STONED!!! by Montana Grant – Information about hunting and fishing in Montana

Stoneflies are great flies to try. Available year-round, they are a prized food source for trout, bass and other fish. Large rocks are called “salmon flies.” They are the Big Mac of the insect world. These fat flies make a great meal. When they surface to reproduce, fish eat them voraciously.

In Montana and many western waters, June is stonefly season. The fry hatch from the west and move east as water temperatures of 10 to 13 degrees Celsius dictate their emergence. When mating begins, the salmonflies leave the safety of the river and crawl to the shore. After crawling out of their exoskeleton cases, they let their wings develop and dry, then it is time to take off.

In Montana, Rock Creek will take place for the first time in the first week of June.. The Madison River begins around June 20th. Yellowstone is a little later, lasting into July. Hatches start deeper in the watersheds and work their way upstream. These hatches bring crowds of anglers to the water. They tend to congregate in drifts where hatches are at their peak. Try to get above and below the crowds for less fuss.

Stones are not good flying objects. Many fall back into the water and become the fish's dinner. Birds, snakes, rodents and fish feed on this stone prey.

Fishing the hatch begins with large stone nymphs. Next come dry flies. Then there is a break in feeding as full fish need a few days to digest their meals. Then hatching seems to start again. During this hatching other hatches are also taking place, so the fish are not so picky, fat and happy.

There are a lot of stonefly/salmon fly patterns out there. Many are expensive or difficult to tie. Some are more or less durable. Others float all day and some sink like a stone. So what is the best stonefly? Use nymph?

Foam flies

I'm not a huge fan of foam. They look great and float well, but many tire on a straight streamer hook. This causes them to roll on the hook. Even if you use a long shank popper hook, the foam will roll and tear. They have great names like Rogue Foam, Chubby Chernobyl, Dancing Ricky, and many more. After a few fish, the fly becomes less productive. Remember, many of the fish that eat big flies are also BIG. Big brown trout have big teeth and will destroy foam quickly. Most foams are also non-degradable and like other plastics, contain chemicals/junk forever.

Hair flies

Back then we used simple patterns like the Spruce Fly attached to a streamer hook. If you used the right float, the patterns were durable and swam well. You had to change them after several fish and let them dry on your fish bed. These patterns were often light and didn't fall into the water.

A heavier fly will affect the water more like a natural fly. I like stones that have some mass to them. The sound and vibration will attract fish from a distance. This is also how I prefer my hoppers. The heavier stonefly patterns with more hair and bucktail work well even if they are a little torn.


Rock nymphs are also a great fly. Nymphs migrate near the shore before hatching. Dozens of 2-3 inch black nymphs can be found under rocks and logs on the shore. These nymphs are also good to eat. Fry some butter with a pinch of salt. Take some of them raw too. They tasted like pea pods and were often a food source for the native people.

The nymph with the brown or black rubber legs is my favorite. The rubber legs mimic movement and the flies are bulletproof. They must be fished along the bottom, so tie the fly on weighted. An unweighted fly works as an effective dropper for an adult salmon fly pattern.

I often use a smaller dropper on my dry stone patterns. A size 12-14 PMD or Caddis nymph will also work. Attractor nymphs like the Prince or Lightening Bug will also work. You will often see a bite on the surface fly and find that the fish is hooked on the nymph.

I prefer to use salmon flies in the morning and evening light. Timing is critical. At this time, most guided groups are either not back from breakfast or have already left for dinner. Windy and rainy days have poor fishing as the bugs cannot stay aloft. A cloudy, windless day is my favorite. I like to fish about a mile in front of the hatch or behind it. Crowded waters are just too crowded and people can display rude and greedy behavior. I have done this with salmon flies weeks after the main hatch when the crowds have already left. Also, use Polaroid glasses to see the fish and stalk them stealthily.

Handle the fish with care. Big fish fight longer and harder. Any fish that fights for more than 3-4 minutes will die from exhaustion. Lactic acid builds up in their bodies and they need time to recover and start feeding again. Weak and injured fish are easy prey for birds of prey, pelicans and … Research and practice ethical catch-and-release skills.

Keep going!

Montana Grant

Anna Harden

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