History Lesson

Are you a fly fishing history buff? If you are a fly angler, you should be. Learning a bit about the history of our sport adds a richness to the activity. Knowing how we got to where we are today will enhance your appreciation for our great sport.

Fly FishermanCheck out the fascinating article by Sweetwater Fly Shop’s own Paul Weamer in the latest issue of Fly Fisherman magazine. It traces the 100 year history of the Hendrickson fly, as well as the Catskill “school” of fly tying more generally. Yes, the Hendrickson is an eastern mayfly species that we don’t have here in Montana. But many of the flies that we fish here can trace their lineage to the style of fly tying that it influenced. Without the eastern fly-tying masters, the sport would not be what it is today, wherever we may fish.

Give it a read. We have copies of the magazine here in the shop if you’re not a subscriber.

March Browns

Western March Brown

A male “Western” March Brown Dun


I’d seen my first one a little more than two weeks ago, flying from the Yellowstone River into the cool, early-spring air.  It was trying to clear the rocks near shore, searching for a place to rest in the sagebrush and shrubs to change into a spinner and complete its life-cycle.  I tried to net it with my hat, but I missed, and it slowly motored beyond my reach.  It was a big mayfly, bigger than the midges and Blue Winged Olives (Baetis) that were also emerging.  Because of its size and the time of year it was emerging, I knew what it was, though I had never before seen one in person.  Two days ago, I found a lazier one just sitting on the rocks near shore.  I took it home to photograph.  That’s him in the above picture.

Six months ago (before I moved to Montana), I would have called this mayfly a Western March Brown;  truth is, out of habit, I still sometimes call mayflies  “Western” March Browns or “Western” Green Drakes.  But now that I live in the west, I can most assuredly drop the “western” part of all mayfly common names.  After all, no one back east calls their legendary Green Drakes “Eastern” Green Drakes.  And no one there attaches “Eastern” to their March Brown either.


Eastern March Brown

A female “Eastern” March Brown dun


Western March Browns and Eastern March Browns have a few traits in common besides their angler-given names.  But they are not related, and much of their similarities end at their names.  Eastern March Browns are from the Genus Maccaffertium (species vicarium). Their angler-given name belies the fact that Eastern March Browns usually hatch in May.  So why would a mayfly that hatches in May be called a “March” Brown?  It’s because the first European Americans who witnessed Eastern March Brown emergences thought the bugs looked very similar to a mayfly that lived in their former homeland–England.  This mayfly often hatches in March, but it is from the genus Rhithrogena (species germanica).  The same genus as the Western March Brown (species morrisoni )

Both Western and Eastern March Brown nymphs are classified as clingers.  They are similarly shaped and are most often found holding themselves flattened against submerged rocks in riffles.  But these two mayflies emerge quite differently. Western March Browns emerge on the stream bottom and quickly swim to the surface as fully formed duns.  This is similar to how Eastern Quill Gordons (E. pleuralis) and Pink Cahills (E. vitreus) emerge, but very unlike Eastern March Browns.  Eastern March Brown nymphs migrate from riffles to areas of slack current where they emerge, most often, in the surface film.  This makes emergers tied on curved hooks with trailing shucks quite effective for impersonating Eastern March Brown emergers.  But you’d be better off swinging wet flies if you want to imitate the emergence of Western March Browns.

Both Eastern and Western March Browns are big mayflies, around a size 12, and though I didn’t find fish eating them this week, they will be soon in many rivers and streams throughout the country.  March Brown hatches can be some of the most anticipated of the year, whether you live in the east or the west.






I enjoy nymphing. There, I said it. Let the mockery and derision begin.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If the trout are eating on top, I prefer to fish dry flies. I like nothing more than to see a fish come up and slurp down my fly. And I’ll strip streamers on occasion. The lure of big fish gets my heart pumping as much as the next guy. But especially early in the year, and anytime that the dry fly or streamer action is slow, I’ll tie on a couple of nymphs without hesitation or guilt. We’re not talking competition-style nymphing here, just good-old indicator and split-shot nymphing. And I’ll not just switch to nymphs because of their effectiveness. I’ll do it because I like it.

Admittedly, I prefer to nymph while wading. It has a certain timeless rhythm to it. Cast, follow, mend, follow, take a couple of steps upstream, repeat. And it requires unwavering focus and attention.

On a guide trip last summer, a client accused me of “dumbing-it-down” when I switched from a dry/dropper to an indicator rig. No, I was just doing my best to get her into some fish, and the other method wasn’t doing it for us that day. The negative perception is out there. Just when did indicator nymphing become the dreaded, yawn-inducing “bobber-watching?” The purview of the beginner and the unenlightened? Yes, it is a great way to get introduced to the sport. But to do it well requires as much practice and skill as any other method of fly fishing. And more concentration.

So here’s to all you closet nymphers out there. Let others sneer; it’s their loss. Let’s nymph and be proud.

Grab a Copy…

…of the new (Spring 2013) issue of Outside Bozeman magazine and turn to page 29. Sweetwater’s own multi-talented Beau Peavey cooks up a recipe for a juicy Spring streamer pattern, the Sweetwater Sculpin. Tie it yourself, or come in to the shop and grab a couple, hand-tied by Beau himself.

Spring Creek, Fall Baetis

Took the camera out to DePuy’s Spring Creek last weekend. Here’s a little footage of what ensued. Lest you think it was non-stop action, these are the highlights of the baetis hatch that lasted about an hour. A lot of fruitless casts (and a couple of backcasts into the willows) were edited out.  It’s spring creek fishing, after all.

Yellowstone River Flies

Adult Midge


Midges can be found in the Yellowstone River all year round, however you will not find them on the end of most anglers lines until the late fall and winter months.  Midges are tied and fished both as nymphs and dry flies.  Midges can range in size anywhere from a 16 all the way down to a 24.  November through March, the fish of the Yellowstone are keyed in on midge nymphs nearly the entire length of the river.  Dry fly midge fishing is best done in the soft water near the banks, and with any luck an angler can find a foam pocket to fish midge clusters (mating midges) near the rivers edge because the fish key in on these pockets because food accumulates there.

Midge flies are typically fished in black, red, or cream colors.  Nymph patterns that are successful on the Yellowstone are the Z-Bro Midge, Brassie, Minute Midge, Midge Larvae, and the Miracle Nymph.  For dry flies Renegades, Dom’s Midge Hanger, Willie’s Double G, Griffiths Gnat, Micro Midge, Sprout Midge, CDC Cluster, or a Hanging Midge.

Adult Mothers Day Caddis


One of the most famous hatches to come off of the Yellowstone River is the American Grannom, most commonly referred to as the Mothers Day Caddis.  These bugs come off so thick at times that they form a literal blanket over the water, which can be over an inch thick.  The tough part about the Mothers Day Caddis is that the hatch is in a race with run-off.  Some years the Caddis hatch works out perfect, other years the water rises too early and anglers do not get to take advantage of this amazing hatch.  The bugs usually start coming off in smaller numbers around the third week of April, and it will typically run into the second week of May.  The adult version has a black body, with an olive colored rear end.

Nymphs we like to fish for this hatch include the Mangy Caddis Pupae, Morrish’s Dirty Bird, and Morrish’s Super Pupae.  Dry flies, we turn to the Henryville Caddis, Elk hair Mothers Day Caddis, and the Spotlight Caddis. Photo by Mike Lawson.

Adult Salmon Fly


The biggest dry fly we get to fish here in Montana is the Salmon Fly.  When there are rumors of these big bugs hatching, the phone at the shop rings off of the hook all day.  It is a short lived hatch that starts typically in Paradise Valley, and works its way up river (south) to Gardner in a couple weeks time.  Typically the Salmon Flies start in the very early part of July.  This is another hatch that is hard to time, whether the river is high or not, dirty or clear, these bugs will come off, the question is that if the river is safe enough to fish by the time these bugs are doing their thing.

Popular nymphs used to imitate Salmon Flies are Yuk Bugs, Bitch Creek Stones, Rubber legs, and Woolly Buggers.  Dry flies we like to throw include the Flutter Bug, Totally Stoned: Salmon Fly, Sofa Pillow, Dog Puke, and South Fork Secret.

Golden Stone Nymph


The Golden Stonefly is another prolific hatch that occurs on the Yellowstone.  They can come off of the water any time from late June to Early August, but the nymphs are always in the river, and typically a good choice to run as a point fly.  Stoneflies thrive in rocky habitat, making the Yellowstone River a perfect environment for this bug.  Golden Stones can be found from Gardner all they way down to Billings.  Golden Stone adults can range in sizes between 6 and 12, and the same goes for the nymphs.

Nymph imitations include the Rock N’ Roller Stone, Rubber Legs, Jimmy Legs, and Bead head Golden Stones.  For dry flies the most commonly flies are the Chubby Chernobyl in gold, Drowned Golden Stone, Totally Stoned Golden, the X-fly Cat Puke, and Yellow Stimulators.

Adult Pale Morning Dun


The Pale Morning Dun, or PMD which is what anglers refer to them as are a May Fly that are found in June, July, August, and sometimes into early September on the Yellowstone River.  They also vary in color from an olive-brown, to a red-brown.  They are fished from a size 14 to 20, and have some of the most prolific spinner falls on the Yellowstone.  Hatches can occur in the morning, afternoon and evening, making their name a little bit misleading.  They typically hatch in slow, clear water, making tippet selection important when fishing these bugs.

Nymphs used to imitate the Pale Morning Dun include the Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail, Split-Case PMD, Floating PMD Nymph, and the PMD Thread Nymph.  Dry flies commonly fished are the CDC Thorax PMD; Knock down Dun, Captive PMD Dun, and a Parachute PMD.  The spinner best fished for this bug is typically a Rusty Spinner.  Photo from Westfly.com.

Adult Yellow Sallie Stone Fly – Photo Sandy Pittendrigh


The Yellow Sallie, like the Golden Stone, and Salmon Fly are another form of stonefly.  Their bodies can either be straight yellow, or have a pinkish orange hue on the rear end of the bug.  Sallies come off of the Yellowstone starting in mid July and extending well into August most years. The Yellow Sallies are much smaller than their cousins the Golden and Salmon fly.  Both nymphs and dries are fished in sizes 12 through 18.

Nymphs that are commonly fished to imitate Sallies include the Kyle’s Bead head Yellow Sallie, Psycho Prince, Gabriel’s Trumpet, and the Tungsten Sallie.  Dry flies used include Yellow Stimulators, Hair wing Yellow Sallie, Yellow Sallie Rolling Stone, Berret’s Hairy Yellow Sallie, and Berret’s CDC Yellow Sallie.  Photo from Bugguide.com.


Flying Ant


Terrestrials are insects that are not born in the water but on land, in the Yellowstone they include grass hoppers, ants and beetles.  August into October is the time when these types of patterns are successful on the Yellowstone. Since these bugs are not born in the water, we only fish the dry fly form of them.  Terrestrial fishing is special; it can provoke some big fish to eat dry flies, making them a preferred insect to imitate for fly anglers. There are hundreds of terrestrial variations to choose from to fish.  Another special thing about terrestrials is that sometimes it is better to twitch the fly, making it a more active form of dry fly fishing, which some people really enjoy.

For grass hopper patterns think about trying the Morrish Hopper, Chaos Hopper, Thunder Thighs, Panty Dropper Hopper, or a Sweetgrass Hopper.  Body colors for these bugs include pink, gold, green, tan, brown, and red.  When it comes to ants, we fish both cinnamon colored ants, and black ants.  Patterns to consider are the Power Ant, Parachute Ant, Hi-Vis Ant, and the Water Wasp.  Beetles come in a variety of colors as well; brown, black, and green are the most common that you will see.  Fat Albert, Crystal Flash Foam Beetles, Grillo’s Hippie Stomper, the X-tra Terrestrial and Yeager’s 409 all are great choices to imitate beetles.



Baetis are a bug that can be found almost every month of the year on the Yellowstone.  But September and October are the best times to find them on the water.  Baetis hatch most prominently on overcast days with higher humidity.  Commonly called blue winged olives, which can be misleading because Baetis may have a grey or tan body as well.  The insect itself is small, typically a size 16-22, but they sure do come off in large numbers when conditions are right. Baetis nymphs are active swimmers, and are found river wide, but are most prolific in weedy riffle runs.  It is best to nymph with them deeper in the morning, then mid day fish a floating nymph, towards the afternoon the emergence occurs, and then when they are seen on the surface, go to a dun.

Nymph patterns we like for Baetis include the Juju Baetis, Olive Pheasant Tail, Cold Turkey Baetis, and the BWO Nymph.  Dries that imitate the Baetis well are the BWO Comparadun, Sparkle Stacker, BWO Biot Parachute, and the Baetis Sprout.



Streamers are flies that are used to imitate smaller fish, Leeches and Crayfish.  In the Yellowstone we use streamers to imitate Sculpins, baby Brown, Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout, as well as baby White Fish.  Streamer flies can be effective 12 months of the year on this River.  In the spring, prior to run off streamers are very effective for fish looking for bigger meals after a winter of eating midges.  Just after run off streamers are fished against the slow water on the banks, offering the fish a big, easy to eat meal.  In the fall, when Brown Trout are getting ready to spawn they get very aggressive and predatory toward smaller fish, making streamers an excellent choice.  Overcast days are preferred for streamer fishing; however fish will eat them in almost every light condition.

To imitate Sculpins, patterns such as the Butt Monkey, Zoo Cougar, Morrish Sculpin, Silvey’s Sculpin Leech, and McCune’s Sculpin are very effective.  For baby trout, the Sparkle Minnow, Double Bunny, and Mirrored Minnow are excellent choices.  To mock Leeches, Woolly Buggers, Mo-Hair Leeches, Slump Busters, and Strung Out Leeches.  As for Crayfish, Bush’s Dad, The Things and The Big Nasty are all great patterns to try.

Salmon Fly Teaser

Thanks to Ian Majszak and Detonation Studios for sharing with us what we won’t see this year on the Yellowstone.  Salmon fly envy no doubt, but we are happy to see there are some bugs about and some clear water.  Thanks Ian for the Sweet teaser.

Montana Salmon Fly part 1 from Detonation Studios on Vimeo.

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