There are a few hatches in fly fishing that prolific anglers make sure to not miss year after year. If they miss it, it haunts them until they can get back on the water the following year. Some of these include the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch, the first terrestrial hatch as well as the Salmonfly Hatch.

Fly anglers are hesitant to guarantee fish, but in the case of these hatches, they’re much more willing. The fish are constantly eating during these hatches. They know they don’t come around too often so they make the most of their opportunities.

I first fished a Stonefly hatch a few years ago and I finally understood what it meant to be a fly angler. While the fish were feasting, they wouldn’t eat a fly that was presented poorly. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to see how good I truly was. I learned more in those two days of fishing than I did in the previous two years.

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What is a Stonefly?

A stonefly is one of the larger insects that you’ll see on the water. They have long matched tails and antennae. A fly guide told me one time that Stoneflies are the bugs that will freak your wife or girlfriend out when they buzz near their head. They’re large, but completely harmless.

A close-up photo of a stonefly.

There are 3,500 species of Stoneflies worldwide and only nine families of them in the United States. They have wings, but are usually fairly awkward fliers. Their large size is extremely appealing to fish and they’ll eat as many as they possibly can.

Life Cycle of a Stonefly

A Stonefly goes through incomplete metamorphosis in their life. They only undergo three stages within their life cycle. The stages include larva, adult and sexually mature adult. They are a fascinating insect that is different from a typical water insect.

Stage 1

The larval stage is also known as the nymph stage. As nymphs, Stoneflies live completely underwater. They are not able to survive in a variety of water conditions like a Mayfly or Caddisfly might.

They need extremely cool, highly oxygenated water to survive. Therefore, you’ll find these flies in cooler environments or water that is extremely clean. As nymphs, they look somewhat similar to a Mayfly, but they’re a bit larger.

As nymphs, they have six legs and can live underwater for three years before it transitions to the adult stage and are a fully grown adult.

Stage 2

The adult stage of a Stonefly is quite interesting. Where many flies will hatch just below or on top of the water, Stoneflies actually fully hatch on a dry surface. They’ll crawl onto a log or some other structure and begin the official hatching process.

They’ll grow their wings and enter the sexually mature adult stage. If a Stonefly finds itself inhibited on its way to hatch, a trout is going to feast on it. These large insects are too much for the fish to handle. They love to eat these insects and will go out of their way to make a meal out of them.

Stage 3

The third and final stage of a Stonefly is the sexually mature adult stage. As fully grown adults, they don’t look much different than they did as nymphs. However, they do have four wings as adults. The males are much smaller than the females!

When they’re ready to mate, the males will likely find the females right near where they hatched and grew into fully grown adults. Once they’ve mated, the females will lay their eggs in the water. You’ll see them flying low above the water and dropping to the surface to dip their eggs.

It’s not uncommon for these flies to skate across the water to lay eggs as well. If you see Stoneflies skating, you can guarantee that they are not going to last very long!

What’s Fly Fishing Stoneflies All About?

Stonefly fishing is awesome. It’s not very common that you can use large flies all of the time. Stoneflies are large and intrusive. As a result, you’ll find yourself catching quite a bit of fish. You’ll also find yourself fishing nymph patterns much more than dry fly patterns.

An angler fly fishing a bass using a stonefly flies in a river.

Even though Stonefly dry patterns are a blast to fish, they’re not very common. Since they can live as “nymphs” for up to three years, you have to time things correctly! Pay close attention to the hatches. As soon as you see some on the surface, it’s time to go time.

When To Use Stonefly Flies?

Stoneflies are great to use right around the beginning of June to the end of August. These are their most productive months. However, these can be fished year round! No matter the time of year, it’s important that you carry quite a few of these in your box.

How To Cast a Stonefly?

Depending on what type of Stonefly you’re using, it’s smart to fish these from the bank and strip towards yourself. Since these flies hatch on shore, it’s not uncommon for them to swim to the surface and swim towards the “slack” water.

A slow strip towards yourself on shore is going to cause fish to follow. They know that if the fly gets to shore, they don’t stand a chance. Cast upstream, let it drift and slowly drift towards yourself. Don’t pull the fly out too early! I’ve found that fish will hit these Stoneflies extremely close to shore.

Species For Fly Fishing Stoneflies

Trout are the primary target with Stoneflies. Trophy trout are often caught on these flies. They’re truly the only species that are going to try and hammer these flies. If it’s trout you’re after, then you must experience a Stonefly hatch.

The Best Stonefly Fly Patterns

Fly tiers take extreme pride in their ability to tie Stonefly patterns. There are thousands of homemade patterns that have proven to work. They’re a blast to look at and even more fun to fish. Go to your local fly shop and see what kind of amazing flies have been tied!

PK Golden

The PK Golden is a classic Golden Stonefly pattern. It has a bullet head and just enough material to make it stand out in the water. Tied on a size 8, 10 or 12 hook, this is a very large fly, but large flies often mean large fish.

You’ll need to fish this fly with an indicator. It’s going to fall in the water column and you’ll want a chance to be able to identify it in the midst of a heavier hatch. Plus, these flies work exceptionally well on the larger water that you’ll find out west.

El Camino Grillo Golden Stone

The name of this fly alone is worth the price! It’s a wonderful dry Stonefly. If you’re fishing any water where Golden Stoneflies hatch, you must carry a few of these in your box. It’s a classic fly that you’ll find all over the Western United States.

Some anglers are hesitant to buy large dry Stoneflies due to their bulkiness, but this one is sleek enough that it will still float down the river with some sort of natural appearance. Too many large dry flies get hung up in the current and don’t look natural. This is a great option that’s going to land you an impressive amount of fish.

Winged True Golden Stone

There are few flies in the world that have a more natural look than this fly. It’s scary how accurate this fly looks. As a result, I purchased around 20 of these Winged True Golden Stone flies to use over the years. I have caught countless fish on this fly!

It sits in a unique spot in the water. It’s never going to fully float, but it also won’t sink. It sits right in the film and is a perfect emerging pattern. The emerging portion of a Stoneflies life is short, but when you time it right, you will hammer fish.

The times I have properly timed the emerging are some of my most successful days on the water. The fish absolutely love feasting on these helpless flies. If you can experience this once in your life, you’ll have dreams about it for years.

Pat’s Rubberlegs Jig Brown and Tan

What Stonefly list is complete without a Pat’s Rubberlegs. If you want a class Montana pattern, Pat’s Rubberlegs is it. The beadhead is going to pull this down in the water column and provide you with one of the most natural drifts possible.

The beauty of this fly is that it’s going to work year round. At times, when snow breaks off of the bank, it’ll expose a whole bunch of Stonefly nymphs. When this happens, a feeding frenzy occurs. Those feeding frenzies in the midst of winter are a sight to see.

Winged True Salmon Fly

The Salmon fly hatch is something to witness. This hatch brings the biggest fish in the river out to eat. The majority of my 20 plus inch trout have come as a result of Salmon Flies. The Winged True Salmon Fly is extremely complicated to tie so I don’t even bother.

This fly is going to sit high in the water. If you’re drifting, cast this up against the banks as far as you can. Let it drift in the dead water and it won’t take long for it to be slurped off of the surface.

If you’re fishing the dead water, make sure you keep your rod tip high and minimize the drag. It’s going to make your fly look more at home.

Super Gee Salmon Fly

This is a great fly to use right when the flies are hatching. They’re bright and still fresh. If possible, fish this fly with a nice twitch. It will drive the trout crazy. You’ll be shocked at how many strikes this fly entices.

It’s another fly that is going to sit high on the water so you won’t have any trouble locating it as you’re trying to see if something eats it. If you want to try tying a Salmon Fly, I would recommend trying with this one. It’s not overly complicated and I’ve found that the more buggy it looks, the better.

