Stillwater Angler Fishing Report
How does one decide which hopper to emulate with their fly? There are a couple of rules of thumb that most area guides and anglers follow when it comes to hopper fly selection.
The first is size. Go bigger on the Yellowstone and smaller on rivers like the Stillwater. Secondly, a leggy pattern seems to work well on all waters. Legs that give movement to the fly on the surface of the water are usually particularly appealing.
Generally speaking, color is probably the least important characteristic of the hopper pattern. My theory is that is because hoppers exist in so many different colors and shades naturally. A multitude of body colors exist from lime green, to yellow, to tan. The color of the belly is most important.
In these parts, an angler always needs to be prepared to fish in wind. A little breeze is always a plus for hopper fishing, but a stiff Yellowstone west wind can humble most anglers. All the more reason to go with a big hopper and heavier leader. Leave the 9 foot 4 and 5x leaders in the gear bag. Start with a dropper nymph, but at the first sign of wind, or if unproductive, I’d put it back in the box.
Having fished with a variety of anglers of all skill levels thus far this summer, I’d like to offer a few observations that I think most of us can benefit from. First is the propensity to false cast. A well-timed false cast or two has its useful purpose, for everything from drying a water logged fly to gauging distance when casting to rising fish.
The problem comes when it’s simply a habit, particularly when float fishing. I’ve fished with anglers who make three false casts, put the fly on the water on the fourth cast, then instead of letting it drift, pick it up and start the whole process over again.
On the lower Stillwater that has an estimated 4,000 fish per mile, that’s a lot of missed opportunities. A fly can’t catch a fish when it’s not on the water.
That brings me to the next point, which is the drift. Fly fishing basically boils down to presenting something artificial as naturally as possible to the fish.
There aren’t many flies that naturally drag across the surface of the water at excessive speed. A decent mend can make up for a poor cast, but not the other way around. The ability to produce a drift by mending the line is a prized skill. As the water temperatures warm, look for fish in places on the river other than the banks, like riffles and even mid-river runs.
My final observation concerns long line casters. Being able to cast 50-60 feet of line is not only totally unnecessary, it’s usually counterproductive as well. Putting a lot of line out on the water almost always guarantees excessive drag, which is virtually impossible to mend.
Also, in the unlikely event that a fish hits the fly, there’s no way the hook can be set due to all of the slack line that is on the water.
It’s hard to forecast what the rest of the summer is going to look like fishing wise. After a mild runoff and an early start, things have generally been fishing well. Heading into the end of July and first of August, water temperatures are starting to creep upward and flows are dropping.
So, remember to play fish as promptly as possible and handle them quickly and with care when releasing. As I wrote last week, it won’t take much to improve on last year’s hopper fishing, and there is the potential for excellent dry fly fishing to various may fly hatches in late summer and early fall.
Chris Fleck owns and operates Stillwater Anglers Fly Shop and Outfitters in Columbus.