We had a fleeting glimpse of spring up here in northwestern Montana and it was glorious. For over a week we had temperatures rising into the mid to upper 40’s and the sun would show itself from time to time, making this fisherman day dream with the thoughts of rising trout. I couldn’t help but picture trout slowly moving to the surface of the river without a care in the world and deliberately inhaling the unsuspecting insect from the river’s surface. Well, that wishful thinking was ripped apart this week when the skies unleashed a borage of snow storms that left a blanket of new snow over everything and suffocated any chance of rising trout on the Flathead River. Such is life in the Rocky Mountains in April. That brief reprieve from winter did get me motivated to put a couple of hooks in the tying vice and start tying dry flies that I will be using for the upcoming guide season.
We are fortunate here in the Flathead Valley that we have West Slope Black Spotted Cutthroat trout throughout our drainage. When it comes to selectivity of trout eating dry flies the Cutthroat Trout are not even on the spectrum of being selective most of the time. In fact, at various points in my guiding career I have called these magnificent trout plain stupid after seeing their disregard to any form of danger when it comes to eating the dry. I have seen Cutthroat Trout eat dry flies skated across the river, sunk , hung in a tree, hung off the side of the boat, and once I saw a Cutthroat beach itself for a short amount of time on the river bank after unsuccessfully trying to eat a fly that my clients that was dangling in the air as he was telling a story that involved a lot of flailing arms and body movement. That must have enticed the trout to try it’s luck at extracting oxygen from the atmosphere rather than water. I am not saying that Cutthroat will always be willing to eat a dry fly or cannot be selective but after you spend enough time guiding in a Cutthroat fishery you can’t help but notice that these trout love to eat on top of the river’s surface. I feel fortunate to be in a place that still has a strong cutthroat fishery. Here in the Flathead drainage we are considered to have the last remaining stronghold for West Slope Black Spotted Cutthroat Trout. The majority of our trout that get put into our nets are Cutthroat Trout and until that changes this will be a phenomenal dry fly fishery.
Some of my favorite patterns consist of brightly colored high floating dry flies like Chubby Chernobyls, Amy’s Ants, and Turk’s Tarantulas. These patterns are great because they are easy to see and float very well though all types of water and conditions. I am also a big fan of parachutes flies such as Purple Haze, Parachute Adams, and Pheasant Tail Parachutes. You can tie these flies anywhere from a size huge to tiny to match certain hatches throughout the year, they are easy to see, and are deadly when fished in a foam line around these parts. Lately, I have been tying cripples and spinners. Even though I say Cutthroat Trout aren’t particularly selective when it comes to eating the dry I have personally caught some of my best Cutthroat on those flies. The big trout are big for a reason. In my opinion, it is because they are smart and have learned to be a little bit more selective on what they do and do not put in their mouths. Cripples and spinners represent an insect that is struggling, or dead, and trapped in the film on top of the river, thus presenting itself as an easy meal for a trout.
Maybe trout are just jerks and pick on the weak or dying but more than likely the reasons for the success of spinners and cripples at bringing up trout to slurp them down is they correctly represent how that particular fly rides on the water’s surface. You tie spinners and cripples to sit low or partially submerged in the water which correctly represents a struggling or dying fly on the river’s surface. Whereas, what you think of as a dry fly (think Parachute Adams) also sits in the water column but misrepresents how an actual adult flying invertebrate sits on top of the water. In reality, adult insects such as mayflies only have a small amount of their bodies touching the water. They only have their legs and feet touching the water’s surface holding up the rest of their body. Don’t just take my word for it, the next time you see a hatch of adult invertebrate species on the river look closely at how much of their body is actually touching the water. You will probably be surprised at how little of the insect actually touches the water as it is floating down the river. So, the next time you do run across that selective trout give a spinner or a cripple a try and you might be surprised at your success in fooling those wiser trout.
I am a big fan of the Klinkhammer fly. It is a relatively easy cripple to tie and you can get creative in the colors and materials you use for this pattern. For the flathead River, I like to tie these patterns in purple, red, white and other colors that seem to produce well here. I like to put a highly visible post on these flies to help track it’s location better in foam lines or in faster moving ripples. There are plenty of tutorials on how to tie this pattern and you will be doing yourself a favor by having a few in your fly box.
In closing, I am hoping for a break in these storms and churning out dries so that maybe, maybe I can convince the fishing Gods to bring us some top water action in the not too distant future. Remember, treat them well and Keep em wet, you will be happier in the long run. -Mark