Four Reasons to Fish Imitations of Impaired Insects
While giving fly tying demonstrations over the weekend at the Wasatch Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Expo in Salt Lake City, I mentioned to several people observing me tie that I almost always fish imitations of insects that are in some way impaired. What do I mean? I am referring to flies imitating or at least suggesting aquatic insects that are emerging, crippled, spent, drowned, or waterlogged, or of any terrestrial insects that fall in the water (since land insects in the water are by their nature in trouble). Here are five reasons to fish flies meeting one of the above criteria.
Trout Prefer Them
This is the most obvious and important reason to use such flies. Various studies on trout feeding behavior find that they prefer to feed on insects during their life stages in which they’re in trouble, or on individual insects that are experiencing difficulty. For example, they’ll emerging or crippled insects in preference to adults, and they’ll eat dun mayflies that have been knocked over in preference to those riding “like little sailboats” upright, as they’re often described.
The reason trout prefer insects that are in trouble is simple. They’re less likely to get away. Each time a trout rises to eat an insect and it flies away, that’s a calorie the trout has wasted. Over evolutionary timescales, it has made more sense for fish to key on bugs that are less likely to get away and more likely to prove an easy meal. The smaller the insects, the more important this is. So trout really prefer spent, crippled, emerging, or otherwise distressed ants, PMD, BWO, midges, and tiny caddis over their healthy brethren.
Flies Will “Behave” Impaired Anyway
This is a more esoteric reason. Look at a healthy dun mayfly. It rides up on its tippy-toes, above rather than in the surface film. Many flies were nominally designed to match this behavior. The classic Catskill-style mayfly dry is a perfect example. Drop it dry on a glass of water and it’ll ride high, just like the real bug.
Yet in fishing situations, no fly pattern will ride as high as healthy naturals, at least not for long. All flies get waterlogged, ragged, chewed-on, and otherwise stop looking like they do in the fly shop display within minutes or seconds of being tied on the end of your line. In other words, they start looking and behaving more like distressed insects, no matter what you do. This partially explains the common phenomenon of a fly working better the more beat-up it gets.
If your fly is going to look and act distressed anyway, why not emphasize these attributes, rather than trying to minimize them?
They are Fast and Easy to Tie
Look at any fly intended to represent a mayfly emerger, cripple, or spinner. Look at spent caddis patterns. Look at most traditional “fur and feather” ant imitations. They’re all dirt simple. Even many foam grasshopper imitations likewise aren’t very complicated, even if they’re large. Most utilize less than a handful of materials, and often rely on synthetic materials with hints of flash or sparkle that are easy to work with and cheap to buy. Here are some examples, none of which take me more than three minutes to tie:
This caddis cripple pattern uses three materials (in addition to thread and hook): dubbing, a synthetic yarn, and hackle. When tied to match the important Nectopsyche caddis on the Firehole, it’s my #2 dry on that river. When tied in tan, it imitates both emerging and egg-laying tan Hydropsyche caddis, the most important summer caddis in the entire region. In pink, it’s a great attractor for bright summer days on the Yellowstone.
This attractor suggestive of a mayfly cripple uses five materials: a synthetic yarn for the tail, spandex for the body, a different synthetic yarn for the wing, and two colors of hackle (Adams-style). Since both bunches of synthetic yarn or tied in as clumps and then trimmed to shape, this is a much faster fly to tie than the original Purple Haze Parachute on which it’s based. It’s also three times as effective. It has been our top dry fly period since the fall of 2009.
This is our top-producing terrestrial pattern most seasons. It uses three materials: acrylic yarn chopped into dubbing in a coffee grinder, synthetic yarn, and a brown hackle. We use these everywhere, from little mountain creeks to the roaring Yellowstone. I can whip one out in about two minutes.
I went a little long in this point, but it’ll tie in with my next post on the subject (expect it around April 20-22), which will be about designing and tying patterns that match impaired bugs.
