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Artistic view of a Male Pteronarcys californica (Pteronarcyidae) (Giant Salmonfly) Stonefly Adult from the Gallatin River in Montana
Salmonflies
Pteronarcys californica

The giant Salmonflies of the Western mountains are legendary for their proclivity to elicit consistent dry-fly action and ferocious strikes.

27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
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Wbranch has attached these 19 pictures to this report. The message is below.
Colorful 16" brown
Heavy evening cinnamon caddis.
On my way to Sheep Creek west of Lima, MT.
Railroad Ranch, Last Chance, Idaho - Henry's Fork
We saw these signs in Idaho and in Montana along the Madison and other rivers
Impending storm
Pioneer Mountains near Melrose, Montana
Wild Flowers along the Madison
A side channel of the upper Madison near Three Dollar Bridge
Another large male caught during the same trip.
16" Brown
18" brown
Sand Hill Crane along the Beaverhead near Henneberry Access
18" about to be released
16" brown on a PT nymph
A massive male brown that ate a #18 CDC caddis.  It took me almost 15 minutes to land the fish.  It just wouldn't quit and I had a heck of a time getting him off the bottom and get his head up to the surface so I could slide the net under him. Not caught this trip and I don't think I ever posted this picture before.
Same fish being released.

Report at a Glance

General RegionInitially southwestern Montana then mid western
Specific LocationIf you have to ask you don't know me well enough to say
Dates FishedJune 29 - July 08
Time of DayUsually 8 - 2 and 6 - 10
Fish CaughtWild rainbows and browns
Conditions & HatchesMostly bright sunny days, unseasonably cool, in the mid 70's to low 80's. Just one day of 97 degrees. Lots of PMD's duns and spinners, Tricos, Cinnamon caddis in the evening.

Details and Discussion

Wbranch
Wbranch's profile picture
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 2:31 am EDT
Note: I added a few big brown pictures I don't believe I ever posted before from a prior trip to that same destination river.

Due to an extremely high snowpack in the winters of 2017 - 2018 the river I normally fish was blown out. At one time it was up to 19,800 cfs. When I arrived on the 28th of June it was 14,000 cfs. I drove straight to Dillon, MT and had already booked a weeks lodging at a Motel 6. My partner arrived about a half hour later. We rent two cars because I want to be on the water by 7:00 and my partner prefers to start a little later. Also with two cars we don't have to pay for shuttles.

We fished locally and did well nymphing with small #16 & #18 BH Flashback PT's and BH Hares Ears. There were prolific emergences of PMD's every day but very few fish were rising. My partner fished there five days and then left for our initial destination. I fished seven days and the last day the browns rose better than in any of the previous six days. I landed nine on either a PMD emerger or a PMD spinner, both #18.

I arrived to the destination river on July 05 and as soon as I was able to settle down from the three hour drive we rented a drift boat and floated our favorite six mile section. The river was still too high to wade safely at 10,000 cfs. The release was like a yo-yo we would see a drop to 9,000 and the next day up to 9,800 and then back to 9,000. The last three days of the trip the river was going down about 500 cfs per day. It was 7500 cfs the day I left which was Monday July 09. Another friend of mine extended his stay by a week and by the 11th the flow was down to 6200 cfs and he was having great evening dry fly fishing but the daytime action was still spotty.

While the 2018 Montana trip won't be included in one of the top five trips over the last 22 years it was still provided great pleasure to be out there with my partner and also fish with my best friend who I have fished with for 55 years. At 75 years old every trip I make is fantastic and I'm already booked for two weeks in 2019.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Jmd123
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Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2474
Jmd123 on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 5:25 am EDT
Now there's a trip! Beautiful, Matt. Very pretty fish - love the lemon-yellow bellies, and they look nice and chunky too. Western landscapes - what can you say, they're breathtaking, the mountains and the wide-open vistas, the big sky. And thanks for the wildflowers! The first pic is of wild roses, looks like maybe lupines and something in the parsley family (water-hemlock?) for the flat-topped white flowers in the second.

Just gorgeous all the way around. Thanks for sharing Matt!

Jonathon
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
Partsman
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bancroft michigan

Posts: 321
Partsman on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 5:51 am EDT
Thanks for the pics Matt, beautiful fish and landscape! The picture of you looks like you were using a dry/nymph dropper rig, did you get more fish on the nymph?
Troutnut
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Administrator
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2758
Troutnut on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 6:46 am EDT
Great report Matt, thanks! I sent you another email with a few questions since my trip plan overlaps with the one you did this year in a couple spots.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 7:32 am EDT
Hi Mike,

You are very observant! About fifteen years ago I started fishing a dry and dropper in Montana. On most of the tail waters I fish the trout just will not eat the PMD duns. I don't know why but that is typically the case. It is odd in a sense because they will readily inhale Dorothea spinners and cripples but never the upright winged adult.

To answer your question on waters where the trout readily eat the dun I don't fish a nymph behind the dun. But on rivers where the trout are finicky or it is a windy day the nymph will account for more fish hooked than on the dun.

Sometimes I will fish two dry flies. A #16 PMD adult as the top fly and then a PMD emerger or spinner as the bottom fly. Or I will use the #16 PMD as an indicator fly and tie on a piece of 6X about 24" long and add a Tiny #22 Trico spinner. I can't always see my spinner mixed in with a 100 other Trico spinners so the #16 is my indicator fly and when it gets pulled under I know a trout ate the Trico. I land more fish on the #22 with an indicator fly because there is a longer pause in my strike when compared to not using an indicator fly.

In the case of this picture I was using a dry fly and a nymph on a shorter tippet. Usually in Montana I just add a 5X tippet clinch knotted to the bend of the indicator fly no longer than 8". It works well when it is very windy and hard to accurately cover a rising fish, I have seen where a big fish will move more laterally to a nymph than to a dry fly. Short tippets, 4" - 8" are best because the fish are typically suspended pretty high in the water column. They might not see the little nymph on a tippet 12" or more in length.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Adirman
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Monticello, NY

Posts: 479
Adirman on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 10:06 am EDT
Nice pics Matt 😊

What’s the length of your dropper when you fish 2 dries of similar size ? again? I like doing that too sometimes but find if it’s too long you get tangled ; conversely, too short and theflies ride right up on each other
Martinlf
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Moderator
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3047
Martinlf on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 10:38 am EDT
Matt, thank you for sharing.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 11:23 am EDT
Adirman,

In the case of this picture I was using a dry fly and a nymph on a shorter tippet. Usually in Montana I just add a 5X tippet clinch knotted to the bend of the indicator fly no longer than 8". It works well when it is very windy and hard to accurately cover a rising fish, I have seen where a big fish will move more laterally to a nymph than to a dry fly. Short tippets, 4" - 8" are best because the fish are typically suspended pretty high in the water column. They might not see the little nymph on a tippet 12" or more in length.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Adirman
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Monticello, NY

Posts: 479
Adirman on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 11:37 am EDT
No you mentioned the 2 dries being fished together ; I got your description of the big Indy dry with a small Trico but I didn’t get the 2 dries of similar size. When I do it, I always envision sort of “simulating a hatch” with my dries but if they’re too close or far from each other, kind of screws up the drift . What size dropper do you like between them?

😊
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 12:32 pm EDT
Okay, when I use two dries I keep them at least 18" apart. I start off with a piece of 5X or 6X 24" long. It gets shorter as I change flies. Sometimes I use the same fly in different sizes and other times I might use a CDC winged Red Quill dun with a CDC winged Red Quill emerger below it or a Hendrickson emerger. When those mayflies start to emerge on the West Branch or main stem they could be eating the emerger of both the male and female Ep subvaria or they could be eating the emerging dun, or a crippled dun. It can be a difficult hatch to match when the trout are boiling on those mayflies.

