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The Salmonfly Hatch

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I’m headed out to Montana in a few weeks to fish the Salmonfly hatch with Jim Mitchell, one of the best guides I have ever fished with and all around great guy. This is a world-famous hatch that occurs in the western part of North America from Colorado to Northern California and on up to British Columbia.

These big salmonfly bugs (2” and over) entice even the weariest of trout to the surface. It certainly is an epic hatch. To get the most of it, here is what we suggest...

Location

Just like real estate, it’s all about location. Here one day, gone the next. The hatch moves fast on any river system. What worked last week, is going to be done this week. 

Ahead of the main hatch as the bugs begin migrating to shore nymphing is good with Bitch Creeks and big stonefly patterns. Within the first day or two, of the main hatch, the fish will gorge themselves then not be eating a lot but will be back at it 3 to 5 days later. When I see the first few shucks it is about 4 or 5 days after and they will be covering that area and move up river rapidly and be gone in a few weeks

Timing

Unless you can predict mother nature, there’s a chance you can miss the hatch.

I’m on pins and needles to see if I’ll actually hit the hatch. I’m going at the end of June, there’s a chance I may miss the hatch completely. The hatch timing is dependent on how snowy the winter was, spring time temperatures, and of course water temperatures. I may be fishing the Bitterroot, Rock Creek, or the Blackfoot…. who knows. If you are booking plane tickets and hiring a guide, you’ve got to book pretty far in advance.

The whole deal is about hitting the hatch, I get it, but don’t be disappointed if you miss it. 

There’s a small one week(ish) window after the bugs have moved on that the fish are still keying on them. In fact, there’s an argument to be made with less naturals, your chances could be even better when the bugs aren’t as prolific. 

Now, I missed it completely last year, but I still caught a ton of fish, and a lot of massive fish. We just had to change up, that’s all. Last year, if you weren’t fishing a brindle chute, you weren’t catching many fish. Yellow stones also come out about this time of year too, and the hatch is quite a bit longer. Have no fear, you’ll catch fish.

Fish the Whole River

Especially true if you’re fishing with a guide. Don’t just pound the banks. 

Firstly, everyone is going to be doing it. That’s where the bugs are, so it makes sense. But bugs are all over the river. There’s going to be structure in any given stream that will hold fish. Three years ago, I had my best luck fishing boulders. My dad was in the front of the board and I was in the back. He wasn’t experienced going with a guide and many times would drift towards the back of the boat. No big deal. I focused on mid river and did very well.

Two Fly Guy

You all know by now, I’m a two fly guy. I fish two flies 90% of the time. 

There a couple of tricks I use to produce. Most of the time when I go with a guide, I’m in the back of the boat. I have the good fortune of being able to fish often and have a lot of great experiences in my life. Normally when I go with a guide, I’m going with a friend or family member, sharing the experience with them. I give them the front. The back can be sneaky good though.

You want to get salmonflies in a size 4 or 6. Like I said, big bugs. I use either the King Kong or Trina’s Dog Puke. When I’m in the back of the boat, I also downsize my second fly. Many times, the guy up front will get a refusal. An orange small crystal stimulator with rubber legs in a size 8 or 10 can be just the ticket. 

Plus, it’s not just salmonflies out. There  are some pretty heavy caddisfly hatches also. Many times the salmonfly will get them to the surface late in the day and they’ll smack the caddis. In the morning, how about a blue winged olive or Lord forgive me for saying this…...a nymph.

For all of you who are flying out west to hit the hatch, I really hope you get lucky and have timed it well. Most importantly, have fun, catch fish and enjoy this fantastic sport we know as fly fishing!

Tight Lines and Screaming Drags……

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