A rare sight existed the other day on the Upper Madison River: a fly shop owner actually fishing for fun. As shops, guides, and outfitters ready their inventory, boats, and guide crews for the summer season personal fishing time is precious—it comes as rare as a Winnebago on 191 in January. But sometimes responsibility and better judgment deserve a backseat and one must go fishing. The sooner duties are put-off, the more time there is to get caught-up, right?
And obligations should be kicked to the curb, because great fishing exists right now. Just be sure your fly box is full of what they trout want right now…rubberlegs!
The majority of our local rivers harbor an abundance of stonefly patterns. Most of us know of the salmon and golden stone fly hatches, but the over-hyped skwala and well-kept secreted capnia and pneumora stonefly hatches make it possible to fish a stonefly pattern from March through October. In fact, you may already be fishing these insects if you are using a nymph with rubberlegs, and these nymphs become more active as snowmelt peaks and rivers drop.
For Big Sky anglers a must-have fly is a Pat’s Rubberlegs or variations of such. So, who is Pat and why are his legs so important? He was a fish-catching machine and created a simple and very effective fly. There are many variations of the Pat’s rubberlegs: Girdle bug; The Turd or Cat Poo (yes, these are real names); The Pickle; and whatever the next half-baked University of Montana 5th year senior decides to call his trout-slaying pattern.
A Pat’s Rubberlegs is a simple fly: a hook, plenty of lead wrapped around the hook, contrasting colors of yarn or chenille, and rubberlegs. A stout tippet is essential because most fish are caught along, or adjacent to bank-side structure. Snagging this submerged debris is common so strong tippet keeps more flies on the end of your line.
Currently stonefly nymphs are migrating towards the bank, logs or large rocks. In a few weeks they will “hatch” by crawling out of the water and emerging out of their nymphal casing. The first hatch is the massive salmon fly and many of the rivers largest trout eat 3-inch long dry flies off the surface…great fun but we are not there yet.
For the time being most of our fishing will be with a Pat’s Rubberlegs fished subsurface using two preferred methods. The first, and more popular, is fishing it under and indicator as part of two-fly weighted rig. And, yes, it’s certainly ok to fish two Pat’s Rubberlegs at once. The second is to fish a dry fly large and bushy enough to float a 3 to 4 foot length dropper on which is tied a Pat’s Rubberlegs. Be sure to have lots of rubblegs or tie very good knots because you will lose a few flies trying to get the fly near the fishy structure. If you are not losing a few flies you are not fishing close-enough to the bank or structure.
But losing flies isn’t necessarily a bad thing—someone’s got to make sure those busy fly shop owners tend the store and are not playing hookey every day.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and the forthcoming Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing* *but were afraid to ask. He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky