Mountain trout are opportunistic feeders but don’t always come to the surface for a dry fly.
Photo by Phil Monahan

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve no doubt noticed how much I love hunting wild brown trout in mountain streams. As soon as spring hatching is over on the battenkill, I’ll head to the mountains with mine Super fine glass 3 weights and a single box of flies. Living in southwest Vermont, I have access to at least a dozen great creeks that originate from the Green and Taconic mountain ranges within an hour’s drive of home, and I enjoy exploring new sections to see what I can Can be found. I am rarely disappointed.

At this time of year the water is still quite cold in many places and the trout are less willing to confront the dry flies. Over the course of our fishing years together, Tom Rosenbauer has convinced me that a nymph on a short dropper under a dry fly will attract more trout and I have found that larger trout are often more wary meaning they are more apt to eat one Nymph. As the water warms up in June and early July, the percentage of fish eating the dry fly increases, and when I find that I’m catching almost all trout in the dry, I just cut off the nymph and just go dry.

Because brood coordination is not as important with these freestone trout, which are opportunistic feeders, the dry flies I’ve used are buggy and easy to spot on the water. Although there are mayflies in these waters, caddisflies and stoneflies predominate, and there are also many land-dwellers. Here are my best patterns, which I combine as I please. Depending on how high the water is and how deep the holes I’m fishing I set the drip line between 8 and 16 inches. And remember: always crush the barbs before you start watering.

(Click on the fly names to learn more or to buy.)

1. stimulator

1687890091 790 Pro tips 6 flies for mountain trout in early summer |

Colours: yellow or olive.
Sizes: 10-14.

The stimulator just looks flawed with the combination of two hackles and deer hair. It mimics the many stoneflies that live among the rocks in free stone streams and can also pass for a caddis fly, moth or even hopper. It swims well in very rough water and is easy to see.

2. Royal PMX

1687890091 273 Pro tips 6 flies for mountain trout in early summer |

Sizes: 10-14.

The PMX is another great attractor pattern that does a good job of hanging a nymph and the white post makes it very visible even in turbulent water. Brook trout seem to have a fondness for peacock fish and the rubber legs add even more fish attraction. I only use the Royal version, but I’m sure other colors work well too.

3. Spotlight Caddis Emerger

1687890091 265 Pro tips 6 flies for mountain trout in early summer |

Colours: light brown or olive.
Size: 14

For long, shallow tanks where the fish might have a longer view of a fly, I like to tie in this buggy gem that sits deep in the surface foil. It looks like an insect struggling to fly or break free, so it seems like an easy meal. Again, a white post ensures the fly is visible on the water, and if you coat the front half with flotation agent, it won’t sink.

4. Purple Tunghead Hot Spot Pheasant Tail Jig

1687890091 459 Pro tips 6 flies for mountain trout in early summer |

Sizes: 14 and 16.

Over the years I have caught more fish of all types with this fly than any other. We all know that pheasant tail fibers produce attractive nymphs, but there’s also something about the hint of purple that turns heads. The heavy bead ensures the fly lands even in rough water and the barbless hook makes it easy to pull out after you’ve landed the fish.

5. Pearlhead Prince Nymph

1687890091 964 Pro tips 6 flies for mountain trout in early summer |

Sizes: 14 and 16.

It’s a classic because it works. It is a stonefly nymph, a mayfly nymph and an attractor nymph. There is plenty of contrast and color to draw the trout’s attention and it is a durable pattern that you can use all day long. I use the beadhead version to ensure it sinks quickly in heavy water.

6. Hard body ant wet

1687890092 490 Pro tips 6 flies for mountain trout in early summer |

Colour: Black and Red/Black.
Sizes: 12-16.

I had always used floating ant patterns before my old friend Jay “Fishy” Fullum wrote an article on sunken land dwellers many years ago. I started experimenting with these ants, which swim for a while before starting to sink, and found that they often outperform traditional ant patterns. Rather than quickly diving into the water column like the nymphs above, these ants typically hover just below the surface, where trout are used to seeing drowned ants.

Of course there are many more flies that will catch mountain trout but I rarely leave this collection until conditions change later in the summer. More on that next month. . . .

Phil Monahan is the editor of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog.