Walk into any fly shop and you're going to see hundreds if not thousands of flies. A new fly "pattern" is created everyday it seems. Add a red thread collar to any classic pattern and suddenly it becomes the next best thing you HAVE to buy. I'm not saying that all new patterns are like this, but it seems like many these days are just regurgitated and slightly altered versions of a classic. Anyway, not sure where I'm going with that...support your local fly shop and buy more flies?
It got me thinking, though, year after year of being a professional guide I'm always looking to make things even simpler than the year before. More efficient might be a better description. This could mean anything from my lunch preparations to gear selection. This business isn't making anyone rich quick, and I've got to find ways to cut costs and make my life simpler in the boat so that I can focus on success for clients. One of those ways is an annual review of what flies work, don't work, and more importantly, what flies I can rely on day in and day out under any condition, any time of year, anywhere on the upper Madison.
So here the flies that were responsible for what I'd estimate was over 90% of the fish caught on my guide trips in 2020. The remaining 10% would be hatches like Tricos on Ennis Lake which are spectacular but require dedicated patience, stealth, and accurate delicate casting on the right weather day at the right time of a hatch. A unicorn type of day. Another portion of that 10% would be the ants/beetles which make up 100% of trout caught on some days, but not something I use as frequently throughout the calendar year as compared to the ones below. So here's my upper Madison guide's choice baker's dozen. If I only had these flies for an entire year, I'd be more than ok. So let's start with, of course, streamers.
These three streamer patterns will catch a trout 12 months out of the year. Confidence is all that matters, and I have ultimate confidence in these on the upper Madison. They cover, generally, the color spectrum. At least what's important for color (light, dark, gray). These colors in these streamers give me the three dominant color options for any condition. Starting clockwise with the white Sculpzilla. This one is the smaller version (size 6) because, well, a size 4 of this pattern in the hands of any client is a risk I'm unwilling to take. I like my vision too much. It's a lot of fly, but the size 6 is less dangerous swinging around the boat. At the top is my good friend Trevor. We've had some years better than others, but he's reliable. A utility player. An excellent sculpin imitation. Last is the locally designed Delektable Screamer by my friends up at the Beartooth Fly Shop in Cameron. A little flash to go with the contrasting dark olive/black option. This fly is becoming a favorite of mine on summer days with a little weather like wind and rain and cloud cover. Dead drifted, stripped, it doesn't matter. Trout love it. This one took the place of my ex, Sheila Sculpin. Sheila was once a go to for me. We split up. I think the trout saw too much of her. Rumors are she's climbing her way back to the top though.
Now for the dries: