Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Tying for Spring
By Scott Sanchez

Living in the high-elevation icebox of Jackson, Wyoming, doesn’t lend itself to serious winter fishing.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t fantasize about warmer spring days ahead, and casting to rising trout. However, after a summer and fall spent dry-fly fishing, there are depleted fly boxes to deal with—in other words, an incentive to tie. This isn’t a bad thing because fly tying is a combination of creativity and anticipation, that little bunch of fuzz in the vise giving us visions of those perfect spring days ahead, when the trout are up and sipping. Fly tying, to me, is a way to revisit memories and dream of new adventures to come.

Spring hatches in the Northern Rockies are the most reliable of the year. From mid-March into May, these emergences provide great dry-fly fishing. My favorite spring hatches are midges, Baetis and small stoneflies. This tantalizing trio is endemic to most Rocky Mountain streams and they consistently occur before runoff.

Last April, I spent 20 afternoons on the water. I was casting to rising cutthroats on 19 of those days. The other day I sight-fished to those native trout with nymphs.
From years of fishing the Greater Yellowstone area, I’ve narrowed down the spring patterns that produce. I always run out of these flies because they work and I have confidence in them. These are the flies that I’ll tie this winter in preparation for spring. Many of these flies are crossover patterns that work well when hatches overlap.

As a rule, when tying small flies make sure your hooks have enough gap and strength to hold large fish. Also, sparser is better when tying small flies because tying sparsely allows you to use those stronger hooks. I’ve listed the hooks I use with each of these recipes. If you don’t have that exact hook, just use a similar model.

Start tying these flies this winter and you’ll easily have full boxes when the spring hatches pop. I believe you will enjoy tying and fishing these flies as much as I do.


Tungsten Jig Pheasant Tail

This fly looks like food and matches just about any subsurface larvae or nymph. Its origins are found in Frank Sawyer’s original Pheasant Tail herl and copper wire pattern. It was first tied in the 1930s for fishing England’s Avon River. Al Troth’s modern version, with a peacock herl thorax, is now the most common tie—it naturally evolved into beadhead and jig hook versions. I tie a majority of my PTs as soft-hackles. And I’m starting to tie more of my nymphs on jig hooks, because there’s nothing wrong with having a hook point up—I get more consistent hook-ups on these rigs. This is a great pre-hatch fly and works equally well as a dropper/anchor below a smaller nymph or subsurface emerger.

Hook: Kumoto KJ304 Wide-Gap Jig, sizes 14 through 18

Thread: 8/0 Rusty Brown

Head: Copper tungsten bead

Rib: Small copper wire

Tail: Pheasant-tail fibers

Abdomen: Pheasant-tail fibers

Thorax: Peacock Ice Dub

Hackle: Dark hen

Grouse Tail Nymph

This is my variation on the good old Pheasant Tail Nymph, and substitutes ruffed grouse tail fibers to create a grayer Baetis imitation. If you don’t have those fibers don’t fret—many duck flank feathers, such as mallard, teal and widgeon, work well. Like most flies, this one evolved to meet certain needs, and crosses over for midges. One bundle of grouse fibers are used for the tail, body, and legs. I’m becoming a big fan of jig-style nymphs but, unfortunately, those hooks aren’t made small enough for midge and Blue Wing Olive patterns. Fortunately, short-shank nymph and scud hooks make a jig fly when combined with a slotted bead. To do this, invert the hook and align the slot of the bead so that most of the bead is below the hook, and anchor with thread. Angle the legs upward (inverted position) to help the fly flip over. This a great sight-casting nymph, and I use it prior to midge and Baetis hatches, or on cold days when the trout just won’t come all the way up.

Hook: Kumoto K3761C 1X Short Competition Nymph hook, sizes 16 through 20.

Head: Slotted black tungsten bead

Tail: Ruffed grouse tail fibers

Rib: Fine copper wire

Abdomen: Ruffed grouse tail fibers

Legs: Butts of grouse fibers used for body

Neck: Gray dubbing behind bead

Para Midge Emerger

This fly is an old friend and is as close to a non-refusal midge as I have found. A high proportion of midge feeding is on pupae that are stuck in the surface film, and not on actual adults. The trout key on those emergers because they are an easy meal. However, this situation is often mistaken for trout feeding on adults. Here’s how to tell: see a nose—feeding on top; see a dorsal—feeding subsurface. The Krystal Flash tag and rib on this fly seem to make a difference. Is it an attractant, simulation of movement, or an air bubble? I don’t know, but it works.

Hook: Kumoto 100C Competition Dry-Fly hook, sizes 16 through 20

Thread: Black 8/0

Indicator: White, orange or black synthetic fibers

Tag: One or two strands of pearl Krystal Flash cut short

Rib: Pearl Krystal Flash

Body: Peacock or dark-olive colored Antron dubbing

Hackle: A few wraps of grizzly, one gap length

Split Top Emerger Grizzly Olive

This fly has its origins in my PFD Emerger. I added a split-foam wingcase for both realism and to hide the indicator. The hackle at the base of wingcase mimics a partial wing and legs. This is another one of those “everything” emergers because so many stuck-in-the-film emergers look alike. It could be a mayfly, stonefly, midge, or caddis. All have a shuck, a partial body, and messed up wings and legs. Why not have some crossover flies to cover a myriad of situations? I tie these in sizes 12-to 20 and in gray, olive and tan. For spring fishing, a grizzly/olive combo is great for Baetis and midges. However, I give the Para Midge Emerger (see above) an edge when strictly matching midges. For a small emerger, the Split Top floats well and is easy to see in bad light and/or choppy water. Dull orange or pale pink polypropylene are good choices for the post.