Most Anglers Use Something Else
Think about the dry flies that fill fly shop bins, especially those considered classics and standbys. They’re generally bushier and more complicated. This applies to everything from mayfly imitations and attractors suggestive of mayflies (Adams, Royal Wulff) to caddis (Elk Hair Caddis) to stoneflies (big foam monstrosities and Stimulators) to terrestrials (big complicated foam hoppers and most ants). These flies generally aim to suggest healthy dun or adult aquatic insects and terrestrials that haven’t started to succumb to their unplanned swim. While it doesn’t matter on lightly-pressured waters, opting to suggest something else will earn you more confident strikes and more fish.
As noted briefly above, my next post will cover tips on how to create flies that match impaired insects.
What? Why write a post about places that ain’t got no fish??? Because I see people fishing them all the time. Here is a list of places that definitely aren’t worth it, that I see or know of people fishing routinely, separated by road segment they’re near. Note the list isn’t exhaustive. It just covers commonly fished waters that hold nothing at all…
North Entrance Road and Old Gardiner Road
Slide Lakes and Mammoth Beaver Ponds: off the gravel Old Gardiner Road between Mammoth and Gardiner and accessible via the Beaver Ponds Trail from Mammoth
Africa Lake: down the hill from the highway halfway between Mammoth and Rustic Falls
Swan Lake (though the sloughs east of the highway do hold some brook trout)
All Roadside Ponds between Indian Creek Campground and Roaring Mountain
Gibbon River System above Virginia Cascades upstream to Wolf Lake and Grebe Lake: These waters were poisoned in 2017-2018 for a planned westslope cutthroat trout and fluvial (stream-dwelling) Arctic grayling reintroduction. As such they’re fishless for the moment, but in 3-5 years should be good again.
Phantom Lake (often dry in fact, hence the name)
Floating Island Lake
Other seasonal roadside ponds
Northeast Entrance Road
All roadside ponds, including those off the Slough Creek Campground Road
Shrimp Lake and Buck Lake (up the hill from Trout Lake)
Canyon-Fishing Bridge Road
All tributary streams as well as the portion of the Yellowstone River within Hayden Valley are permanently closed. I still see people fishing these waters when I drive by…
East Entrance Road
Turbid Lake and lower Sedge Creek (Sedge Creek has fish above the lake)
This is part 1 of a series of posts I’ll make through the season about “oddball” fisheries. I’m not going to reveal any hidden gems or tell you which rock to stand on, but I do intend to mention some fisheries “in the margins,” that might be fun for some PFS customers for an hour or two. Some of these fisheries will be in the park. Some will be quite far abroad in Montana. Enjoy!
Swan Lake Flat Sloughs
The marsh through which Swan Lake drains into Glen Creek is located east of the Mammoth-Norris Road immediately south of Rustic Falls. This fishery is swampy, difficult to get around in due to sucking mud and sudden deep holes, provides perfect habitat for mosquitoes though not for trout, and is often crowded with hikers and bikers using the dirt Bunsen Peak Loop Road, one of the few trails in Yellowstone Park where bikes are permitted.
So why fish here? That’s simple: it’s one of only two options near Mammoth where trout can always be caught during the first week or two of the Yellowstone Park season (the other is Joffee Lake). I’ve had clients catch fish here in the last few days of May while standing on snowbanks.
The Swan Lake Flat sloughs begin at Swan Lake’s outlet. During the peak snowmelt from mid-May through mid-June, the lake drains via a seasonal stream from its northwest end. This outflow passes under the road in a culvert, then arcs in a crescent first northeast, then northwest to join Glen Creek adjacent to the Bunsen Peak Trailhead immediately south of Rustic Falls (on Glen Creek). This marshy outflow forms ponds (almost all associated with spring seeps) connected by narrow, deep channels. In late summer and fall, the meadow adjacent to these channels is dry, but in early June the entire area is a marsh filled with ankle- to thigh-deep water and sucking mud.
Because the fish in this series of ponds and channels come from Glen Creek, the lower holes typically have larger fish numbers. That said, after a couple good water years when the ponds don’t get too warm and the marsh doesn’t dry up, fishable numbers of small to moderate-sized brook trout can be found almost all the way to Swan Lake. The areas where higher ground gets closest to the larger pools offer easier access. The larger holes, which usually host beavers and muskrats, require a long slog through deep water, grass, and mud.
I guide here once or twice almost every year, always before the middle of June when there are few other options. This is not a numbers fishery, but it is a fishery, and places to fish are hard to come by in the northern part of Yellowstone Park in early June.
Because this is flat, clear water, the brook trout here (which run five to twelve inches) are spooky. When guiding beginners, I usually have them fish a midge pupa and a soft hackle under a tiny indicator, without additional weight, then have them cast these rigs out along the deeper weed lines. Every fifteen or thirty seconds, I have them give their lines a slight twitch. This isn’t quite worm and bobber fishing, but it’s close. This is about the only way beginners will succeed here, since otherwise they can’t reach out far enough to avoid slapping the water and spooking the fish.
When guiding more experienced clients, I have them use similar flies most of the time, but will have them either look for the occasional rise to cover or cast as far as they can and retrieve their flies with a slow hand twist retrieve. Brook trout streamers like the Joffee Jewel or traditional Mickey Finn can also work with this tactic, especially right at the start of the season, before any insects are active. When the bugs are active, usually midges (and mosquitoes), a tiny Adams Parachute or #16 Coachman Trude with an even smaller midge pupa under it will draw some rises.
All in all, this water is a good diversion for a couple hours, if there’s no time to drive down to one of the Madison Drainage rivers that are also fishable at this time.
The easiest access and the only one that receives appreciable fishing pressure is the Bunsen Peak Trailhead just south of Rustic Falls. The northernmost pool is right next to the trailhead. Otherwise, use one of the pullouts further south towards Swan Lake itself and walk (slog) to the creek. Beware of critters: mosquitoes, bears, and calving elk. A cow elk once followed me all the way back to the car here, after I must have gotten too close to her calf. Also be careful slogging through the marsh, and avoid wearing clothes you don’t want to get dirty. Odds are you’ll wind up eating it if you squelch too far out.
Top March Fisheries #2: Paradise Valley Spring Creeks
March Fishing on the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks
While the late June and July PMD fishing gets most of the love, to say nothing of bookings 18 months or more in advance, I actually prefer the spring fishing. The fish are coming off a long winter in which they saw far less pressure than they do in the summer and early fall, there’s lot of “country cousin” rainbows that run in from the Yellowstone to spawn, and the mayflies are starting to get active with warming weather and water. Mid-March is prime time.
The Four Keys in Mid-March: Relatively Stupid Fish, Increased Fish Numbers, Spawning Activity and the Food It Provides, and Early Hatches
Angling pressure begins to rise in March, since the weather at valley level can often be quite comfortable at this time, but the overall pressure through the winter is low. This means that the resident trout in the spring creeks are not quite so intelligent at this time as they are in the summer, when the creeks are fully booked most days. This helps mean the trout can be caught on flies that aren’t quite so tiny and precise.
Even more important in making mid-March a good time on the creeks is the heavy run of spring-spawning rainbows that enter the creeks at this time. Trout begin entering in January or February, but the numbers are highest from mid-March through early April. Many of the fish are not yet spawning in March, which makes them more available than they are in April, since it’s not ethical to target actively spawning trout. It’s fine to do so when they’re still in the pre-spawn stage in deeper water, however.
