Salmonfly Patterns for The Colorado River:
With the early arrival of spring to the Central Rocky Mountains, fly fishermen are anticipating an early salmonfly hatch on the upper Colorado River this year. If you are planning on fishing the upper Colorado’s epic salmonfly hatch this year, it is a good idea to make sure that you are prepared with a good selection of both salmonfly nymphs and dries before you head to the water. Here is a short list of my favorite salmonfly patterns. These six bugs account for the majority of the flies that I tie on throughout the months of May and June on the upper Colorado river from Gore Canyon and Pumphouse all the way down to the confluence of the Eagle river near I-70 and Dotsero.
When choosing patterns to mimic the clumsy, fluttering adult salmonflies, it is important to remember how the Pteronarcys Californica hatch actually happens. The nymphs crawl along the riverbed and exit the water before beginning the transformation into adulthood – breaking out of their exoskeleton, drying out their wings, and buzzing to the nearby foliage to rest. This means that the only real time that adult salmonflies spend on the water’s surface exposed to feeding trout occurs when the females are laying their eggs. Savvy anglers can take advantage of this information and use it to help select the proper dry flies for salmonfly fishing. For me, it means choosing large, bright patterns with fluttering wings and rubber legs that attract attention when dead drifted or skated across the top of the water.
First up is the Orange Rubber legged Stimulator. The rubber legs on this adult salmonfly pattern give it stability so that it floats upright in turbulent water. This is paramount to dry fly success when fishing the Colorado River’s salmonfly hatch because it usually occurs during the time when the river is at its highest.
Other Adult Patterns:
My next favorite salmonfly adult pattern is the Morris Foam Salmonfly. The large, segmented foam body gives it a realistic look that seems to work well with the extra long, lifelike rubber legs. It floats high in rough water and supports a large dropper with ease so that you can use another big stonefly beneath it should you need to.
If you want to take a more subtle approach or imitate a spent salmonfly adult drifting slowly in a back eddy, the Puterbaugh Foam Salmonfly pattern is a good choice. Its dull orange foam body and laid-back synthetic wings give it a realistic look that can stand out of the crowd in a sea of bright colors and rubber legs.
No one sits at their office desk all week long dreaming of nymphing their way through an epic salmonfly hatch on the upper Colorado River, but many times it is the best and only way to get the job done. After seeing several hundred boats and at least as many fake adult salmonfly patterns float by during the first few days of the hatch, most fish begin to ignore the adult patterns, and the anglers who are doing the most damage are the ones fishing below the surface.
If you read these blogs with any frequency you have probably noticed that I beat the Pats Rubber Leg drum pretty hard, so I will spare you another repetitive description of it. Just make sure you have a few in black and orange in sizes 6 and 8.
Another great salmonfly nymph pattern that gets less attention is the Bitch Creek. It looks a lot like the Pats Rubber Leg, but is a little thicker and can come with or without a beadhead. When the water is muddy and fast, I use the Bitch Creek to get strikes from fish that can’t see very well.
The last must have fly on this list is the Prince Aggravator. It works well dead drifted, on the swing, or stripped like a streamer. It combines lifelike rubber legs with a marabou tail that attracts even the most suspicious fish. This pattern adds versatility and depth to your salmonfly collection, and will come in handy throughout the hatch.
With these six patterns in hand, you will be on the right path to success this salmonfly season. Make sure to visit Vail Valley Anglers in Edwards, Colorado to pick from the biggest and most comprehensive in store fly selection in the Rockies.
Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer