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Category: Tackle Reviews

Fly fishing tackle reviews by Walter Wiese

2019 Breakout Fly (and Video): May-Midge

2019 Breakout Fly (and Video): May-Midge

We tied the May-Midge as something of an experiment prior to last season, intending it to combine attributes of midge patterns like the Griffith’s Gnat while maintaining the overall silhouette of tiny, sparse mayflies. Our goal with this fly was to come up with something that would fool the spooky, lazily-rising fish we often see in the morning in flat water in late summer and early fall. These fish seldom eat any one thing in particular, but are feeding on a mixture of midges and the duns of three or four species of mayflies, as well as the occasional odd ant, mayfly spinner, and other “schmutz.” The May-Midge proved extremely effective in this role this season, particularly in the Lamar Drainage, where it turned out several very large fish on lower Slough Creek that were turned off by larger and/or more heavily-dressed flies.

Note: This fly is intended for use in slow water, particularly big eddy lines or places with many complicated micro-currents. It should not be used in choppy water, as it won’t float well in chop.

 

2019 Breakout Fly: Copper Matt (Video Too!)

2019 Breakout Fly: Copper Matt (Video Too!)

While caddis hatches on the Yellowstone River were sort of “meh” in 2019, the nymph fishing during caddis season was quite good. Usually we fished our nymphs as droppers, sometimes deep under bobbers. Either way, my most-productive caddis/attractor nymph was an old tie by Matt Minch, the Copper Matt. Essentially a version of his Bead, Hare, and Copper with a peacock herl head and heavier wire ribing, Parks’ Fly Shop has been stocking the Copper Matt in larger sizes for at least ten years, to modest sales at best. This year I happened to tie a few in smaller sizes in my box, probably due to guiding on the lower Madison during heavy caddis hatches and having strong success with them earlier in the season. The smaller size (#16) seemed to be the ticket. The fish loved this one this year. Let’s hope they do next year. My new fly tying vid for the pattern is embedded below.

2019 Breakout Flies: Smethurst’s Stone Bomb and Twenty Bomb

2019 Breakout Flies: Smethurst’s Stone Bomb and Twenty Bomb

One of the moves everybody who guides for PFS except Richard is making is towards heavyweight flies that can be fished without additional weight. Most of these flies are tied jig-style, rather they’re derived from previous Euro-nymph designs or adaptations of standard patterns. We like these flies whether we’re fishing them as droppers beneath big dries, Euro-nymphing, or fishing with indicators. Regardless of technique, the advantages of flies that plummet to the bottom yet don’t hang up too bad are clear: a fast sink rate gets the flies to the fish, leaving off additional weight is more efficient (both in casting and in rigging) and also puts you in direct contact with your flies (or direct between indicator/hopper and fly, if not Euronymphing), so strike detection and drift control are easier than with lighter flies aided by shot.

It’s consistently difficult to find good large (#6 through #10) stonefly nymphs that fit this bill. Sure, there’s always a Girdle Bug (Pat’s Rubber Legs), but in large sizes these typically ride hook down. I tie some Girdle Bugs upside-down, but it’s hard to find jig nymph hooks in the sizes we need, which are generally big and at least 2x long shank. Another problem is that Girdle Bugs are also the most popular nymphs around these days, probably, so the fish are seeing too many of them. So a stonefly that both looks a bit different, a bit snazzier, than the Pat’s, but doesn’t hang up as much and still checks the same boxes has been a sort of Holy Grail the past couple years.

That’s where the Stone Bomb and Twenty Bomb come in. We started fishing these patterns back in 2018, but fished them a lot harder in 2019, in a lot more places. Simply put, they knocked it out of the park on guided trips on the Madison, Yellowstone, Stillwater, and especially the Gardner and the Boulder. On the latter two rivers, these flies were godsends because of the tendency for normal-orientation flies to hang up, the abundant stonefly populations, and the need for flies to get down quick in small pieces of deep, turbulent holding water.

The Stone Bomb is a brown nymph that fills the same niche as the classic brown Girdle Bug, but has quite a bit more going on. Here’s a side view. The top view is comparable to that of the Twenty Bomb below. We found the Stone Bomb to be most effective before the Salmonfly hatch and again in the fall, when chasing fall-run browns.

illustration of stone bomb stonefly nymph

The Twenty Bomb looks somewhat like the Nocturnal or Midnight Stone, and is also an excellent attractor in the same vein as the Mega Prince or Twenty Incher. The latter pattern is obviously the source for the Twenty Bomb, hence the name. My clients and I caught fish on this one through most of the season, on many sizes. In June we ran #8s under indicators on high water Boulder River floats (the Boulder has the shortest runoff season of any of our freestone rivers, FYI). In July, it was #6-8 early on on walk trips on the Yellowstone and Gardner, suggesting big stoneflies, while later in July #10s under giant hoppers worked well on the Yellowstone. In October, it was back to the #6-8 flies on the Gardner for fall-run browns. Believe it or not, I went three trips using Euro-nymphing techniques without losing or tearing up one of the flies too badly to fish it, which on the Gardner with its abundant boulders is miraculous.

pic of twenty bomb fly

We’re looking forward to fishing these even harder next year, and will be stocking them in a wider size range at least in our guide boxes.

2019 Breakout Flies: Upbeat Mayfly

2019 Breakout Flies: Upbeat Mayfly

illustration of upbeat baetis mayfly
Upbeat Baetis

Unquestionably our top new dry mayfly in 2019 were two colors of the “Upbeat” (or Upright) mayflies by Bucky McCormick from West Yellowstone. We originally purchased the Baetis version pictured above for use in late summer and fall on the Lamar River and its tributaries and in the fall on the Firehole, but after Kody found great success with it, we started experimenting with other colors. Given the time of year we started “playing,” typical fall-colored bugs were the most effective. The purple version pictured below was a runaway success on the Yellowstone and Gardner on late season trips. On my last trip of the season (working through a Bozeman outfitter I do a few trips for each season), the purple version produced ten times as many trout for the single angler in my boat during a sparse, brief BWO hatch as two anglers caught in the other boat! Some of this was skill, but a lot was the bug, too. Some of these were fat, solid 15-17″ trout, too, and the tiny (#20) hook held up just fine. In fact, we never had to change bugs except after a single breakoff.

One of the big surprises of this pattern, which is more or less a synthetic-winged Comparadun with a thread abdomen and flashy Ice Dub thorax, is that it floats great. Now, you aren’t going to be hanging nymphs under the fly, but it holds its own in a two-dry rig. It’s visible, too!

We are really excited about this fly for 2020 and will be stocking it in the original Upbeat Baetis configuration as tied by Montana Fly Company and in the following colors tied in-house: purple, PMD Yellow, and (at Kody’s insistence) copper and Trico black.

illustrates purple upbeat mayfly

2019 Breakout Flies: Dornan’s Water Walker

2019 Breakout Flies: Dornan’s Water Walker

In November and December, I’m planning to make a series of sort of “year-end” posts going over the surprises, highlights, and lowlights of the 2019 season. One part of these series of posts will be highlights of some flies that really broke out for us in 2019. Some of these patterns are brand new, some just new to us.

Because nothing says “hopper fishing” like a rainy day in early November, I’ll start with a hopper/stonefly/attractor pattern that hit it out of the park for us in 2019: Dornan’s Water Walker.

image showing dornan's water walker flyAs you can see, the basic pattern has a Chubby Chernobyl’s profile and flash, but a lower-profile wing composed of thin foam. One thing I’ll be harping on all winter is the continued trend towards sparser flies in the region, largely a result of fishing pressure I believe, and the Water Walker fits this pattern. In effect, it fulfills the same role as a Chubby does, without the big floofy wing. The thinner wing is almost as visible and buoyant as that on a standard Chubby, but it’s less obnoxious when seen from a trout-eye perspective, easier to cast since it’s less wind-resistant, and just enough different from a Chubby that it works better on fish that have seen one too many of the more-popular pattern.

We’ll be loading up on these next year. Truth be told, the shop didn’t actually stock any of these in 2019. I started using them on my own volition after seeing some in another shop and thinking they looked good. While I tried six or seven color combos, the one pictured above worked best. It’s the “Micro Peanut” variation, which is tied with dark yellow foam and a brown underbody. This was the best year for yellow-brown hopper patterns (which probably also look like Golden Stoneflies and late summer Midnight Stones) since 2008 or 2009, and this was my second-best producer after a new color mix of my Bob Hopper, and the difference may have just been the fact that I could tie the Bobs for pennies rather than paying guide price or even full retail for the Water Walkers since I didn’t have any foam thin enough to tie the wings on these.

Here’s to hoping this one isn’t a flash in the pan. I doubt it will be.