Anglers celebrating the arrival of summer should be organizing their fly boxes searching for the best flies to use for catching early season trout. The start of summer in the Rocky Mountains generally means high water from melting snow, which translates into using larger fly patterns to attract the attention of trout. While local hatches may dictate using specific flies to match certain insects, general patterns usually work well this time of year for trout that haven’t seen a lot of pressure from anglers. Many experienced fly fishermen use these flies all year long wherever trout are found.
The following flies are proven to put fish in the net during the early part of summer before rivers have dropped to low levels. Some of them also work great on mountain lakes as well.
Fly Formerly Known as Prince
This is a variation of the Prince Nymph, a time-tested attractor fly. The Fly Formerly Known as Prince features flashy Mylar wings that sparkle even in off-colored water, allowing trout to locate the fly. While insects are hatching, these wings seem to entice trout to eat this nymph pattern aggressively. It can match caddis pupae, stonefly nymphs, and also mayflies in the smaller sizes, and it’s effective on lakes when stripped slowly. Try it in sizes #12-18.
Pat’s Rubber Leg Stonefly
During early summer, a variety of stoneflies, including salmon flies and golden stones, are a primary food source for hungry trout. High water can dislodge them from rocky riffles where they drift helplessly. Pat’s Rubber Leg is a simply tied, durable, and realistic pattern that accurately mimics these large aquatic insects. It also happens to be a go-to fly for fly fishing guides as the point fly on nymph rigs. Black, brown, and tan versions in size #4-12 work well fished deep.
The Stimulator is the epitome of an effective attractor dry fly. It floats very well, even in fast water, is visible, and is available in a wide range of sizes and colors. As a bonus, it is also buoyant enough to suspend a beadhead nymph as a dropper, increasing its versatility. It imitates caddis flies, stoneflies, and small hoppers well, and it seems to be most effective when fished in pocket water or near the bank. Yellow, tan, royal, and peacock bodies in sizes #6-16 are all good choices.
The PMX is an improved variation of the western favorite, the Madam X. The PMX features a highly visible parachute-style wing, making the fly much easier to track. Like the Stimulator, this attractor dry fly is a good searching pattern that floats well while suspending nymphs below. The rubber legs wiggle in the water, eliciting aggressive strikes. This pattern also does a good job of accurately imitating hoppers, caddis, stoneflies, and even big ants. This is my all-time favorite summer dry fly and dozens of tan, yellow, and royal versions from size #6-16 have earned their own fly box. The PMX catches more trout for my clients than all of my other dry flies combined.
Olive Woolly Bugger
This is probably one of the most versatile flies in the history of fly fishing. I like olive in the spring and summer because it seems to mimic the color patterns of a wide range of prey for trout—from sculpins and minnows to damsel flies and crayfish. You can use a bead head or cone head version, which gets the fly deeper and creates a lifelike jigging action. Strip it fast or dead drift it; it doesn’t seem to matter. This fly has caught more trout than any other fly pattern that I use. Huge #2 buggers will catch monster brown trout in big western rivers while small #12 patterns work great in lakes with clear water and picky fish.
Part of the joy of fly fishing is experimenting to find new flies that fool trout, and all anglers have their special favorites that they rely on to get the job done. But during early summer and much of the rest of the year, these flies are always in my boat bag and are responsible for the majority of trout that end up in the net. They are a good base for starting a fly collection for any angler. For more advice on fly choices and hatches, stop by the Jans fly shop in Park City or visit jans.com to book a guided fly fishing trip on one of our outstanding trout fisheries.
Brody Henderson, Fly Fishing Guide
This post was updated on July 5, 2022.