These fish are important not only in cranking up the fish populations in the streams, but in providing food both for resident trout and the other running trout. They do this in two ways. The first and most obvious is in egg production. Eggs that drift helplessly in the current are not viable (they must be safely buried under fine gravel to hatch) and are as complete and easy a meal as a trout can find. There’s a reason fishing in Alaska is centered on eggs. It doesn’t quite center on eggs on the creeks in March, but they are important. In addition to these failed products of the spawn themselves, prey items stirred up and swept into the drift makes for easy prey for trout clustered downstream. These prey items include all of the bugs and critters that live in the creeks, but center on the items most active in spring: Baetis (BWO) mayfly nymphs, midge larvae and pupae, and aquatic worms.
While some combination of egg patterns, BWO nymphs, subsurface midges, and aquatic (skinny San Juan) worms will produce the biggest numbers of fish, mid-March can also produce excellent dry fly fishing during the year’s first consistent hatches. Midge hatches can occur even in the dead of winter, but they are fragmentary and don’t pop every day. By mid-March, these midge hatches intensify and are joined by consistent Blue-winged Olive emergences. While the clockwork hatches of early summer are seldom found in March, if you hunt for them you can find rising fish most days in March. The hatches will be best on calm days with at least some cloud cover, particularly when temperatures are in the 40s-50s. Look for days at the tail end of warm spells, just as a front starts to roll in. Your enemy here will be wind, but during calm spells expect to see some noses.
Tactics for Mid-March
I’ve mentioned many of the prey items it’s important to match in mid-March above. Here is how you should aim to fish these bugs.
Focus your efforts on the deeper runs and pools downstream either of shallow riffles (where the spawning activity will be taking place) or downstream of migration barriers such as culverts or the small dam on the pond at Depuy Spring Creek. Even shallow riffles can serve as migration barriers, since fish that aren’t yet in the throes of passion will be hesitant to swim through such areas on their migrations (due to exposure to predators) during daylight hours.
Nymphing is the primary tactic in these areas. Combine a pair of the food items noted above. If downstream of spawning fish, I’ll certainly use an egg first. If downstream of rough or turbulent water such as a culvert, I’ll probably opt for a slender San Juan Worm with a mayfly or midge, at least for starters. Both indicator and Euro-style nymphing tactics can work in these areas. The smaller the target, the more likely I’ll pull off the indicator and try to stay in contact with my nymphs. Make sure you are using enough weight that your flies are ticking bottom. Both weighted flies and weight added to your leader will work fine. With nymphs, cover the water thoroughly and slowly. I like to move fast when I fish, but when nymphing the spring creeks I’ll often stick to one run for an hour or more.
A secondary tactic is streamer fishing. Fish a medium-sized Woolly Bugger or other generic streamer. Use either a heavily weighted fly and a normal leader or a lightly weighted fly and a medium-sink Polyleader. There’s no need for an aggressive sinking line on the spring creeks.
Always keep an eye out for rising fish, especially from about noon until 3:00. The best chances for hatches will be in the walking-speed slicks running about waist-deep, the sorts of areas that are too deep and perhaps slow for spawning activity but shallower than the best nymphing runs. Don’t bother fishing dry flies unless you see fish rising.
Note on Actively Spawning Fish and Redds
DO NOT FISH FOR ACTIVELY SPAWNING TROUT!!! These fish will be found in water less than about two feet deep, primarily over gravel bottoms that the trout have “cleaned” of silt and algae using tail and body motions. These areas, spawning nests known as redds, will look paler than other areas, and will often feature dish-shaped depressions ranging in size from a garbage can lid on up to a large dining room table. Often multiple redds are packed next to one another.
Active spawners on redds will often be easily visible and look to be chasing one another. They are often large, and so tempting targets for many anglers. Don’t do it. Every trout in the Paradise Valley spring creeks is wild, and fishing for them while they’re doing the deed both disturbs their spawning activity (how would you react if disturbed while YOU were “spawning?”) and can potentially kill eggs, for example if you wade through unnoticed redds to get in position to cast to spawning trout.
