Top 10 Early-Spring Patterns for Montana Trout

Written by: John Way, The Tackle Shop


Here’s a gorgeous early-spring rainbow from a Southwestern Montana river.
Photo courtesy The Tackle Shop

While we are still a couple months from spring, sometimes those El Nino-fueled winds bring warm days to the river, and the fishermen start to wake up. Good fishing can be found across much of Montana during this time of year, and eager local anglers are more than happy to oblige after a long winter lay over.

If you’re headed out for the first trip of the year or just a few hours on the river, there are a few flies that you need in your box. Here are my Top 10.

[Click the name of each fly to be taken to a place to buy, a recipe, or a video.]

1. San Juan Worm (sizes 10 & 12)
Many people do not like fishing the worm—as they don’t consider it a true fly—but few can argue its effectiveness. If you have a moral conflict with the worm, I like to think of it as an aquatic annelid emergence. We really like it in hot pink for this time of year with fire engine red a close second.

2. Otter’s Soft Milking Egg (size 12)
With the rainbow trout spawning in the early spring, the river is awash in free-floating eggs. Fish love these tasty morsels. We like the Otters Soft Egg in peach or pink.

3. Crystal Meth (sizes 12 & 14)
This is an egg pattern on steroids. . .or meth. It is shiny and bright and has taken over as one of our early-spring favorites. We like it in bright pink or chartreuse. I know the saying is “Not even once,” but you should really try this. The only harmful side effects of fishing this fly is getting bent for several hours a day each spring, and it is habit-forming.

4. Pat’s Rubberlegs (Black or Coffee, size 10)
If you’re going to be in Montana, need this pattern. It accounts for more fish than any other pattern, all season long. During the early spring, we like our Pat’s in size 10 with dark bodies, either black or coffee.

5. Fire Bead Ray Charles (sizes 14-18)
A classic scud pattern with a hot-red or -orange head. Some think the fish eat it as an egg, while others believe that the ostrich-herl body represents movement in the water. Whatever reason, the fish love this fly on tailwaters state-wide.

6. Copper John (Copper) (sizes 8-10)
A very popular pattern that can be fished most of the year, the Copper John works great throughout the spring months—especially in larger sizes, say 8 or 10. A real sleeper.

7. Hi Vis Para Midge (sizes 16-20)
Good midge hatches take place most of the spring, and the Para Midge will take all risers. We like this pattern because the parachute offers better visibility and increased flotation.

8. Zebra Midge (sizes 14-18)
The Zebra Midge is a great midge-larva imitation. Black-and-white is traditional, but also carry a few in red-and-white.

9. Purple Haze Parachute(sizes 14-18)
You will need to be ready for the first blue-winged olive hatches of the year, and the now-famous Purple Haze will do the job. During the early spring, we like it in sizes 14 through 18, and we tend to darken the parachute and hackle with a sharpie just a little.

10. Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail (sizes 14-18)
Blue-winged olives are on the horizon, and this is a good representation for a nymph. It also works well in the upper water column as an emerger during a hatch. We fish this pattern, especially in sizes 14-18 for spring fishing, all the time when mayflies are around.

This is a great time of year to be on the water in Montana. The days are getting longer, the fish are hungry, and the rivers have significantly less fishermen than they do during the summer season. In fact, this is one of our favorite times of the year to fish.

John Way owns and operates The Tackle Shop in Ennis, Montana.

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