Spring Patterns for the Rocky Mountain West

This summer, the rivers in the Upper Rocky Mountains will be crowded with vacationing anglers. Spring is a good time to enjoy fine fishing and see fewer fishermen.  Here are 16 guide-tested flies for catching trout early in the season.

[Al and Gretchen Beatty]

Spring comes at different times across the West. People like us who live in Boise, Idaho, enjoy the season much sooner than anglers living in West Yellowstone, Montana; this difference can be as much as a couple of months. Spring is often a state of the human mind, while plants and animals tend to follow a more stringent timeline based upon temperature and hours of daylight.

We notice the approach of spring when the afternoon light starts fading at 4:30 rather than three o’clock during the shortest days of winter. The willow buds we encounter along the stream bank are another indicator of spring. Also in the spring, we are able to fish without having to break ice off our rod guides.

You want to know the most important indicator of spring? It’s our telephone. Why? Because our good friend, Jeff Smith, always calls to let us know that the Skwala stoneflies are hatching on a river near us. His call is a good indication that it’s time to leave the tying desk for an afternoon or two, buy our fishing licenses, and head for the spring fly fishing party.

The patterns we bring to this annual celebration are fairly predictable; what happened last year and the year before in the spring will probably happen again this year. Like many of you, we try filling our fly boxes during the off-season rather than waiting until the last minute, so we use the winter to make our preparations. We also have one advantage many of you don’t; customers start calling with fl y orders about a month before any particular hatch begins, and we try keeping a few flies for ourselves.

What will they ask for this year? We never know because favorite patterns come and go. We are, however, including a list of early-season spring patterns that we will use and many of our customers always request. They will prove useful to you, as well. Al and Gretchen Beatty are two of our leading pattern designers.


Hook: Standard dry flyhook, size 12 or 10.
Thread: Yellow 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Yellow grizzly fibers.
Egg sac: Crimson floss, dubbing, or yarn.
Back hackle: Yellow grizzly.
Body: Chartreuse or fluorescent yellow floss, dubbing, or yarn.
Rib: Tying thread (optional).
Front hackle: Yellow grizzly.
Comments: This Polly Rosborough pattern for matching the Isoperla or Isogenus hatch has been around for years. Tie it with a small hackle on the back and a standard-sized hackle on the front. We apply BT’s Float EZY to keep this lightly hackled dry fly in the surface film; fished in this manner, it is most attractive to the fish.


Hook: 2X-long dry fly hook, sizes 14to 10.
Thread: Olive 6/0 (140 denier).
Egg sac: Black foam.
Underbody: A strip of foam.
Body: Green dubbing or a color to match the natural insect.
Wing: Deer body hair.
Hackle: Brown, spiral-wrapped over the body and trimmed on the bottom.
Head: Black foam and green dubbing.
Comments: The Skwala is an important early-spring stonefly. Jeff Smith’s easy-to-tie pattern, based on Paul Stimpson’s Klod Hopper, is an excellent imitation.


Hook: 3X-long dry fly hook, sizes 10 to 4.
Thread: Brown or black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Red hackle or goose fibers, one half the length of the shank.
Body: Red floss or yarn.
Wing: Fox squirrel tail hair, not stacked.
Hackle: Brown, wrapped heavy. (We use at least three feathers.)
Comments: This Pat Barnes pattern, which was developed in the 1940s, doesn’t look much like a golden stonefly (Acroneuria californica), but its performance at catching fish during a golden stonefly hatch can’t be argued. We think the thick hackle is very important to its success.



Hook: 2X-long dry fly hook, sizes 6 to 2.
Thread: Fire orange 3/0 (210 denier).
Extended body: Folded 1-millimeter-thick black foam. (The extended body is tied on a needle and then removed when completed.)
Tail: Two black goose biots.
Head and collar: Dyed black deer or elk body hair.
Wing: Fox squirrel tail hair, not stacked.
Legs: Black or orange rubber leg material, tied X-style.
Comments: This fly, which matches Pteronarcys californica, is unsinkable and really drives the fish crazy in our part of the world. Change colors and sizes to imitate a wide range of stoneflies.

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