Really it’s best to avoid spawning areas entirely. Often the creeks flag off the most important spawning areas to close them during the spawn, but any area of shallow gravel with a steady current is a potential spawning area. These sorts of spots often offer great dry fly fishing in midsummer. The only reason trout might be in them in March is to spawn. Let them do it. As noted above
Tackle for Mid-March
Rod: 9′ five-weights are the bread and butter stick at this time, because they are suitable for any likely tactic.
Reel: Use your basic trout reel. No need for anything fancy on the creeks, because the fish seldom run long distances.
Line: DT or WF to match your rod. While summer dry fly fishing is easiest with a line marketed as “precision” or “delicate,” such specialization is unnecessary at this time.
Leader: When fishing dries and nymphs, I almost always start with a 9′ 4X leader at this time, though I’ll often add 18″ of tippet to a standard leader for more delicacy and a faster sink rate with nymphs. If using streamers, go with either a 9′ 3X leader or a Polyleader with 3X tippet.
Tippet: 4X can sometimes cut it with nymphs on the creeks in the spring, but 5X and 6X are typically more useful for nymphs and especially for dries. 3X is fine with streamers. I always use fluorocarbon tippets (though standard nylon base leaders) on the creeks.
Accessories: Light split shot (#4 and #1), small and drab (white or black) strike indicators of your choice, dry fly floatant suitable for small and delicate flies
Special Tools: Your normal fishing tools such as nippers, forceps/barb-mashers, etc. Also throw in a pair of “cheaters” if your eyes aren’t what they once were, since though the flies are bigger than they will be later in the year, spring creek flies are always small.
Flies for Mid-March
I mentioned the basic food items you might expect to use on the spring creeks in March above. The following list covers some specific patterns I like, that cover all the bases.
Pink Flashtail Micro Egg, #16
Pink Y2K Egg, #16 (note: this is a nonstandard tie of this “standard” pattern, but it’s an easy one. Simply Google the original fly and tie it small and pink).
Triple Threat (formerly White River) Floss Worm, #16
Olive-Dun WD-40, #18
Olive Willy’s Pip, #20
Griffith’s Gnat, #18-20
BWO Sparkledun, #18-20
Flashback Pheasant Tail, #18-20
Olive Jujubaetis, #18-20
Olive BH Woolly Bugger, #6
Top March Fisheries Post #1: “Land of the Giants” on the Missouri River
This is first in a series of three posts I’ll make about top March fisheries. I’ll profile one each in the first ten, middle ten, and last ten days of the month. Note that all three fisheries are actually quite good throughout March, and on into the middle of April at least.
I’ll be honest here. This year, there are few March fisheries near Livingston, at least not until the weather moderates. We had a drastically warm and dry December and January that had us fearful for summer water levels. Lately we have been blessed and cursed with a bitter cold and snowy February. We had about three feet of snow here in Livingston in the past ten days! March is coming in with temperatures reaching -20 Fahrenheit at night and below zero in the afternoon. Averages are in the 40s for daytime highs! While this cold and snowy weather is doing wonders for our snowpack, it means you are better off fishing somewhere else right now. Instead, use the information below for future reference on March fisheries near Livingston, and plan trips for “normal winters.”
This first post is about the Missouri River at “Land of the Giants,” downstream of Hauser Dam near Helena. Later in the month I’ll cover Depuy Spring Creek and the Yellowstone River. Remember that they’re all good throughout the month, though I have planned the blog posts to cover which I think is best at each time.
Fishing “Land of the Giants” on the Missouri River
This short section of the Missouri River runs about three miles from Hauser Dam to Holter Reservoir, the lake upstream of the famous portion of the Missouri. This is mostly fast, deep water, with steep canyon walls. The holding water is mostly composed of long, bouldery pools. Access is only on foot or via jet boat. This is certainly the top early March fishery near Livingston for BIG FISH! While there are some dinks, the HONEST average is sixteen to twenty-two inches, and there are fish caught here every March in the 25 to 28-inch range. These big fish are lake-run rainbows coming up from Holter Reservoir to spawn, as well as the resident trout that eat their eggs. As the weather moderates later in the spring, the crowds get very heavy here, and you’ll never be alone even in early March, but since cold weather keeps almost all boaters and most wade anglers away, early March is prime time here.
On this top early March fishery near Livingston, you want to look for the deep, walking-pace runs and seams. Except for active spawners you want to avoid, there will be few, if any fish in shallow water, and since water temperatures will still be in the 30s or low 40s, there won’t be any fish in fast water.
Trout Spey Tactics
You have two basic tactics to choose from if you’re fishing on foot. If you’re okay with fewer fish but more exciting fishing, utilize trout spey techniques. This is the top early March fishery near Livingston for this technique. It’s also good on the Missouri below Holter Dam, the Yellowstone, and the lower Madison. Fish a twelve to thirteen-foot 4-6wt spey rod with a moderately fast sink-tip and a short leader tapered to 1X or 2X. Choose your tip based on current speed and water depth. Use Woolly Buggers, sculpins, or trout spey streamers like the Skiddish Smolt or Montana Intruder. You can also fish egg-sucking leeches, since on every top early March fishery near Livingston have “egg on the brain” at this time.
Long-Range Nymphing Tactics
A better tactic for most anglers is long-range nymphing. Using stack-mending techniques to achieve long downstream drifts that give your flies plenty of time in the strike zone. That is to say on the bottom. If you don’t know how to stack-mend, I’ll describe the process below, but I suggest you also check out this excellent video. Except on the Paradise Valley spring creeks, stack-mending is an important skill on ever top early March fishery near Livingston. In fact, it’s a good skill whenever you’re nymphing on foot on larger waters, especially when the fish are holding well away from the banks.
This is somewhat specialized nymphing compared to other March fisheries near Livingston, and your normal rod and line probably aren’t ideal. Opt for a six-weight or seven-weight single-handed rod. The longer the rod, the better. I suggest a 10-footer. Rig this rod with a long-belly WF floating line, such as a line marketed as a floating steelhead line. Another option is to use an 11′ five-weight switch rod rigged with a floating general-purpose switch line. These long rods help with mending at long range, as well as setting the hook at poor angles that often result when stack-mending.
Leaders should range from nine to twelve feet depending on water level. The higher the flows, the longer the leader. I often use a standard nine-foot leader tapered to 3X, to which I attach a small swivel and a foot to eighteen inches of 4X tippet. Add split shot above the swivel (you will need two to three #B or BB lead shot), and a strike indicator.
The Basic Tactic, in Steps:
The basic tactic is as follows. Again see, the video above :
Cast slightly upstream out towards the seam, starting close and gradually working farther out into deeper water. Make sure to have extra slack line ready, hanging in the water in front of you.
Keep the rod pointed directly at your indicator at all times, at least to start. As you learn how the currents in the particular run you’re fishing interfere with the drift, you may find your drifts get better by slightly leading the indicator in its drift, or even lagging even more slightly behind it, but these are special cases.
Give an immediate upstream mend all the way to the strike indicator, even if you jerk it slightly. This is your initial “set-up” mend.
As the line comes straight in front of you, mend again. If you need to, feed line into the mend to avoid dragging the flies.
Continue mending as needed as the indicator drifts below you, taking care to avoid dragging the flies. You can extend the drift as long as you like, certainly longer than you can cast.
Assuming you don’t get a strike… At maximum fishing range, which will range from fifty to eighty feet of line out of the guides for most anglers, strip in line to get back to easy casting range and start the process again.
