of PMDs, and autumn hatches of Mahogany Duns, etc. These hatches occur at roughly the same time every year with the progeny of those hatches growing and developing in the river until the following season when it is their turn to complete the cycle.

There are certain bugs, however, that breed multiple times during the course of the fishing season. Like their cousins the Baetis (Blue Winged Olives), Callibaetis will begin hatching early in the season (June in Big Sky Country), and those early bugs produce the ones that we fish later in the season. Also, like their Baetidae cousins, the size of individuals decreases with each brood of the season. Spring hatches of Callibaetis can have duns as large as size #12, whereas September emergences will produce size #16.

Early hatches of Callibaetis are often available in fishable numbers far earlier than when we begin paying attention to them. Unfortunately, the unsettled early season conditions of June in the Rockies don’t often produce dense mating flights of spinners, or the glass flat lake surfaces required for dry fly fishing.

Most years, those early season emergences go largely unnoticed, and it is their offspring that draw our attention later in the summer when weather conditions are more conducive. The warm, calm mornings of mid-summer in Big Sky Country provide both the perfect environment for massive flights of spinners and the glass flat waters needed to bring hordes of trout to the surface.

While average June conditions are generally not optimal for Callibaetis spinner falls, it’s important to remember that the bugs are still active. Duns will continue to emerge, sometimes trickling off one at a time, randomly throughout the day. On the rare day in June, when conditions are cloudy and calm, emergences can be concentrated, and provide outstanding dry fly fishing with duns. The occasional warm, calm morning in June can also generate a fantastic dry fly session with Callibaetis spinners. More often than not, these early season spinner falls are sparse, providing just enough food on the surface to get fish hunting on top, but not so much that your fly is competing with hundreds of naturals for the attention of gulping trout.

2. Callibaetis Nymphs are Strong Swimmers and Fast Emergers

Callibaetis nymphs are a perfectly evolved product of their weedy, stillwater environment. Their bodies are slim in profile with feathery gills, and pronounced variegation on their tails. Coloration ranges from light olive to tan, or gray.

Callibaetis nymphs are agile swimmers, dashing from one weed tendril to the next with short, powerful bursts of speed. Frequently, nymphs will pause for a brief second between sprints, hanging motionless in the water column with their abdomen hanging down. This choreography is important to imitate when fishing Callibaetis nymph imitations. Short, swift strips of 4-6” with a definite pause between movements is the best retrieve as fish will commonly pounce on the fly at the pause.

Just as they move through the water with speed and momentum, Callibaetis nymphs emerge into duns quickly at the water’s surface. It’s common for the nymphs to make several trips back and forth to the surface in preparation to emerge, but once they commit to the meniscus and break through the surface tension, they make quick work of the act. During these “practice runs” the nymphs are prepared to make their quick escape at the surface with fully formed wings bulging beneath their dark brown thoracic carapace (wing pad).

For more great info about Callibaetis nymphs check out this great Callibaetis Nymph Article from our Blog archive written by our very own fanatic of all things stillwater, Matt Klara.  

3. Callibaetis aren’t just found in Lakes

Callibaetis mayflies may be the most infamous stillwater hatch, and Big Sky Country is home to some of the most legendary spinner falls of these speckle winged mayflies.

Hebgen Lake, outside of West Yellowstone, MT, is ground zero for the notorious activity known as Gulper Fishing. Named for the nail biting sound that echoes across the glass flat waters of Hebgen’s weed-laden arms and bays as large trout gulp Callibaetis spinners from the surface, Gulper Fishing is an annual pursuit that rivals the most celebrated spectacles in Fly Fishing.

As epic and addictive as Gulper Fishing is, it’s not the only Callibaetis game in Big Sky Country. The same slow water environments that harbor fantastic populations of Callibaetis on lakes also exists on several of our most legendary rivers. The Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, the Yellowstone River in YNP, and the Missouri River all boast substantial populations of these speckle winged mayflies.

When Callibaetis are found in riverine environments, they aren’t present in the same abundance as stillwaters. Emergences and subsequent spinner falls are generally sparse in comparison to the activity seen on legendary waters like Hebgen or Yellowstone Lakes. What Callibaetis lack in numbers on rivers they more than make up for in the influence they have on feeding fish. When Callibaetis are present on rivers like the Henry’s Fork and Missouri, they are usually the largest bug around at that time, and trout go way out of their way to feed on them.

