What’s the hot fly? I get that question a lot. Sometimes I have an answer. Sometimes I haven’t got a clue. I don’t fish as much as I’d like, and without field research I’m sometimes at a loss.
Fortunately, that’s not always such a difficult question for the Middle and North forks of the Flathead. Matching the hatch there isn’t often a problem, because there usually isn’t a hatch. The gin-clear water that flows out of Glacier Park is spectacular to look at, but those crystal pools reveal a dirty secret: there’s isn’t much to eat if you’re a trout.
It all starts at the bottom. The rocks up in the park don’t provide the right kind of mineral content to jump start an aquatic food chain. The reason many of the rivers in southwestern Montana rank as some of the finest trout streams on the planet is because most have their beginnings in the volcanic soils of the Yellowstone Plateau. Those soils are the fertilizer of the trout stream food chain. The granitics of Glacier? Not so much.
The harsh reality on the North and Middle forks is that a selective trout is a starving trout. Fish up there can’t afford to be choosy when it comes to bugs. If it’s floating by they have to eat it, or the next trout will.
That means anglers should adjust their tactics. You don’t need a degree in entomology or an artist’s touch at the tying table to fool fish. These are the waters of the attractor fly.
Attractor flies do not fool trout by precisely imitating some tiny mayfly at its most vulnerable life stage so that selective trout — which have keyed in on an abundance of mayflies of that size and color — will eat it. Conversely, attractors don’t look like anything in particular – they just look big and delicious. It’s a parallel universe to the classic approach to fooling selective trout by matching the hatch.
Maybe this is how fly fishers do it on Planet X.
X marks the spot for many of these Christmas tree ornaments. The Chernobyl Ant, the Madam X and the Stimulator X all share one trait: rubber legs that form an X pattern under the body of the fly.
The legs are a little over the top. I’ve seen some big naturals floating in the surface film but few have the kind of action those long rubber legs impart. It’s just that something about those undulating gams sets off the “Twinkie overhead!” alert for trout.
A couple other popular patterns that more closely resemble actual bugs are also sometimes grouped with attractor patterns: the Adams, and it’s postmodern analogue, the Purple Haze.
Both are essentially mayfly patterns, with the Adams in particular filling in as a fine match for March browns and gray drakes. The Purple Haze shares the silhouette, but not the color of many mayflies as well.
I’ve never seen a purple bug on the water, but three factors may be key to this fly’s effectiveness:
It’s essentially a parachute mayfly, which is probably the most fished of all dry-fly patterns. You can find identical flies except for color and materials in just about every hue of the rainbow.
- Purple is more visible to trout in low-light conditions.
- It’s a hot pattern right now, which engenders confidence in anglers. Confident anglers are often successful anglers.
One variation that you should have in your fly box is the Purple Haze cripple. Cripple patterns are fished in the surface film, with the body of the fly dropping below the surface. The fly imitates a mayfly that has failed to emerge from its nymphal exoskeleton, and is a sitting duck. Trout love ’em.
Remember, size matters. You’ll see many Chernobyl Ants in the fly shop in sizes six and four. These sizes can be deadly in bigger waters, but not on the forks. Scale down to 12s and 14s. If you’re going to go that small you may have to tie them yourself, however. When it comes to ants and stimis, there’s no better color than orange. Cutthroat trout are suckers for orange.
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