When you get a strike… Set the hook HARD at a 45-degree angle above the water on your DOWNSTREAM side. Never set the hook upstream when using this technique. Doing so just pulls the fly upstream in the trout’s mouth and either results in poor hook placement at the tip of the fish’s mouth or missing the fish entirely. You also shouldn’t set with your rod just above the water on your downstream side. Because of water pressure, you usually don’t get enough power in the hookset when doing so.
Playing fish using this technique is hard. Use an aggressive downstream angle with your rod to pull the fish away from the fast current and into shallow water. Often your rod should be almost parallel to the water. Once the fish is in shallow water, you can bring the rod straight up to pull the fish upstream towards you. Don’t be afraid to follow the fish downstream, however! A good tactic sometimes is to get to shore and hustle downstream until you’re even with the fish. That way, when you apply downstream pressure, the fish feels the pull from downstream, and so feels prompted to run upstream. This turns the current into your ally rather than your enemy. Even so, you’ll lose a lot of fish.
Flies for Nymphing, and How to Rig Them
All nymphs used at this time should at least suggest eggs. They should be about the same size as eggs and usually contain pink or orange elements suggestive of eggs, even if they have the profiles of more-traditional nymphs. Fly size should range from #12 to #18. Except when flows are up and somewhat dirty, expect the smaller flies to work better. Nonetheless, it’s good to have a larger fly in your rig. Always fish two flies. The larger one often serves as weight and an attractor, even if the smaller one produces 75% of the fish.
I’ll reiterate the right leader here. Start with a standard 9′ nylon monofilament leader, usually 3X though if flows are up and clarity is less than about five feet you can get away with 2X. Add a tiny swivel or tippet ring. Add about eighteen inches of tippet. I suggest fluorocarbon. 4X is usually necessary, but you can get away with 3X if the water is a bit off-color. You will need two or three size B or BB shot, depending on water depth and current speed. If using tin shot, use BB or AB, which are larger in size than equivalent lead shot.
Tie your larger fly to your main leader. This fly should be heavier, bulkier, and be tied with more weight that your smaller fly: some combination of lead wire, lead-free wire, and brass or tungsten beads. I typically use flies suggestive of sowbugs or scuds. See the lists below for my top five fly choices. You can also try a large pink or red San Juan Worm, marabou jig, a small and heavily-weighted Woolly Bugger, or even a big egg pattern tied with a tungsten beadhead. This top fly need not be overly suggestive of an egg, but I’ll usually include “egg-like” components. The Rainbow Czech Nymph pictured is a good example: the “hot spot” is suggestive of an egg, even if the rest of the fly is not.
Tie an 18-inch tag of lighter tippet (usually 5X, though you can occasionally get away with 4X) to the top fly’s hook. Tie your smaller, dropper fly (usually #16 or #18) to this tag. This fly should be smaller and/or sparser than your top fly, and should almost always be pink or another egg-like color. Tiny egg patterns are probably the most popular choices, but other flies work too. I like small, pink sowbugs and scuds, often tied with an orange “fire bead.” I also like small pink or pale orange mayfly nymphs and midge pupae. See the second list below for my favorite dropper flies.
One thing to note: tie or buy a lot of flies for this water. You will lose a ton. You’ll bust off quite a few, but you’ll also break off a lot of fish, mangle a lot of flies getting them out of fish, and simply have a lot of flies beat up by fish teeth. Because you’ll break off a lot of fish, it’s vital to squeeze the barbs on your hooks. The big trout will thank you.
The following are my favorite large nymphs:
Rainbow Czech Nymph (Regular and Firebead), #12-14
Amex Czech, #12-14
Pink Caviar Scud, #12
Ninch’s Bubble Yum Scud, #12-14
Pink Squirrel, #12-14
The following are my favorite smaller nymphs:
Metallic Pink Lightning Bug, #18 (Here is a link to the Lakestream page posting the image linked above, including a tying video)
Pale Pink Rainbow Warrior, #18 (note: just a standard Rainbow Warrior tied with pink thread, transparent pink Flashabou, and pink thorax)