Fly fishing in the Colorado High Country means constantly adjusting to the changing conditions. Maybe it is adjusting the depth of your indicator, adding on some split shot, or changing a fly. The trout always are keeping us on our toes. One simple way to stay ahead of the game is to have a quality selection of different fly patterns. For starters, many of us know that you can never have enough fly patterns, but needless to say, there are some staple fly patterns that need to be in every angler’s box.
So to ring in the new year in #troutcountry it only made sense to reflect on this past year’s top-performing flies for each month. So here you have it, broken down by each month our favorite fly pattern on our local rivers including the Eagle River, Gore Creek, Blue River, Roaring Fork River, Colorado River, and other surrounding streams in the Colorado Rockies. Did your favorite top the list?
January: Rainbow Warrior
The month of January usually means cold feet, frozen rod guides, and nymphing deep pools to pick up large rainbows. The rainbow warrior fly pattern is a perfect attractor pattern to use in the winter to entice a trout to bite. The pattern could resemble a small mayfly like a Blue Winged Olive or it could also imitate a midge. The rainbow warrior fly pattern can be considered one of the most versatile patterns and most popular patterns in the last decade. Make sure to have your box stocked full of a variety of different sizes (#18-22 are the most common) and some popular colors like pearl (classic), red, black, or even pink.
February: Sparkle Wing RS2
The Sparkle Wing RS2 is a variation of the ever so popular RS2 pattern developed by Rim Chung in the early 1970s. The sparkle wing has a very thin profile body with a wing casing typically made of pearl braid. The wing casing of this fly resembles an emerging insect like a baetis or midge. In February, when the temperatures begin to warm around the middle of the day the mayflies like the blue winged olives and the midges begin to hatch.
The sparkle wing RS2 can be fished mid column to represent these emerging bugs. Or in the colder parts of the day, this fly can be fished as your trailing fly when nymphing deep. It is a very versatile fly that has been a guide favorite since its inception. When imitating midge the grey, brown or black colors in sizes #20-24 work effectively. When the baetis begin to hatch the olive or black work well in larger sizes like #18-20.
March: Barr Emerger
Another classic yet effective pattern year after year is the Barr Emerger. The fly was developed by fly tier John Barr in the 1970s after he realized the need for a nymph that represented a partially develop dun (an emerging insect). Since then the fly pattern has been the inspiration for many other emerger style nymph patterns. The Barr Emerger best imitates a mayfly like the BWO’s we have in March when the river temps begin to warm and the trout begin their feeding frenzy after weeks of minimal activity. The pattern variations include flash added, bead or beadless, and two main different colors, a BWO color variation, and a PMD color variation. In March, the BWO color variation flashback with or without the bead can be the most effective.
April: Pat’s Rubber Legs
This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of the Pat’s Rubber Legs (Girdle Bug, Cat Poop, or Jimmy Legs are some other names for this pattern). In April, as air temperatures warm, rivers begin to rise, and the stoneflies begin to move around or become dislodged from rocks. The trout eagerly await a protein packed meal and the Pat’s Rubber Legs is the perfect imitation for these stoneflies. The Pat’s was developed in Montana by Pat Bennet, the micro-floss legs offer maximum action on the water. While the lead wrapped body gets down in a hurry. The Pat’s is a great lead fly for a nymph rig, it can be dead drifted, jigged, or stripped. Do be aware there are some imitation patterns out there with no lead and not proven color combos. Be sure to purchase from your local fly shop.
May: Squirmy Worm
The squirmy worm may not be the most glorious pattern to fish but hey it works. The fly is the new age version of the classic San Juan Worm. The squirmy is made from a super stretchy, strong, ultra-flexible material that gives the fly a very realistic action in the current. The month of May can typically mean high flows and runoff on most of our streams, so getting a bright worm in front of a trout can be an effective way to have success during the high water periods. The fly can be tied very easily and in a variety of ways. Our favorite colors include red and pink. As well as brown and purple. Do make sure you have a good stock of these and Pat’s rubber legs as nymphing this time of year can result in lost flies.
The month of June in Colorado can be a tough time of year to plan for, as runoff may still be keeping water levels high or the water levels can be dropping and coming into shape. Typically the last two weeks of June offer some phenomenal fishing, typically it is the start of summer dry fly fishing. That is why for this month the fly of choice is the Parawulff. This pattern takes two of the most effective dry fly patterns, the Royal Wulff and the Parachute Adams, to create a hybrid that is highly effective and easy to see and fish. The “Wulff” style wings represent a V shape imitating a mayfly adult on the surface.
In June, there may still be some BWO’s hatching and the PMD’s are beginning to come off in numbers. The pattern can also effectively imitate gray drakes or green drakes which can be present this time of year. The pattern traditionally came in a gray-colored body but now is widely available in a variety of colors including a green or even a purple.
July in #troutcountry only means one thing….caddis! Especially on the Eagle River. The caddis come off in numbers in July and Kauffman’s Stimulator Pattern is the fly of choice this time of year. Kauffman’s stimulator is a general dry fly attractor pattern that floats high, is easy to see, and comes in a variety of colors, and sizes. It is a go-to for imitating caddis. Popular colors and sizes are #14-18 royal, tan, green, yellow, and orange. The retail store at Vail Valley even has a custom Stimulator pattern with a CDC wing casing. Swing by the shop to check it out.
August: Chubby Chernobyl
The Chubby Chernobyl is another fly that has been a recent go-to for anglers across the west. The Chubby is a foam fly with rubber legs that floats very well and is easy to see. It best represents larger bugs like adult stoneflies or terrestrials like grasshoppers. In August, it is prime time for grasshoppers to be lining the banks and the golden stoneflies are still coming off in the evenings. The chubby can be effectively used on its own or as the dry fly for a “hopper dropper” setup. Make sure to stock up on a variety of sizes and colors of chubbys. Our favorites include the tan, black/tan, purple, and golden color variations.
September: Double Gonga
Fall in Colorado means dropping water temps and aggressive trout. Fishing with streamers can be an effective way to target large trout this time of year. One of our go-to streamer patterns is Craven’s Double Gonga. This pattern was developed by front range tier Charlie Craven, his goal was to create a pattern that drops like a rock and is still easy to cast. And he nailed it with this one, the Double Gonga is made with water shedding craft fur, two heavy eyes, and an articulated hook system. The large profile fly can be fished with confidence for large trout. It comes in a variety of effective colors and there is even a smaller version called the Baby Gonga which can be easier to cast and better tailored for small streams.
October: Flash-Tail Egg
Let’s face it, trout like to eat eggs. As much as they may take away from the entomology aspect of it, they are effective. In October, the browns are in the peak of their spawn and the rainbows will typically stack up below spawning areas to munch on the eggs drifting down. So tie on an egg when there isn’t much bug activity and see if you can find a bite. Umpqua makes a “Flash-Tail” egg pattern that incorporates a little flash behind the egg to trigger a strike. It also comes in a variety of colors, our favorites are the Oregon Cheese or Fluorescent Orange.
November: Two-Bit Hooker or Two-Bit Midge
A couple of years ago, Umpqua Feather Merchants released the Two-Bit Hooker, another creation from Charlie Craven. The fly resembled a common mayfly nymph with a bead, thorax, wing case, and tail. This pattern is very similar to other mayfly patterns like variations of the pheasant tail. But the two-bit hooker has two tungsten beads hidden inside of it, this means it can drop into the feeding column faster than other flies. Making it a go-to dropper pattern for trout anglers.
Soon after Umpqua created similar versions of the “two-bit” including the “two-bit midge”. Which is ultimately a zebra midge with two beads. The Two-Bit flies are highly effective and come in a variety of colors and sizes. In the fall midges and mayflies are the typical fare, so be sure to have an ample supply of Two-Bit Midges and Two-Bit Hookers.
December: Zebra Midge
To round out the year, there is one pattern left that deserves some respect…the zebra midge. One of the more general nymphs around, the zebra midge is an easy to tie and easy to fish pattern that represents a midge nymph. It comes in a variety of colors and sizes, but one can’t go wrong with the black zebra midge in size #18-22. Be sure to have a stockpile of these flies in your box if you spend any time fishing in Colorado in the colder months. It is also a very easy and straightforward fly to tie.
There you have it a fly for each month of the year. Let us know if we missed any of your favorite fly patterns. Be sure to browse our online selection of flies here. Or swing by the retail store, we are open 9:00-6:00 PM daily throughout the winter months.
Patrick Perry, Former Guide, and Content Contributor @patperry