Now Get Out There and Find Some Callibaetis Mayflies

If you haven’t experienced the thrill and suspense of fishing to cruising gulpers on a warm calm morning in Big Sky Country, do yourself a favor and explore one of the many still waters in our region during Callibaetis time. Remember, Callibaetis will be active as early as June when conditions permit. The bugs will be larger (size #14) in the early season, and later broods will be smaller (size #16). If you fish the nymph imitation, do so with short, brisk strips of 4-6”, and be sure to pause between strips. And, don’t forget to have some Callibaetis dun and spinner imitations when fishing the Henry’s Fork, Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers (in YNP).

Phil’s Favorites for Yellowstone Country

Phil’s Favorites for Yellowstone Country

Phil Rowley is a well-known Canadian angler who has made a real name among the stillwater fly fishing community alongside his good buddy Brian Chan.  His love of fly fishing has taken him across North America and beyond pursuing trout, Atlantic and Pacific salmon, char, pike, walleye and numerous other species on the fly. Phil is a super friendly guy who is always eager to share his knowledge and stories with a fellow angler.  His unofficial motto is “Because you never stop learning!” which we totally dig here at Big Sky Anglers.  Phil and Brian’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App has brought the old school fishing book format into the 21st century with a very fresh, visual, and constantly updating format that really matches well with the idea of fly fishing as a journey filled with exploration and learning.

We struck up a relationship with Phil during his most recent trip to Yellowstone Country and were super excited to find out that he makes semi-regular trips to our area to fish the local stillwaters.  Phil is a signature tier for Montana Fly Company, and we’ve carried a few of his patterns in the shop since our doors opened.  When we found out that he has some real first-hand experience fishing our area, we began comparing notes on effective patterns and presentations.  It didn’t take long before we hatched an idea to share Phil’s Favorites for Yellowstone Country with our readers, and combine our own experiences with the patterns with Phil’s thoughts and suggestions on when, where, and how to use his flies in your own angling adventure.

If you are just getting started in stillwater fly fishing in our area, or are looking to take your fly selection to the next level, these patterns are a great way to do it.  We stock all of these in our fly bins at the shop if you are looking to get a few, and we are also happy to help you get the materials and tips you might need if you are looking to tie your own.

Balanced Leech – Bruised, Black, and Claret

According to Phil, the balanced fly philosophy has had a huge impact on his fly tying in recent years.  He is not alone.  The concept, introduced originally by Jerry McBride of Washington State, is nothing short of a revolution, bringing the effectiveness of jigging and drop shot presentations used by conventional anglers to the fly fishing universe. These leeches are designed and weighted to suspend in a horizontal manner, imitating the swimming orientation of many stillwater food sources like leeches and baitfish. By Phil’s account, a balanced pattern will outperform a traditionally tied version by a wide margin when presented under an indicator.

Fishing Tips: When fishing any fly under an indicator, but especially a balanced leech, do not make the mistake of thinking that you are merely casting it out an waiting for a bite.  Covering the water, moving, and incorporating retrieves that move the fly horizontally and vertically through the water are all parts of the indicator approach.

We find the balanced leech especially effective fished under an indicator in marginal or very cold water conditions in which the trout become less likely to chase a faster moving, retrieved offering.  The approach lets you put the fly in the zone and keep it there while adding enticing action without rapid movements.  On the river, most anglers will quickly shift from retrieved streamers or swung soft hackles to dead drift nymphing when the temps drop and fish get lethargic, but for some reason the adjustment is often considered “cheating” in the stillwater environment.

Balanced flies work well cast and retrieved, too.  They jig, dip, and pitch when stripped, creating a different action than a standard tie.

BSA stocks the balanced leech in all of Phil’s Favorite colors, plus a few others that we’ve found to be equally deadly, like Olive/Burnt Orange, and Olive Pumpkin.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own Bruised Balance Leech or  Olive Pumpkin Balanced Leech . If you just want to hear Phil say “Laser Level”, skip right to 6:45. ?

Pearly Damsel

According to Phil, the slim lines of the Pearly Damsel match those of the natural nymphs and when fish are in a selective state this pattern has worked for him consistently to coax a take or two.  Based on our experience with this bug, Phil is likely downplaying the patterns effectiveness, as we’ve had days where “a take or two”  happens every few casts!

Damsels are a critical food item on several area lakes, with July emergences on Henry’s Lake often being described in legendary terms.  When the damsels are migrating, the biggest trout in the lake take notice and go on the feed.  Damsels are also important food sources on Hebgen, and other weedy stillwaters like Georgetown Lake near Anaconda, MT.

Fishing Tips: Fish a damsel slowly, just above the weed tops, anytime during the early to mid-summer as an attractor, as the nymphs are always crawling about.  The pattern really shines during emergences though, where casting and retrieving the fly on an intermediate or midge tip style line (depending on the feeding depth of the fish) is the presentation of choice.  If you see numbers of damsel nymphs swimming near the surface, crawling up in your boat or float tube or on to shore, get ready!  Try a series of short but quick pulls followed by a significant pause that imitates the natural movements of the damsel nymph, and don’t be surprised if most of the grabs come during the pause.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own to dial in your colors to perfectly match the damsels on your favorite stillwaters.

Black Sally

Chironomid fishing is nearly synonymous with Canadian stillwater angling, and black and red is Phil’s first choice in chironomids colors when he doesn’t have any inside information or when he starts out exploring a new stillwater.  Often, the results don’t warrant a change from this color choice.

This color combo has always been a killer on Hebgen, and the Black Sally makes for a really nice alternative to a standard Ice Cream Cone style pupa that uses a white bead to suggest the gills, especially late in the season and in parts of the lake that see the most angling effort.

Fishing Tips: Phil says that maintaining presentation depth is key when fishing any chironomid pupa.  The more emerging pupa there are the more focused trout become to a specific depth.  It’s just an efficient way to feed.  Suspending chironomid pupa under an indicator is a deadly way to suggest staging chironomid pupa.  Plus, it’s just plain fun to watch the indicator disappear beneath the surface.

He recommends that you begin with your fly a foot off the bottom and work your way up from there in one foot increments until you find where they are feeding.  In MT, where it is legal to fish two flies at once, we like staggering two chironomids by 18 to 24” on the leader, which can really shorten the time it takes to dial in the depth, or to pick up on changes in the depth at which the trout are feeding.  The deeper the water, the greater the fly spacing can and should be.  Phil suggest the following presentation – Keep an eye out for emerging adults and cast pupal shucks.  Anchor amongst them if you can.  After completing the cast allow sufficient time for the fly or flies to sink.  Let the sit still for a while.  If there are no takers begin a slow hand twist retrieve to cover water.  Move the line slow enough so it creates no surface wake.  Add the odd strip to attract fish to the fly.  The strip rises the fly up and the pause lets the fly settle once again.  Always watch the indicator right after the strip as this is when a take is most likely to occur.

This is not only a great imitation to fish during active chironomids emergences, but also a no brainer as a second fly/dropper fly to fish while exploring or prospecting during non-hatch times.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own.


According to Phil, this is probably his favorite chironomid pupa pattern, and a pattern that he has popularized with the help of thousands of trout across the western US and Canada.  The Chromie produces well when chironomid pupa are actively hatching, as the silver body does a great job suggesting the trapped gases the natural pupa use to aid their ascent and final transformation to winged adult.

Fishing Tips:  Fish this pattern like the Black Sally or your other favorite chironomids imitations.  The Chromie seems to be a real standout in Yellowstone Country when fishing in darker conditions, in deeper water, or in algae clouded or otherwise colored water.  My personal experience is that the reflectivity can be a bit much in shallow water combined with calm water and bright sun, but I know others who swear by this pattern in nearly all conditions.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own.

Clearwater Pupa – Black

According to Phil, this ultra-realistic chironomids pupa really shines in clear water conditions or when the trout are getting wary of seeing too many beadhead style patterns.  This fly is super slim and translucent, but with just the right amount of flash.  It also includes the wing pads which are not typically a part of simpler beadhead patterns.

Fishing Tips: Fish this pattern like the Black Sally or your other favorite chironomids imitations.  It’s a great one to fish as part of a tandem rig with a weighted chironomid during a hatch.  Around our area, the place I automatically think of when it comes to this pattern Wade Lake.  The crystal clear water and pale mud shoals are a local proving ground for realistic stillwater insect imitations, and this one has passed the test.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own.

The Importance or Unimportance of Good Casting Skills

The Importance or Unimportance of Good Casting Skills

My mates Justin and Matt at Big Sky Anglers have asked me to write an article on how important are good fly casting skills. And it’s certainly an interesting question. Maybe the best way to answer it is to first tell you my story.

I started fly fishing at the age of 10 with a fibreglass rod. Before this point I had fished a spinning rod, drowning maggots and worms, and prior to this I first started fishing with a small net catching (and releasing!) minnows and sticklebacks. I’ve always had a fascination for fish, and trying to catch them is really what my life is all about.

When I took up fly fishing, like most people, I did so without lessons and just generally thrashed the water in a frenzy. My beginnings, like many others from the UK, were on Trout Stillwaters. My local fishery was a “put and take” 110 acre lake called Ardleigh Reservoir. Here, as a boy, I would spend my school holidays, weekends and even some school time when I should have been studying something else!

At the age of 15, I got a job in the fishing lodge as the fishery bailiff, selling permits, flies and giving advice. I was completely obsessed, twice dropping out of University so that I wouldn’t miss any of the trout season. At the age of 21 I started spending half my year backpacking and fly fishing in New Zealand and the other half working on the reservoir back in England. I remember one day when I was about 18, fishing with an angler who I had great respect for, who had invited me to fish Rutland Water (another large English reservoir) – he introduced me to his local Grafham team members as being a “shit hot” fly fisherman. Now I mention this, because when you hear an angler saying that they “can’t cast but can catch fish” or someone telling you that “fly casting skills are unimportant” it can be true – for I had never had a lesson and while I could cast a line a respectable fishing distance, I was certainly not an accomplished fly caster by any means.

When I was 24, with no real qualifications and no interest at all in doing anything that wasn’t fly fishing, I decided that what I would like to do is to teach fly fishing – and being able to teach fly casting was no doubt an important part of this – and so I made some inquiries and took my first instructors’ exam (the Salmon and Trout Association National Instructors Certificate, or STANIC). I saw something while attending that exam, through a window, that I had never seen before; one examiner teaching a cast to another examiner – it was the Snake Roll. This cast had only just appeared in the UK – my now good friend, Simon Gawesworth, had invented it. When I saw this cast, I realized that I had to join this particular group of instructors too, because there was a whole different world waiting for me. 18 months later I passed the entrance exam to the Association of Professional Game Angling Instructors.

A few years after this, in 1998, when the Internet was still very new, and long before people started holding fish at arm’s length to make them look bigger, I started a website called Sexyloops. My life at this point was fly fishing in New Zealand for six months of the year and either the UK or Australia for the other six months, living outdoors, sleeping in the back of the truck, or camping on the riverbank. The combination of being first through the door with a website that had lots of fly casting content, along with a life of travelling, expanded my world into pretty much a who’s who of fly fishing and fly casting.

I joined every instructors association going and got heavily involved with what is now the IFF, examining for them and preparing numerous instructors (well not numerous, more like 200!). I’ve been exceptionally fortunate in life, to have gone from Stillwater Trout beginnings, to 18 summers (3000 fishing days) fly fishing in New Zealand, to spending three summers on the shores of Hebgen Lake – where I met both Justin and Matt, three summers in Canada, to where I am now, which is five out of the last seven years living on a 14’ boat in the Tropical Malaysian Rainforest. Hardly a day goes past when I’m not actively fishing somewhere. I do lumps of 3-4000 days and then move on to a different type of fly fishing – I fish other stuff in-between as well; Russia, a hell of lot of time in Australia and have fly fished across most of Europe and so on, but it’s the 3000 day blocks where I put most of my energy.

In 2004 I got involved in competition fly casting; I had been giving a lesson to a competition caster and I got intrigued. I wasn’t really that interested in competing but I wanted to see how far I could learn to throw the 5WT. The “Best of the West” competition inspired me and quite a few others at that time. Indeed this is why we now have a World Championships with one of the disciplines being who can throw the 5WT Mastery Expert Distance fly line the furthest. My best result so far in this competition has been a bronze medal but I really want that gold! Many of my best friends compete in these games. Some are rod designers, there are many fishing guides and a hardcore of very serious angling ability.

