Sunday Classic / Western Fly Guide for Eastern Anglers

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Pack the bulk of your flies in a Plano Box. Photo By: Louis Cahill

I get asked all the time by eastern fly anglers heading out west for the first time, what fly patterns they should stock up on before they leave.

What percentage of dry flies to wet flies they should pack, what sizes, and should they pack streamers? The questions go on and on. I get most of the email inquiries from eastern anglers that are fixing to make their summer trip out west during the peak of the terrestrial season. For those that know me, you know that I’m the type of fly fisherman that carries gear for every situation on the water at all times, for the simply fact that I can’t stand being under prepared on the water. Here’s the truth though, if I’m making a trip out west during the terrestrial season, I usually lighten my load significantly and I only carrying the fly patterns that I think I’ll be fishing the most. If I’m going to be making a trip WY, MT, ID or CO I’m going to pack less nymphs, more dry flies and streamers. Colorado is a little more tricky, in which nymphs can play a larger roll than the other western states I mentioned, but if you travel their during the peak terrestrial season, my packing suggestions should work just fine.

Why do I lighten my load this time of year,  you ask? Because the trout generally are easy to convince to rise to the surface and take a dry fly this time of year, and when they don’t want to rise to the surface, they almost always will devour a streamer. It’s not rocket science, the fish are optimistically looking up since a large portion of their food is found floating on or close to the surface during the summer months.

Let’s say I’m traveling to Jackson, WY in August, which is probably the most popular requested area out west that I receive questions about. Below are the fly patterns I will stock up on.

Dry Fly Box (Go Big, Many of these patterns suck up real estate)

Comments: I always pack a extra plano tackle box to hold all my extra flies. Each evening I will replenish the flies out of this box so I’m stocked up for the next day’s fishing. If I’m not witnessing a hatch or fish taking smaller insects on the water, I generally start first with a big beefy dry fly that floats like a cork. Bigger is usually better this time of year out west. If I only had one dry fly I could take, it would be a Chubby Chernobyl. They grab the attention of fish quickly, and are very good at bringing fish up from the deepest of pools, fast moving water and out from undercut banks. That being said, if the big foam and stacked deer hair isn’t working, don’t be afraid to bench them and tie on a smaller dry fly like a size 12 parachute hopper, 12-14 parachute adams, 12-14 stimulator or a size 14 foam beetle. These have worked wonders for me on some of the smaller tributaries, and they have their place when fish are shying away from big profiled dry flies.

You hear a lot about fishing a hopper/dropper nymph. It works well, but sometimes you can even do better if you opt for tying on a small dry fly or emerger off the back instead. I’ve seen a size 22 bwo emerger off the back of a Chernobyl fool the biggest fish in the river on some of our past trips. Be prepared for PMD and Yellow Sally hatches. And even more importantly, always be ready for spinner falls when your out west. When it happens, trout can become keyed in on them and will ignore all other offerings. Never leave home without a good selection of rusty and trico spinners.

14-10 Parachute Adams
14-10 Orange/Yellow Stimulator
18-12 Tan Elk Hair X-Caddis
14-12 Parachute Purple Haze
16-12 PMD
16-12 Yellow Sally
16-12 Black Ant
16-12 Black Foam Beetle
14-8 Parachute Schroeder’s Hopper (Tan & Olive)
12-6 Rubberleg PMX (Pack in various colors two-tone dubbed body color)
12-4 Foam Chernobyl’s (Pack in a multitude of color combinations)
10-4 Chubby Chernobyl (Favorite colors are Golden Stone & Black Foam Body with Bright Red dubbed body)
14-10 Royal Wulff
8-4 King Kong Hopper
18-14 Brown Rusty Spinner
20-16 Single or Double Trico Spinner
20-16 PMD or Baetis Emerger

Nymph Box (One Box is all you need)

Comments:  If you’re fishing in WY and you’re fishing nymphs, be prepared to catch lots of whitefish. There fun, don’t get me wrong, but much of the time they’re going to be the species eating your subsurface flies instead of trout. I find that eastern anglers have a hard time not rigging up a tandem nymph rig, even when their out west and see fish rising. Afterall, it’s the mainstay for consistently catching trout where I’m from. It’s important to understand just because it works where you live, doesn’t mean it’s going to work out west. I suggest you use nymphs as a plan b or c, and opt for dry flies or streamers that will get much more attention from the resident trout. As I said before, the summer is the season for the dry flies out west. Don’t fight it, be confident throwing them, and only tie on nymphs this time of year unless you absolutely need to. You’ve traveled out west to experience the epic dry fly fishing, so stick with fishing them. I pack a selection of nymphs that covers caddisflies, mayflies, stoneflies and midges. Don’t get carried away with packing dozens of different patterns in multiple colors, just stick with the basics, that’s all you’ll need. 

18-12 Flashback Pheasant-tail
18-12 Flashback Hares Ear
12-8 Rubberleg Black or Brown Stonefly
16-12 Halfback Nymph
18-12 Soft-Hackles (Brown, Olive, Yellow, Orange)
18-12 Sparkle Caddis Pupa (Tan, Olive)
18-16 Tungsten Rainbow Warrior
22-18 Tungsten Zebra Midge (A few different color combinations)
22-18 Jujubee midge/baetis
12-14 Squirmy Wormy

Streamer Box (pack from mid-size to large) 

Comments: I travel out west to take advantage of the great dry fly fishing, but I also equally travel there for the insane streamer fishing. Quite often during the early morning hours, the dry fly bite will be slow until the sun gets up and the water temperatures begin to rise. I find some of the best streamer fishing is during this time of day. It’s good during the late evening as well, but an angler stands a great chance at hooking up with lots of big fish in the first couple hours of the day if they fish streamers hard. Because I’m going for big fish, I’m not afraid to throw big sized streamers in the 3-5″ range. I prefer articulated streamers for the extra swimming action and movement, but it’s not mandatory. Pack some solid colored streamers with flash, but focus on tying or purchasing two-toned colored streamers when possible. They provide greater contrast and generally do a better job of imitating the true look of forage food. If natural colored streamers like whites and olives aren’t working, be quick to tie on a streamer that is completely different. For instance, super flashy streamers that are loud, can often be the ticket, and have accounted for many trophy catches for Louis and I. Lastly, the wiggle type streamers seem to always work well for us. The alluring wiggle action these streamers make during the retrieve are hard for trout to refuse. Wait for the hook set with them though, quite often the fish will short strike them or ram them and then come back for the real eat. It’s important that you make long casts to the banks and cover lots of water when your streamer fishing. It’s hard work, but it’s the best strategy for staying in the action with streamers. Lastly, don’t be afraid to fish streamers on the smaller tributaries. They work equally well on smaller trout water. 

Sculpzilla (Olive, White)
Variety of Articulated Streamers (Anything similar Kelly Goullup’s streamers, and it always should have rubberlegs, big eyes, and some flash)
Wiggle Minnow (Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Fire Tiger – these are deadly with a heavy split-shot added in front, or thrown on an intermediate fly line)
Extra Flashy Articulated Streamers (sometimes bright will out fish everything else, don’t be afraid to make them loud)

Disclaimer: My fly pattern list is intended to be taken as a guide only. Don’t feel like you have to stock the exact fly patterns I’ve highlighted. With all the fly patterns out there these days, there’s going to be a good dozen or more choices that will work as suitable substitutions. It’s important that you cover your bases and make sure you pack plenty of your go-to patterns so you don’t run out. If you can’t find these patterns at home before you leave for your trip or don’t have the competency to tie them up yourself, just visit one of the local fly shops when you get out there and they’ll have everything you’ll need in stock.

55% Dry Flies, 30% Streamers, 15% Nymphs is probably the % ratio of the types of flies I would pack for a trip to Jackson, WY.

Keep it Reel,
Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Western Fly Guide for Eastern Anglers

  1. While you’re advice is sound, I do not pack many flies for my USA destination trips, I’ll pack a few, but mostly I buy my flies at the local fly shop in the area I’m heading to. Not only does this help the local economy, but it also gets me the patterns that are working best for that year in that specific area. I am a very good tyer and I could easily tie all my flies, but it is those local shops that need our support if they are going to survive and they know better than anyone thousands of miles away as to what is working best at that moment. You talk about the local fly shops, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and really support them – you’ll also travel lots lighter! At the end of my trip I usually find a kid to donate my left over flies to, you should see their eyes light up when you do that!

    • I would agree to visit the local fly shops. We just came back out of Yellowstone and Wyoming and I did as much shopping as my budget allows.

  2. I live in Bozeman and fish 12 months of the year. This is a fantastic list. If only I would keep my selection this simple, picking out a fly on the river would be much easier. The only thing you left out is the Copper John. Red CJ’s in 12, 14, 16, and 18 make up about a third of my nymphs. They do a great job imitating a lot of mayfly nymphs, especially PMD’s and BWO’s.

    Copper Johns are very easy to tie, so when I’m done fishing one for the day, I usually drop it off at my local homeless shelter. The homeless love Copper Johns.

  3. I would have to disagree with your ratios on what is needed for western trout streams. I live in and fish Colorado. Many of the local rivers are tailwaters, meaning most action is subsurface. The only time I really ever fish dries on tailwaters is during good hatches. Places like Chessman Canyon are not exactly a dry fly utopia. In fact I would say about 60% of the trout I catch are on nymphs.(I haven’t learned streamer fishing yet). Granted there are streams like the Arkansas that are freestone and provide a much better chance a getting a fish on the surface. Small creeks also have great dry fly opportunities But I love the nymph list. The one thing missing was Copper Johns. By far the most productive fly I fish would be a #18 green copper john. I actually have a half a box devoted only to copper johns.

  4. I agree with Kyle & Dave, copper johns are my go to nymph out here(WY & MT). I’ve had success w/a larger top nymph and dropper..pick your poison.

    Also – one of the most productive streamers i’ve fished is a sparkle minnow. Cuttys, bows, brownie & brookies…i’ve got them all on a dark rust/gold pattern. Insider info – World Cast over in Victor carries an articulated sparkle that is just sexy.

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