A common question for any fly fishing trip, not just Salmon River Fly Fishing, is “What is your favorite fly?” For some guides, it’s an easy answer, “stick to what works. Middle Fork Salmon trout are not very selective.” Others will start with a long-winded response that goes along the lines of, “depends on the moon cycle, temperature, and current hatch.” Both can be right, and often what works on the Middle Fork Salmon River is a mix of matching the hatch to proven flies. We decided to ask a few IRJ fly fishing guides about their strategy in picking a fly, as well as their go-to, favorite flies.
Hannah: “A good rule of thumb for selecting flies is to remember that summer gives you big and bright days that are longer and hotter. Fish tend to like flies similar to the seasons. I choose big colorful flies with white and bright legs, spring green bodies, vibrant oranges, and reds. Fall can lend itself to the best fly fishing on the Middle Fork. Cooler, darker mornings and hot sunny afternoons make for hungry fish preparing for winter. Fish tend to like smaller flies in the morning that are similar to the colors you see in the canyon. Think muted colors like those occurring in Purple Haze, Copper Quigley, small Orange Stimulators. Afternoons you get to switch to fun larger attractors like hoppers and stimulator patterns with darker bodies. If I have to choose a specific fly, it’s Plan B! Plan B is tied in the Bitterroot Valley and I have had tremendous success on the Middle Fork Salmon with it.”
Skip: “I usually start with a fly that coincides with recent hatches. From there, I’ll start trying different colors. For me, the fly color is almost more important than the fly. I’ve seen Middle Fork fish go crazy for a purple pattern but won’t even rise for the same fly with a black pattern. I may be a little impatient, but if I don’t get a trout to rise on the first few casts, I’ll consider changing the fly. Of course, you can have the best fly, but it comes down to the presentation. If you don’t put the fly in the correct spot your chances of getting a trout to rise can be slim to none. My go-to flies? That’s tough, but I love a Purple Haze or a large juicy Fat Albert with a black body.”
Dave: “So, you want to know the strategy for choosing a fly on the Middle Fork Salmon. I guess it starts with what time of the year it is. Generally, the season starts with mayflies, goes into terrestrials, and then ends with caddis. The Middle Fork Salmon tends to have all three mixed. The best strategy is to just keep your eyes open to what is flying around. I constantly look at plants on the shore and on the surface of the water. Besides seeing what flies are out, you also have to observe the fish patterns. If you see an abrupt fish rise (where he breaks the surface of the water and makes a big splash) it means he is rising for a fly on the surface. If the fish only makes a little ripple in the water, he is rising on a subsurface fly like a midge. If the fish flashes and doesn’t affect the surface of the water, it is rising on a nymph of some kind. Instead of a favorite fly, I will choose my favorite pattern: the Chernobyl. In my fly box, I have about 10 different Chernobyl patterns.”
Drew: “The Middle Fork is an interesting river when it comes to picking flies. What makes it so special is that what fish are eating is often the same as what folks like to throw: big, juicy, dry flies. We see a range of hatches throughout the season, but a dependable constant is that Middle Fork cutties love terrestrials. It’s nice to have a range of sizes and colors so you can match the naturals fish are rising to. I like to have a variety of Fat Alberts, foam ants, and Chernobyl patterns. The Chubbies are great because they can imitate different stonefly species as well as hoppers, depending on size and color. We also get some great mayfly hatches so it’s good to be ready for those. I’ve had success going against your standard playbook and fishing patterns that are the same color and slightly bigger than the naturals. Fish on the Middle Fork love high-calorie meals. One fly wonder? Purple Stimulator. And any fly my brother Eli is not fishing.”