There is a definite situation that does happen to me when using two flies. If you hook a trout and it runs line and burrows down into any aquatic grass on the bottom of the river the fish dives into the grass head first and then the 2nd fly gets impaled on a stem of aquatic grass. Then even if you give the fish a total slack line so he backs out he can't back out because the top fly is hung up on a grass stem. It happened to me twice in Montana this year. The first fish was about 18" and it was no biggie that it broke me off but the 2nd fish was a bigger brown between 20" & 21" and we even rowed over to where the leader was pointing up out of water and we could see the top fly hung up in the grass and we could see movement in the grass below. We tried to reach grass with the oar but it was just too deep. We finally let the drift boat drift down river and I pointed the rod at the fish and broke the tippet.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Afishinado
SE PA

Posts: 75
Afishinado on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 11:45 pm EDT
Great Pics and report, Matt. Looks like you had a great trip. I'm glad to see you are back in the saddle (in this cast the rower's seat) again. That last trout pic was something to behold.....an absolute beast!! Again, great outing, thanks for sharing....keep on keeping on.
Adirman
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Monticello, NY

Posts: 479
Adirman on Jul 23, 2018July 23rd, 2018, 10:15 am EDT
18-24” huh,I thought that might be too long and create micro drag between the 2 flies but I’ll try it !
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Jul 23, 2018July 23rd, 2018, 1:00 pm EDT
Adirman,

18-24” huh,I thought that might be too long and create micro drag between the 2 flies but I’ll try it!


Good point and I do believe that two dry flies are not for everyone or every water type. However if you know the water and aren't throwing 50 footers two flies can work well. Especially if the money fly, the bottom fly, is a little #18 - #22 BWO or some other pattern that is hard to see. The top, or indicator, fly in a larger size, a #12 - #14, in an easily tracked color does help me get fish on the little fly.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Adirman
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Monticello, NY

Posts: 479
Adirman on Jul 24, 2018July 24th, 2018, 1:02 am EDT
Matt, I agree and not for every situation for sure, but i like it when I see occasional risers and am trying to “pound”up more action. I’ll put 2, maybe even 3 dries on to attempt to spark some interest; sometimes it works , sometimes not. I love your idea of suing with a small fly and putting the big one on as an indicator. I will definitely try that!! 😊
Wiflyfisher
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Wisconsin

Posts: 622
Wiflyfisher on Jul 24, 2018July 24th, 2018, 11:22 pm EDT
Nice report, Matt. How was the fishing on the Ranch?

I am counting my days before heading West.
Jmd123
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Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2474
Jmd123 on Jul 25, 2018July 25th, 2018, 1:27 am EDT
"I’ll put 2, maybe even 3 dries on to attempt to spark some interest..."

David, I would try an attractor and a natural in combination. Make the attractor bigger than the natural, like a #10 Royal Wulff and a #16 elkhair caddis. Just a suggestion, never tried it myself...but you never know!

Jonathon

P.S. Of course, it's hopper season! A hopper and a caddis...?
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
Adirman
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Monticello, NY

Posts: 479
Adirman on Jul 25, 2018July 25th, 2018, 3:32 am EDT
Johnathon, yup , you’re right , that’s the way I’m gonna go next time and also , spread them out a little more like Matt was saying.

Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Jul 25, 2018July 25th, 2018, 1:00 pm EDT
David,

spread them out a little more like Matt was saying.


By keeping them at least 18" apart it is conceivable you could get two fish. One eats the dry fly and during the ensuing fight another trout sees the other fly moving back and forth and eats it.

I've caught quite a few doubles in my life but never with a dry fly as one of the flies. Always 2 or 3 nymphs or two streamers. Once on the Big Horn River back in the late 1980's I hooked, and landed, two 18" rainbows on a double cast of nymphs. One was a scud and the other was a Pheasant tail, both #16. Quite a fantastic battle.

Another time, and this is hard to believe, but I have a picture, I caught two 12" smallmouth of one Rapala. My buddy and I were just laughing and laughing.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Adirman
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Monticello, NY

Posts: 479
Adirman on Jul 26, 2018July 26th, 2018, 12:03 am EDT
Matt,

Wow, that’s incredible ! 2 smallies in the same lure? That’s once in a lifetime for sure!! Yeah, I’ve caught doubles on my nymphing rig and also with a dry/ wet combo but never with 2 dries . Hopefully someday... 😊
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Jul 26, 2018July 26th, 2018, 12:48 am EDT
David,

I'll post up the picture on "Share & Discuss Photography".
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.

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