Rogue River Salmon Fly

This is another unique Stonefly that doesn’t quite float, but doesn’t sink. It acts as another nice emerging pattern. You’ll see it sit right in the film. Go ahead and throw this before the flies are officially hatching. You won’t have to wait long for a strike.

I love fishing this pattern. It has proven to be one of the more challenging patterns to present naturally, but if you do, you’ll find yourself with a nice amount of fish.

Gould’s Half-Down Salmon Fly

This is a similar fly to the Rogue River Salmon Fly. The abdomen of this fly sits under the water, but the wings stay on the surface. I enjoy looking at this fly because of how impressive the pattern is.

If you want to get the most natural drift, put floatant on the wings, but leave it off of the abdomen. You want the lower part of the fly to drop in the water. The wings staying above the water resembles a drowning Salmon Fly. A helpless Salmon Fly will make a trouts day.

You need to pay careful attention to these flies as they drift. A full floating Salmon Fly will come with a massive strike. These emerging patterns are going to entice trout, but it’s more subtle. They’ll suck it under the water so be ready with that strip set. You’ll need to minimize the slack so you can land these fish!

Bullet Head Salmon Fly

The Bullet Head Salmon Fly is the perfect option for later in the season. As late August rolls around, it’s time to start throwing this fly. It’s a bit smaller and doesn’t move as quickly as some of the other flies mentioned on this list.

This is going to be a slow mover and do a great job resembling some of those flies heading towards the end of the life cycle. You have the option to apply floatant to this fly if you want it higher on the water, but I have had more success when I leave it alone.

64 Impala Salmon Fly

I love the look of this fly. It was actually the first Stonefly I ever tied. My first one looked awful. The long rubberlegs are like a steak to some of these fish. My first pattern legs were way too long, but I still caught fish with it!

The 64 Impala Salmon Fly is better fished later in the season as the flies begin to slow down and darken. Fish this in more of the slack water. You’ll definitely have more success when you do.

Gear To Use When Fishing With Stoneflies

I consistently catch the largest fish when I am fishing Stoneflies. As a result, I know that I need to use a bit heavier gear. For one, I’ve found myself making some of the longest casts of the season as well. I need my best action and most powerful gear when using Stoneflies.

Rod

I am consistent with my 6-weight when I use Stoneflies. This is going to give me enough power to make some lengthy casts and fight those 20 plus inch trout. I spend long days on the water when the Stoneflies are hatching. I hate the idea of missing out on this time of year.

a fly rod and reel on the river

I need a rod that is going to cast smoothly and give me enough power to land these fish in a minimal amount of time. I’ve tried with a 5-weight, but the 6-weight makes all the difference in the world. Most of the time I am not picky with what size rod I use, but Stonefly season makes me especially particular.

Reel

Whenever I’m choosing a reel, I make sure that it matches with my fly rod. I strive for the best balance possible. There are times when I’ll use a 5-weight reel with a 6-weight rod, but I like to keep things as close as I possibly can.

A fly rod and reel on the rocks

However, when it comes to your rig, you want to be comfortable. There’s no perfect way to do it as long as you’re okay casting it and you can hit your spots. Too many anglers are too particular with their setups. As long as it works for you, go for it!

Line

The line that you use entirely depends on what type of Stonefly that you are using. If you’re fishing a nymph, I like to use weight forward. I know that it’s not going to pull me too far down in the water column, but still help me reach those necessary depths.

fly line for salmon fly fishing

If I am fishing a dry, I use a floating line. I need these flies to stay as high as possible on the water. If my line begins to pull them below the surface, they’re pretty much useless. Line is very important! Bring two reels if at all possible! It’ll make your life much easier.

Leader

When choosing a leader, I usually like to go with 3 or 4x. I know this is powerful enough to land some of those larger fish, but not too noticeable that they’re going to be spooked and choose not to go after my fly.

I also like to use tapered leader in these scenarios. I find it a bit easier to cast and it keeps me more stealthy.

Tippet

I will only use a tippet when throwing dry Stoneflies. Some anglers will use it when they’re throwing nymphs, but I’ve found myself losing too many large fish when fishing with nymphs. It’s important to use a tippet when fishing with dries. The fish can pick out lines fairly easily. You need to stay hidden!

Fly Fishing Stoneflies Techniques, Tips & Tricks

Stonefly fishing is entirely trial-and-error. However, there are a few techniques that have proven to work. Follow a few of these tricks and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Nymph Your Heart Out

Nymphing with Stoneflies is amazingly productive. I’ve found that dead drifting two flies is the best way to go. I’ll tie the unweighted nymph on first, attach 12-24 inches of tippet to the bend of the hook and tie on a weighted nymph.

I’ve also fished one fly at a time. If I want to fish unweighted nymphs, I’ll focus the majority of my time in the riffles and pocket water. I want the water to take control and let the naturalness of the drift help me land fish.

Time of Year

If you choose to fish Stoneflies at the end of runoff, don’t complicate things. Cast upstream along the bank and let it drift towards you. Be sure that you’re stripping in the slack. It’s important that you have solid control of the fly so you can be quick on setting the hook.

Metolius River Fly Fishing Spot

During the high water, fish are going to flood to the banks. They don’t want to have to fight the current. They’ll sit shallow and dart out into the faster moving water in search of food. However, if they can eat food right along the bank, that’s exactly what they will do.

Dry Fly Fish Near Rises

Similar to other dry fly fishing, if you see a rise cast towards it. Fish make it fairly easy for us when the hatch is happening. However, I’ve found that I catch the majority of my fish on dry Stoneflies near structures.

I’ll cast up along the bank, near a laydown or in the deeper portions of the river. If the flies are hatching, the trout will be looking up. This doesn’t mean they’re sitting right below the surface. However, it does mean that they want to eat on the surface!

Dead Drift and Skate

When you’re fishing with dry flies, start by dead drifting the fly. Cast near a rise and let it float downstream. As it drifts in front of you, strip in the slack and raise your rod tip. It’s going to create a more natural presentation.

If the dead drifting doesn’t work, go ahead and try to skate the fly. Remember, that Stoneflies fully hatch on land so it’s not uncommon for them to scramble towards shore. Emulate these movements as best as you possibly can. It’s not an easy tactic, but it will land you a nice amount of fish.

Best Destinations For Fly Fishing Stoneflies

Stoneflies are extremely popular in Montana, Colorado and Idaho. They’re all hotspots that you absolutely need to visit in the summer!

Montana

Bring your box of Stoneflies to the Clark Fork, Madison and Yellowstone. Salmon flies are often hatching on these rivers. If you want the true Western United States fly fishing experience, a few days with Stoneflies will provide that for you.

Idaho

The Salmon River in Idaho is a must visit for anyone curious about fishing with Stoneflies. The Salmon Fly hatch on this river is legendary.

Salmon River Idaho

A late summer afternoon and evening in the midst of one of these hatches is a memory that is going to last you a lifetime.

Colorado

The South Platte River is a must visit for any Stonefly enthusiast. These flies thrive in cold and clear water. The South Platte provides both of these! It’s one of the most beautiful rivers in the entire world!

Are You Ready For Fly Fishing Stoneflies?

Fly fishing purists will perk up when you start talking Stoneflies. They know the possibilities that come with these flies. State records have been broken as a result of these large flies. If you feel confident in your angling abilities, you must give Stonefly fishing a try.

Each outdoor activity has a “must do” checklist. Fishing in the midst of a Stonefly hatch is absolutely one for fly anglers. Spend some time researching and book a trip to the Western United States for one of the best fishing experiences of your life.