The finals in the World Championships in Norway, I think I came fourth here. That’ a 5WT MED disappearing over the hill.

In my life nowadays I’m both a rod designer and a fly fishing guide and instructor. I manufacture fly rods under the Sexyloops brand and teach people how to cast for, and catch, Giant Snakehead and Giant Gourami in the wild.

This is a 6.8KG Giant Snakehead. That’s 15lbs and a very nice fish indeed. They’ll take a popper, but you only have one second to place the shot in an area the size of a dinner plate once they rise to gulp air. And you don’t know when or where they will appear. Talk about “finger on the trigger”! This is the hardest fly casting shot there is.

For fifteen years fly casting clinics and lessons were my main income, but the job I have now is a much better fit for jungle life (and it pays better too!). So let’s get back to the original question, how important are good casting skills?


Well it is certainly possible to be a seriously good angler with mediocre casting skills. It’s also quite possible to be an excellent caster with poor fishing skills – sitting casting instructor exams will tune up your flycasting and many have done so exactly for this reason, consequently there are examples of excellent casters who have almost zero fly fishing experience!
However being able to cast to a higher level of skill is never going to place you at a disadvantage. Recently I read an article interviewing guides asking them, “what was the one thing that they wish their clients could do better?” That one thing that they all wished for, was that their clients could cast better.

Now it would be interesting to know if the one thing that their clients wished for, was that their guides could teach them better fly casting skills! When I read something like that, I think to myself, “Hey, I think you are trying to tell yourself something!”

Let me tell you, if you are a fly fishing guide, then learning basic fly casting instructor skills is an immense boost to your guiding ones. Your clients catch fish, they learn fly fishing, they have a great experience and they also improve their fly casting! Phew – what a day! And it doesn’t take very long for a fly fishing guide to learn basic fly casting instructor skills and tune up his or her cast so that it looks professional. One month, two months, no more. 

Giant Gourami. Around 9lbs. They eat dry flies and then try to destroy everything. A magnificent fish – quite extraordinary in fact. We’ve had about 80 in the boat now and for fly fishing it’s a new species.

I’m fully aware that these associations are all a bit stuffy; I’ve quit three of them and was thrown out of a fourth! I don’t expect you to stay and start wearing tweed underwear, but the point is, in taking these exams you will get the skills and confidence to teach fly casting to your clients. I don’t even know why fly casting instructors do it if they don’t guide! For me it’s always been about teaching fly fishing – and so guiding and fly casting instruction have always gone hand in hand.

And what about you guys and girls out there who fish for the fun of it, and would like less tangles, more ease and a range of highly fishable casts? You too could go down the instructors’ route but what’s the point? Instead, I’m going to show you something that I’ve recently put together, which is a fly casting skills certification. It’s something we have on Sexyloops. You don’t actually have to become certified; the reason it’s there is simply to set you some achievable goals. I’m sure that Justin can test you, if that’s what you decide you want to do. What I do recommend however, for everyone, is that you use this “exam” as a syllabus of your own, so that by practising each cast, you will train yourself to become a better flycaster.

This is the Sexyloops fly casting challenge. There is currently one level, there are more coming. All of these casts can be learned through watching the flycasting video manual section on Sexyloops. And if you have any inquiries or questions you can email me directly on paul@sexyloops.com
I’m not sure why you fish, I’m not even sure why I fish, but if having fun is an important part of fly fishing for you, then learning to cast better will surely make your fly fishing more fun – that I guarantee. There is no feeling quite like fly casting; shaping a loop of line to deliver our artificial fly to the fish. It’s an incredible thing that we do; it’s a sport, it’s a pastime, it’s a crazy life like no other. Being able to “throw” really elevates your game to a whole new level.

And if the mainstream stuff gets a bit boring, you can always try this:


And before you ask, no it’s not supposed to be taken seriously. If bat fishing ever ties off however then come to me for a lesson!

Life is an adventure, bring flyrods!


Rowley and Chan’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App – A Review

Rowley and Chan’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App – A Review

Stillwater fishing is just one part of fly fishing that truly fascinates me, and every year I seem to devote more and more of my water time to the lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.    And, like most things that I become interested in, I collect literature on the subject.  I love to read and study different theories and approaches to things like fly fishing.  By reading well written works by other experienced anglers, I feel that I am able to gain experiences that I might not otherwise have the opportunity to have myself.  I guess the hope is that one day, should I be confronted with a unique situation in my own angling, that I might be able to recall an obscure passage in an angling text and apply it with glorious, fishy results.  But I also think that I enjoy just reading different perspectives, opinions, and approaches to similar situations, and trying to sort out the biases, while throwing it all into my own melting pot for forming my own (admittedly biased) perspectives, opinions, and approaches.

But I digress.

For a long time, “literature” essentially meant books, magazine articles, and maybe some VHS tapes.  Now, as more and more information becomes available through electronic means, it also includes things like DVDs, blog posts, podcasts, e-books, You-tube channels, and now, smartphone apps.  I’m able to find new material to study everywhere I turn, making the long Montana winter a bit easier to pass.

I’m a little old school, and I still like books the best, but it is difficult to argue with the power of a well-organized and presented video as a teaching an learning tool.  Not long ago I came across Phil Rowley and Brian Chan’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App.  As I understand it, this App is the first of its kind in many ways.  What makes this information source fairly unique is that it is video based, but organized similar to a cookbook of recipes or fishing tidbits that are hopefully easy to find at a moment’s notice. 

From Phil and Brian:

“Phil and Brian have combined their 75 years of experience fly fishing for trout and char in lakes to develop this valuable educational tool. This App will become an essential tool in the toolbox for anglers of all skill levels.

The app is broken down into chapters covering such topics as entomology, leaders and knots, techniques and tactics, equipment and favourite stillwater flies. Each topic is presented in video format that can be easily downloaded and saved to your mobile device.

Once downloaded, the video tips can be watched anywhere. No Wi-Fi connection is required to view the tips once they have been downloaded.”

MK’s Breakdown

I personally have found the Stillwater Fly Fishing App to be a welcome addition to my collection of stillwater angling “literature”.  I’ve learned plenty of new things, particularly about entomology and rigging for stillwaters.  I’ll go into the 2019 open water season with plenty of new ideas to try out.  But what makes the App better, or at least different than a book written by Phil or Brian?  The App format allows for continuous additions, updates, and modifications as the authors develop and test new theories and methods.  In theory, this can reduce the built in obsolescence found in some printed media. 

When I downloaded and subscribed to the App in early October 2018, I think there were about 105 +/- videos available among these 5 chapters. 


Leaders & Knots

Techniques & Tactics

Equipment, and

Stillwater Flies

Now, just before the start of the New Year, there are 126 videos.  At this point, I’ve probably watched 90% of them.  Of course, I watched the Entomology and Tactics videos first!  I’ve been messing around with the App enough that I feel like I can offer up a list of what I’d call PROs and CONs, for lack of a better terminology.  Remember, you can download the App for free and check out all the free content, along with listings of all the content that comes with a paid subscription.  So, what have you got to lose?


Content, Content, Content!  I feel very confident saying that, regardless of your experience level with stillwater fly fishing, you will learn some really interesting new things from the App.  There are some videos about really clever and sneaky stuff on there!!!

For the newcomer to stillwater fly fishing, dive into videos like “Essential Tackle”, “Choosing a Fly Rod”, “Choosing Leech Patterns”,  “Retrieve Essentials”, and “Simple Chironomid Techniques”  (all available free without subscription).  The basics are all there for you to build on.  Get yourself an intermediate sinking line to go with the floating line you already have, and go strip some leeches or hang some chironomids!

If you end up hooked on stillwater fly fishing like me, you’ll find that every outing will generate more questions in your mind.  When that feeding binge happens that you can’t seem to figure out, you can dive deeper into the App and watch videos like entomology presentations on “Zooplankton”, “Dragonflies (Crawlers)”, “Dragonflies (Darners)”, or “Scuds”.  When you are ready to experiment with new ways to move your fly, check out clips like “Strip Retrieve”, “Hand Twist Retrieve”, “Pinch Strip Retrieve”, “Rolly Polly Retrieve”, and “Indicator Retrieves”.  When you finally buy that new boat, check out the two videos on boat setup with stillwater angling in mind.

Fishing tricks.  I mean simple tricks that solve annoying everyday problems in the fishing life that you wish you’d thought of yourself.  Phil and Brian offer up more than a few of these that they have figured out over their years of fishing.  Some are explicit, with their own videos, and others are nested within other topics.  It pays to watch with an open mind.  Using electrical tape to fix a worn out slip float, and incorporating barrel swivels into rigging are two of my favorites.

Fly Tying Tutorials.  Step-by-step video instruction for piles of proven stillwater patterns.  At least two dozen are available for free without a subscription to the App! It’s winter in Montana.  Get in there and tie some new stillwater flies!

Regular Updates.  When I spoke with Phil about his plans for the App, he mentioned that their goal was to add 4 or 5 new videos to the App each month.  And, last month they did just that!  Compare that to your average print mag subscription, factor in how rarely print mags cover detailed stillwater topics, and the $3.99/month (or less if you sign up for a season or a full year) subscription suddenly seems like a bargain.

Offline Capability.   Once you have downloaded video content to your smartphone, the App no longer needs any Wi-Fi or other wireless cell coverage for you to watch the videos.  So, you can download all the videos you’d like at your house on a fast Wi-Fi signal and then get on the bus to work, or on the airplane to West Yellowstone or Jurassic Lake, and you’ll be ready with something to do.  You can even download all the videos about fishing Callibaetis and then watch them in the boat while you wait for the hatch to start out on Hebgen Lake without dealing with spotty 3G coverage that will gobble up your data allowance.


Broad Topic Organization With No Search Function.  You have to organize things somehow. The format of the App, while very clean and based on relatively short, individual video tips sorted into the categories/chapters listed above, may not be the ideal format for covering a complex, detailed topic in an orderly, step-by-step manner.  Of course, this is an opinion based on how my own brain organizes things.  For example, if you are interested specifically in learning about the ins and outs of, say, Chironomid fishing, you will need to skip around within the App chapters and watch three Entomology videos, multiple Leader & Knot rigging videos, and two or three Technique & Tactics videos, before diving down the rabbit hole of fly pattern selection and tying tutorials.   Perhaps in the future, the App could be updated to include a search function so that a user could search for, say, “chironomids”, and then be presented with a list of all the relevant videos from among the five organizational chapters.

Quirky Updating.  I’m running a Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Android version of the App.  That said, last time Phil and Brian announced a new set of video uploads, I had a hard time finding them on the App.  I ended up uninstalling the App and reinstalling it, and the problem was solved.  No biggie, but I’m glad that I follow the guys on social media for the announcements for new updates.

In Conclusion

I actually reached out to Phil and Brian about these CONs after writing this.  They were very receptive and responsive to a little bit of constructive criticism and it sounds like they will be looking into some improvements that will enhance searching and trouble shooting in the very near future.  In the end, I think that’s a very good sign to see that they are interested in and committed to not only adding new content but improving the functionality of the App over time.  As far as I’m concerned, I think I’ll be renewing my subscription when it comes up later in January.  There’s still a lot more winter left!

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Chan’s Maroon Chironomid Bomber

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Chan’s Maroon Chironomid Bomber

  • Originator:  Brian Chan
  • Hook: TMC 2302 or equivalent, #10 – 16
  • Thread: 8/0 Uni, dark brown
  • Bead: White, sized to match hook
  • Body: MFC Sexi Floss or Spirit River Flex-Floss, brown
  • Rib: Uni Wire, small, red and silver

Brian Chan is a Canadian Stillwater angling expert and signature tier for Montana Fly Co.  We’ve found his Chironomid Bomber patterns to be absolutely deadly on Hebgen both before and after the more glamorous hatches of Callibaetis, Tricos, and damselflies.  These can be fished static, under a strike indicator, or slowly retrieved using a hand twist on a floating or intermediate tip line.  You’d be amazed at how strong the takes are on a fly that is barely moving!  Another great thing about this pattern is that, if you tie your own, you can easily experiment with other color combos.

– Matt