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:
These dries are the MVPs for me. I'd be fine with having these 5 players all season long for my clients. Starting the season off is the Purple Haze far bottom right. If it's midges I'm after, I'll use a size 18. March Browns? Size 14. General summer mayfly? Size 16. This fly does it all. Are there other patterns out there that are specifically tied for midges and named something super clever? Sure there are. But, again, I'm after simplicity and efficiency. Less is more. I don't need a hundred patterns. I need a few that work. I'm after results not flare. And a size Purple Haze has fooled many a trout for anything from a midge to a Drake, in various sizes.
When the Mother's Day Caddis hatch rolls around and the smaller varieties of Caddis after that hatch, the X Caddis (bottom center) is THE fly in my opinion. Especially in the Channels section of the Madison. My vision of heaven is a calm cloudy day in the Channels with a Tan, size 12 or 14 X Caddis sight casting to rising 18-20" bows.
Now we get to the meat and potatoes of the dries. The birthday cake for trout. When Salmonflies come around, hands down, I'm using the Water Walker in green butt (far right). Put that thing on the bank and sell it to them by twitching it or surfing it off the bank. Then, when hopper season arrives I use the same damn fly. Literally. And if they don't like the green butt, well, I'll throw that brown one in the upper right. And if they don't like that one for a hopper, the Thunder Thighs in tan (top center) definitely will get some looks. And if THAT doesn't work it's time to hit the G Bar.
Now for the nymph selection.
The GOAT nymph on the upper Madison, and maybe the Rocky Mountain West, is the Girdle Bug (aka Turd, Rubberlegs). I'm convinced that no nymph has caught more trout in recent years than this bug on the Madison. Certainly in my boat. Outside of dry fly fishing, this fly catches trout all year long. The wire worm is a must have anywhere, and the Madison is no exception. The most common nymph rig of all on the upper Madison is probably the Girdle Bug/Wire Worm. Another obvious favorite is the Prince nymph. It's worked for decades and will work for decades more. The last two for me are the Psycho Prince and the red Spanker. Both work well behind a Girdle Bug or even a streamer (Bunny and a bead combo).
So there you have it. Those are my go to, don't leave home without them flies for the upper Madison. Now I'll get back to tying some and filling boxes for the season.