Hook: TMC 2488, sizes 12 through 18

Thread: Olive Dun 8/0

Shuck: Brown/olive Antron

Abdomen: Stripped grizzly hackle stem

Wingcase: Gray 1.5mm or 2mm foam

Hackle: 1 1/2 gap grizzly

Indicator: Orange poly (EP Fibers)

Thorax: BWO dubbing

F Fly Variant

This is a “stupid simple” fly for smart fish. I fish this Marjan Fratnik pattern more often each year. It features a simple dubbed or thread body, and a wing of CDC. It’s simple to tie in small sizes and easy to tie sparsely. This fly looks like everything—midge, mayfly, caddis, cripple, or adult. I like to tie it in natural tan/dun CDC. Close enough to match most insects and easy to see. I tie these on standard dry-fly hooks or emerger hooks to give it more of that emerger look and a bigger hook gap. Unlike the downwing original, I tie a bundle of CDC in the center and fold it back. I lightly post that bundle to make it more upright. Scraggly flies seem to fish best. With many wing materials, bulk makes the fly look too big and is less effective. Not so with CDC. For some reason you can tie it full and visible and it doesn’t bother fish. I use Loon Lochsa or TMC Fly Magic on the CDC and after catching a fish I blot it dry with a chamois. Then I fluff out the fibers and cast again.

Hook: TMC 2488 Emerger hook, sizes 16 through 20

Thread: Olive Dun 8/0

Body: Tying thread

Wing: Natural CDC

Two-Tone Parachute Baetis

Seeing is believing. We all feel most confident when we can see our flies. Also, visibility helps us attain a drag-free drift. Visibility has to do with contrast and background. The classic white post on most parachute patterns can be hard to see when the sun is low and the light is angled, and in the frequent silver/white glare of spring. In fact, the Two-Tone’s wing can appear to be same color as the water. That’s why I like an orange/black post combo, since it is visible in most lighting conditions and it isn’t too gaudy. You can easily overdress this fly. Just remember, sparser is better. Try to keep the dubbing body very thin, or even use thread for the abdomen. This is a go-to fly when matching Baetis adults.

Hook: Fulling Mills Ultimate Dry Fly hook, sizes 16 through 20

Thread: Brown 8/0

Tails: Split Coq de Leon fibers

Rib: Doubled tying thread

Abdomen: Olive/gray dubbing

Wing: Orange and black Antron or poly

Thorax: Olive/gray dubbing

Hackle: Dark dun

Sparkle Caddis Midge Stone

This fly started out as my Sparkle Midge, back when I was in Livingston, Montana, and fishing the Yellowstone River and other area waters. The fly has evolved, and I now feel that the Sparkle CMS (caddis, midge, stone) is a better name and description. This is a useful pattern from the first midge hatches of late winter to the caddis hatches of later spring. You can tweak this fly to match each species by making the wing longer or shorter. The wing and post are made of the same strands of Krystal Flash, and the dark biot body is segmented for a very buggy appearance. I’ve added some CDC over the Krystal Flash for a more natural tint and to make the fly easier to see. That also adds floatation without too much bulk. I’ve tied the CMS in various shades, using medium-to dark dun hackles, and experienced similar results with each. This fly really shines during spring hatches of Capnia stoneflies. These flies are not easy to notice—they are small, dark, and flat. However, fish don’t ignore them, and often key in on them. If you see a bunch of them on the snow or on the riverbank rocks, take a closer look. These are often the flies that cause subtle rises in riffled water or runs. That water is usually a little faster speed than where you’d expect to see midges. So, when you see fish rising in that type of water, and you can’t get them on a midge imitation, your natural process should be to deliver the CMS and see what happens.

Hook: Kumoto Competition Dry Fly hook, sizes 16 through 20

Thread: Black 8/0

Body: Dark brown or black turkey biot

Wing and Post: Pearl Krystal Flash with tan/dun CDC over it

Thorax: Black dubbing

Hackle: Dark dun

Moose Mane Micro Soft Hackle

Sometimes fish never learn. Such is the case with soft-hackles—trout still take a fly that’s almost 2,000 years old. These flies can be swung in wet-fly style or dead-drifted. Why do they work? Because they look and act like a lot of things. Could be an emerger, a cripple or a sunken spinner. When active Baetis nymphs and emergers are present, swinging soft-hackles is the perfect recipe for success. In most other applications drifting a soft-hackle in the film, or just below it, and allowing it to swing at the end of a drift is a good ploy. When drifting soft-hackles just below the surface watch the area near the fly and if you see a rise, gently lift up. It doesn’t take much of a set to hook trout on small flies. You can also use a dry fly to track the soft-hackle, setting up when the dry “indicator” fly twitches or disappears. The thin moose “quill” body on this fly is sparse and segmented, like you’d find on a real insect. Since small soft hackle is hard to come by, I tie loose hackle fibers forward and pull them back over the thorax before whip finishing.

Hook: Kumoto Competition Scud hook, sizes 16 through 20

Thread: Black 8/0

Abdomen: Tan and dark brown moose body hair, wrapped

Thorax: Dark brown dubbing

Hackle: Dark hen