If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve no doubt noticed how much I love chasing wild brook trout in mountain freestone streams. As soon as the springtime hatches on the Battenkill are over, I head for the hills with my Superfine Glass 3-weight and a single box of flies. Living in southwestern Vermont, I have access to at least a dozen great streams—flowing out of the Green and Taconic mountain ranges—within an hour’s drive from home, and I enjoy exploring new stretches to see what I can find. I am rarely disappointed.
This time of year, the water is still quite cold in many places, and the trout are less willing to rise to dry flies. Over our years of fishing together, Tom Rosenbauer has convinced me that a nymph on a short dropper below a dry fly will tempt more trout, and I have found that larger trout are often more wary, which means that they are more likely to eat a nymph. As the water warms through June and early July, the ratio of fish that eat the dry fly increases, and once I find that I am catching almost all the trout on the dry, I simply clip off the nymph and go dry-only.
Since hatch-matching isn’t as important to these freestone trout, which are opportunistic feeders, the dry flies I use are buggy and easy to see on the water. Although there are mayflies in these waters, caddisflies and stoneflies predominate, and there are lots of terrestrials, as well. Here are my top-producing patterns, which I mix and match at my whim. Depending on how high the water is and how deep the holes I’m fishing are, I adjust the dropper line between 8 and 16 inches. And remember: always mash the barbs before you start casting.
(Click the fly names to learn more or buy.)
Colors: Yellow or olive.
The Stimulator just looks buggy, with the combination of two hackles and deer hair. It imitates the many stoneflies that live among the rocks in freestone streams, and it can pass for a caddisfly, moth, or even hopper, as well. It floats well in very rough water and is easy to see.
2. Royal PMX
The PMX is another great attractor pattern that suspends a nymph well, and the white post makes it very easy to see even in turbulent water. Brook trout seem to have a fondness for peacock herl, and the rubber legs add some more fish-attracting action. I only use the royal version, but I’m sure other colors work fine, as well.
Colors: Tan or olive.
For long, flat pools where the fish might get a longer look at a fly, I like to tie on this buggy gem, which sits low in the surface film. It looks like an insect struggling to fly or to get free, so it seems like an easy meal. Again, a white post makes the fly visible on the water, and if you slather the front half with floatant it doesn’t sink.
Sizes: 14 and 16.
Over the past few years, I have caught more fish, of all species, on this fly than on any other. We all know that pheasant-tail fibers create attractive nymphs, but there’s also something about the touch of purple that draws strikes. The heavy bead means that the fly gets down even in rough water, and the barbless hook makes it easy to extract after you’ve landed the fish.
Sizes: 14 and 16.
It’s a classic because it works. It’s a stonefly nymph, it’s a mayfly nymph, and it’s an attractor nymph. There’s plenty of contrast and color that catches trout’s attention, and it’s a durable pattern that you can use all day. I use the beadhead version to ensure it gets down quickly in heavy water.
Color: Black and Red/Black.
I had always used floating ant patterns before my old friend Jay “Fishy” Fullum wrote an article about sunken terrestrials many years ago. I started experimenting with these ants, which will float for awhile before they start sinking, and I found that they often outfish traditional ant patterns. Rather than getting down in the water column quickly, like the nymphs above, these ants will usually suspend just under the surface, where trout are accustomed to seeing drowned ants.
There are, of course, many more flies that will catch mountain brook trout, but I rarely stray outside this collection until conditions change later in the summer. More on that next month . . . .
Phil Monahan is the editor of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog.