The fishing season has nearly arrived so let’s take a quick look at the best spring fly patterns in Missoula. The spring season is driven almost entirely by stoneflies and mayflies. Sure, there are midges around too and you will see the occasional sipper, but that is often a low percentage game. As an angler if you focus on stoneflies and mayflies you will be able to simplify your approach and your fly selection. I’ve seen pattern paralysis strike plenty of folks who have so many different flies in the box that they can’t choose one. It’s a shame really, because with only a handful of fly patterns you can put a bend in your rod all spring.
Let’s cover the nymphs first. It is cold in the spring and if you want to be successful plan to spend the majority of your time nymphing. You would be hard pressed to find a more effective combo than the Pat’s rubber legs and a san juan worm. The ol’ worm isn’t a stonefly or mayfly, but it is likely the most effective year round nymph pattern in the box. If you don’t like it, don’t fish it but you’re missing out. The best rubber legs seems to be a size 10 in either tan/brown or brown/black. That rig is a great combo if you plan to cover a lot of water during the day. If the trout are going to play, they will likely eat those bugs in the first few drifts. If you’re wade fishing or spending more time in an individual run you may want to switch it up a little. Less bulky patterns like a 20 incher or hare’s ear in size 10-12 coupled with a mayfly imitation like a copper john or pheasant tail in size 14-16 will often solicit strikes from the more selective fish in a run. Counting size and color variations that is about a dozen flies that will produce results just about every day of the spring.
The dry fly fishing is what everyone looks forward to each spring and fly selection is more important with the dries than the nymphs. The main hatches are skwala stoneflies, neumora stonefly, march browns, and blue-wing olives. The skwalas are the main attraction and it pays to have a few different options. Slim, low-profile patterns tend to work best, mostly in size 10. Bulletheads are a good bet and you can get creative with foam too. There are days when the trout tend to favor the bigger size so be sure to have a few size 8s in the mix, and you will likely want a few bigger, bulkier patterns that can fished with a bead-head dropper. Foam is great for those dropper flies. The nuemora is often overlooked but there are plenty of times when the trout will key on this smaller stonefly. You can usually scale down your favorite skwala pattern to a size 12-14, or a royal stimi works great. Later in the spring the mayflies start showing up. A standard purple haze in sizes 12-18 will cover you for most situations with march browns and blue-wings. For those snotty trout an extended body or cripple version of the march brown will get eaten and thorax and comparadun variations in the blue wing are effective.
With that assortment of nymphs and dries you can head to the rivers around Missoula in the spring with confidence.