Parks' Fly Shop: Guide to Attractor flies for fly fishing yellowstone

Introduction to Attractor Flies for Fly Fishing the Yellowstone Area

In our area, attractor dry flies, nymphs that don't particularly resemble any aquatic insect, and generic wet flies and soft hackles often outproduce more-imitative flies. The tabs below the links box discuss various categories of attractor fly. Each entry includes a description of the category, when we expect flies in the category to be successful, and a list of patterns we prefer within the category.

Unless noted, images on this page were provided courtesy Montana Fly Company.

#12 and Larger Downwing Attractor Dries

Introduction

Very large attractor dries are not so popular in the Yellowstone area as they are down on the Snake or further west in Montana. Nevertheless, it's important to have a few in your box, especially in July and early August, when there are scattered emergences of large aquatic insects that can excite the fish, plus a few grasshoppers, but not enough of any one of these insect types to make most of the fish key on any one type.

There's a great deal of overlap between this category and flies discussed on the Terrestrials page, so make sure you take a look there, too.

Description

swisher's PMXLarge downwing attractor dries generally resemble oversized caddisflies, stoneflies, or grasshoppers. Most contemporary patterns in this category feature various fish-attracting but non-realistic elements like rubberlegs, peacock herl, or flash materials, while some older flies in the category are more natural-appearing. A key example of the former fly type is the Swisher's PMX (see at right), while the latter type is represented by large Stimulators. Many flies integrate foam materials, causing much of the overlap between flies in this category and other that are more clearly terrestrial insect imitations. Hallmarks of all flies in this category are natural or synthetic hair wings, durable construction, fat, often fuzzy bodies, and long, heavy wire hooks, often hooks typically used on streamers and large nymphs rather than on dry flies. These long and heavy hooks make a #12 fly in this category appear much larger than a #12 in the Small Downwing Dries category.

When to Use

Big downwing attractor dries are most useful in our area on larger rivers early in the summer, when there are many insects hatching (quite a few of which are large), rivers are running high, fast, and slightly dirty, and the fish are aggressive and unspooky. In our region, these conditions usually mean late June through late July or perhaps early August. Flies in this category will continue to be good choices on larger, rougher rivers that receive little pressure, such as the Yellowstone in the Black and Grand Canyons, until early fall, though even in these locations they are superseded by #12 and smaller attractor dries (that are better size-matches for the aquatic insects emerging at the time) and by flies that more explicitly resemble grasshoppers and cicadas, the primary large terrestrial insects trout in our region like.

The following table contains entries for several of our favorite large downwing attractors.

Fly Name Size Discussion
Turck's Tarantula, Tan #6-12 This is probably our favorite fly in this category. It resembles grasshoppers, large caddis, and Golden Stones, probably in that order, and is easy to see due to the white wing. Also useful in yellow and lime, though tan is best.
Chubby Chernobyl #6-10 This is another fly that represents grasshoppers and Golden Stones. It is starting to supplant Tarantulas and many other foam flies due to the high-visibility wing and great floatation. We like it in gold, tan, and black, but have done well on it in colors ranging from peacock to pink to purple.
Swisher's PMX #8-12 Basically a stonefly or large caddis imitation. We like it in wine, #12, and yellow, #10.
Synth Double Wing #8-10 This is basically the big brother to the Coachman Trude, with high visibility, bugginess, and floatation. Looks approximately like a caddis or medium-sized stonefly.
Foam-Meister #10 Similar to the Synth Double Wing, but with a foam body.
Stimulator #6-12 Probably the most famous fly in this category. In our area (and probably everywhere), the Yellow Stimulator is most effective in the large sizes noted here. It represents a stonefly, grasshopper, or large caddis.
Foam PMX #10-12 We fish the foam version of the PMX primarily in black, as a cicada or simply a dark, blocky fly for use on dark days.
Coachman Trude #10 Primarily a smaller attractor, especially in #12 and #16, big Trudes are particularly useful during and even before the Salmonfly hatch or when fished without floatant, so they can be fished stripped like a mini-streamer.


#12 and Smaller Downwing Attractor Dries

Introduction

Smaller downwing attractors are probably Parks' Fly Shop's favorite category of flies, attractor or otherwise. We use them on all rivers we guide at least some of the time, and even on many of the lakes, where attractors usually aren't considered a good choice. This series roughly imitates caddisflies and small stoneflies, but can also suggest many other insects, both aquatic and terrestrial.

Description

trudeSmall downwing attractor dries generally lack significant foam elements, though they typically float well anyway due to lighter hooks than larger attractors, coupled with heavy hackle and wings of either water-shedding synthetics (on newer flies) or hair (older flies). Most use hackle, wings, and body materials to provide movement, rather than synthetic elements such as rubberlegs, though some flies in this categoery do have very fine legs. Flies in this series most closely resemble caddisflies, but some look like small stoneflies, terrestrial insects such as bees or beetles, and even emerging mayflies and midges.

There is some overlap between this category of flies and more-imitative caddisflies. Korn's Tweeters could slot into both categories, for example. For our purposes, we consider flies to fit into this category when their most noticeable characteristics appear to human eyes to be non-imitative, no matter what the fish might think. The Tweeter has a bright chartreuse tail, making it an attractor, while an otherwise identical pattern with a neutral-colored tail would be considered a caddis.

When to Use

Small downwing attractor dries are extremely useful throughout the season, with the only exceptions being during and just at the beginning and end of spring runoff. In small sizes, they even work great in the dead of winter as edible strike indicators for imitative midge dry flies. They are primarily useful on rougher streams, of any size, but they can be useful even on flatter streams like the Firehole and on lakes, during mixed hatches or very sparse ones.

In general, you should begin fishing a given pattern in this category at the larger end of its size range just after runoff. On less-pressured streams and sections of stream, these larger sizes will continue to work throughout the season. More often, you should size slowly down through the course of the year. A notable exception is the Yellow Stimulator, which in its smallest sizes imitates baby grasshoppers, medium-sized caddis, and Yellow Sally stoneflies, while its larger sizes are effective later as grasshoppers.

The following table contains entries for several of our favorite small downwing attractors.

Fly Name Size Discussion
Coachman Trude #12-16 Coachman Trudes are among the flies most-associated with Parks' Fly Shop, and have been our bestselling dry fly for decades. In the smaller sizes noted here, we use them all season long on river floats, on beginner trips, and anytime we're fishing pocket or heavy canyon water on foot. They see more-limited use on lake float trips (usually supporting tiny beadheads and serving as edible strike indicators), both dry and wet during caddis emergences on the Firehole, and fished as mini-streamers.
Coachman Clacka Caddis #12-16 This is a more "tech" version of the Coachman Trude that debuted during the 2009 season. It more closely resembles an emerging caddis (though still no one species) than the Coachman Trude, and floats lower. It works better than the Trude on heavily-pressured water, especially in August and September.
Yellow Stimulator #12-16 In smaller sizes, Yellow Stimulators are most useful during hatch situations, where it can resemble tan caddis or Yellow Sally stoneflies, as well as baby grasshoppers.
Peacock Caddis #14-16 Similar in many ways to the Coachman Trude, but is better when fish are making splashy, aggressive rises to emerging caddis, since this fly is slightly more buoyant than the Trude and can therefore be skated.
Korn's Tweeter, Tan #14-16 While nominally an egglaying caddis, the hot green butt on this pattern makes it an attractor. Good during heavy summer caddis emergences, when a more-imitative fly might get lost among the naturals, both to the angler and to the fish.
Lime Trude #12-16 A changeup to our preferred Coachman Trude, particularly useful during caddis hatches.
Coachman Trude Cripple #16-18 A Trude-like pattern that imitates either crippled or egglaying caddis, as well as small terrestrial insects like houseflies and wasps. Most useful on slower pools of big rivers like the Yellowstone, and on meadow streams.

Upwing and Wingless Attractor Dries

Introduction

Upwing attractor dry flies are probably more famous than downwing attractor dry flies, since they more closely resemble mayflies than the "ugly duckling" caddisflies and stoneflies. Depending on how they're dressed, upwing attractors can also imitate emerging caddisflies, midges, and some terrestrial insects. In our region, upwing attractors are less-used and less effective than downwing attractors, primarily because rivers in our region typically have larger caddisfly and stonefly populations, plus terrestrial grasshoppers, all of which are better imitated by downwing flies. Nevertheless, at certain times upwing attractors are just the ticket.

Wingless attractor dries have largely fallen out of favor, but can imitate a wide range of insects. They are also the best attractor dries for "changeup" fishing, in which the fly is fished dry and then wet on the same cast.

Description

purple hazeUpwing attractors closely overlap with mayflies, generally differing from more-imitative mayfly patterns in their colors and how heavily-dressed they are. In general, flies classified as attractors will make increased use of hair over other fibers, for both wings and tails, they'll be highly visible, for example with white or even orange wings, and they'll feature both very heavy hackling and body colors (or combinations of colors) that do not to our eyes look like any real insects. On many rivers, upwing attractors work great during mayfly hatches and mayflies work great as attractors during non-hatch situations. Probably the most famous upwing attractor that is commonly regarded as such is the Royal Wulff, though in our region the new Purple Haze (pictured) is rapidly overtaking the Wulff in popularity. One mayfly pattern that works well as an attractor, especially in areas with abundant Drake populations, is the famous Parachute Adams.

Wingless attractors are probably used more often in roles that are otherwise filled by upwing attractors, which is why I discuss them here. The most prominent of these flies are the renegadeBivisible, Fore-and-Aft, and Palmer-type flies, represented by the Brown Bivisible, the Renegade (pictured at left), and the Crackleback. Of these the Crackleback is probably now the most-used. The primary attribute of these flies is that it is not immediately clear that they are simply dry flies. Because they are tied "in the round," they can be fished using a wide variety of techniques.

When to Use

Upwing attractors primarily work in the Yellowstone area on streams with heavy mayfly populations, or on rivers like the Yellowstone where caddis and stoneflies predominate, but some heavy mayfly hatches occur, such as the fall Baetis. They are most useful before the hatch really gets going, usually a size or two larger than the insects expected to hatch in the case of small insects like BWO, or in the same size, in the case of insects like Green Drakes. The type of upwing attractor selected depends largely on water character. On flatter water, select a pattern with a slim, naturalistic profile (such as the Purple Haze) but an unusual coloration, while in faster water a more robust fly is a better choice. When particularly heavy hatches occur, especially in the fall when the light is flat, often an upwing attractor will work as well or better than a more-imitative fly, though you should usually fish an imitative fly as a dropper since some fish will be pickier than others.

We don't fish wingless attractors much, but they are useful as midge clusters, much like a more-visible Griffith's Gnat, and as dry/wet combinations, for example fished dry and dead-drift than twitched back subsurface. This technique is most useful during caddis hatches.

Fly Name Size Discussion
Purple Haze #12-18 This is probably our most effective upwing attractor now. We use it primarily during the fall, as a BWO/Hecuba, but it can be used any time. Since purple is the last color to become invisible, it is most effective in flat light conditions, such as just before dark or under cloudy skies.
Royal Wulff #10-16 The quintessential rough water attractor. We use it less than the Coachman Trude because there are fewer mayflies than caddisflies in our area. A good choice where Drakes are present.
Parachute Adams #12-18 Not commonly considered an attractor, but the Parachute Adams can imitate so many things that it needed to be mentioned here. Most useful as a Drake or BWO imitation on rougher streams or those that receive less pressure.
Purple Haze Cripple #14-18 This "tech" version of the Purple Haze is a better BWO imitation in slower water and/or later in the fall.
Hare's Ear Parachute #10-14 This parachute more closely matches the Hecuba (Tan Drake) than the Parachute Adams does, and can also suggest small grasshoppers and fluttering caddis.
Renegade #14-18 Useful as a midge or Trico cluster pattern.
Crackleback* #12-16 Note that Parks' Fly Shop does not stock this pattern. Primarily useful in our area during late evening caddis emergences, especially when stripped just under the surface. Only mentioned here because it originated in the Ozarks, where Walter Wiese is from.


Attractor Wet Flies and Soft Hackles

Introduction

A majority of wet flies and soft hackles qualify as attractors, because they imitate numerous things and have a generic "bugginess" that fish find irresistable. In our area they are most useful on the Firehole and other riffle-pool type rivers, stripped deep in lakes, or fished as "second chance" flies behind streamers.

Description

purple soft hackleWet flies come in two general categories, winged and wingless or "soft hackle." Nowadays soft hackles are much more popular, but winged wets often work just as well, particularly during caddis hatches or when caddis are egglaying.

While some classic wet flies are extremely complicated designs, particularly those for Atlantic salmon and steelhead, most of those used in our region are almost aggressively simple, utilizing two to four materials in addition to the hook and thread. This simple design philosophy makes them suggestive imitations of a wide range of aquatic food items, and even some drowned terrestrials if fished dead-drift. Wet flies, especially soft hackles, rely heavily on the natural fine "breathing" motion of their wing and body materials to catch fish. Because of this, most wet flies use natural materials, especially for their wings, because natural materials feature a wider range of textures, and spotted, barred, and motted patterns. If synthetics are used, they feature glow, shine, or other suggestions of "life."

When to Use

Wet flies are the most important flies to have on the Firehole River, and also work great on the Madison and Gibbon. While not as critical elsewhere, it is important to always have a few in your box. Use them as caddis emergers, as droppers behind large nymphs, or as shallow droppers behind dries. Wet flies are particularly good choices when only occasional, splashy riseforms are seen, and when you want to cover a lot of water. Fish them on a slow cross-current swing, dead-drifted, or stripped slowly through deep pools or lakes.

 

Fly Name Size Discussion
Glasshead PT, Wiese's #12-16 This is our best fly on the Firehole and also works great as a dropper anywhere during caddis season.
Peacock and Black #12-16 This one is particularly useful where large Grannom Caddis populations are present, in lakes, and as a streamer-dropper.
Hare's Ear #12-16 Most resembles emerging or drowned tan caddis. Fish it behind a dry or a streamer, or on the Firehole along with another wet.
Neu Coachman #12-14 A wet or "mini-streamer" version of the Coachman Trude. Use it in lakes or behind a dry.
Partridge and _______ #12-16 Partridge and "Color" wet flies are probably the most "classic" of all wet flies. Particularly useful colors are orange, yellow, and lime green. Fish them as droppers, on the swing, or twitched slowly in lakes.


Attractor Nymphs

Introduction

Virtually all popular nymphs qualify as attractors, if a narrow definition of "attraction" is used, since very few popular nymphs match just one particular species or genera of insect. For purposes of this page, we're considering flies that imitate not only several species of one insect family but multiple families of insects as attractors.

Much like wet flies, nymphs that meet this definition typically feature relatively few materials and bodies of natural or at least "lifelike" synthetic materials. Popular are peacock herl, hare's ear dubbing, and new synthetic materials such as Krystal Flash, Flashabou, and Ice Dub. Nymphs in this category should be your go-to flies for dropper nymphs, and on pocket water and canyon rivers, they should be your go-to subsurface flies, period.

There's a gray area between nymphs in this category and those in other nymph categories. For our purposes, if a fly is primarily described as a mayfly, stonefly, or other nymph, it's not discussed here.

Description

Attractor nymphs come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors. As such, no one fly is representative of them. What can be said is that most are durable, easy to tie, and suggestive, lacking such things as wing cases, precise legs or tails, etc. A notable exception to this rule is the Copper John, but other popular nymphs such as the Beadhead Prince, Serendipity, and Minch's Bead, Hare, and Copper all match the rule perfectly. Another possible identifying characteristic of most attractor nymphs is moderate size. Typically larger nymphs can suggest only stoneflies, even if they don't look precisely look like them, while particularly small flies are taken by the fish only as small mayflies or midges. Most attractor nymphs are useful in sizes #12-16, where they can be just about anything.

When to Use

Attractor nymphs are useful in virtually all water types in our area, from raging rivers to tiny creeks to lakes. Almost all of our topselling nymphs are attractors, and I suspect other shops would say exactly the same thing. Attractor nymphs are especially useful when you're covering a lot of water, either on foot on faster streams or out of a boat, since these situations are less likely to require you to closely match one particular insect, at least for long stretches. Don't neglect trying an attractor nymph behind a streamer. Even if the nymph is moving, a fish that refuses the streamer will often take a dropper nymph instead.

 

Fly Name Size Discussion
Prince and BH Prince #8-18 BH Princes are Parks' Fly Shop's bestselling nymphs. Use them in larger sizes fished deep and in #14-16 as dropper nymphs under dries. In particularly small sizes they're about all the fish will eat on bright late summer days on the Yellowstone. Non-bead versions are great choices on area lakes, especially private lakes, where it probably looks like a backswimmer or dragonfly.
Minch's Bead, Hare, and Copper #10-18 Another nymph whose effectiveness is high everywhere. We've yet to figure out a fish that won't eat it or a way of fishing it that doesn't work. The single most important fly on the Gardner River.
Serendipity (and Variations) #14-20 Much more popular on the Madison and Firehole than at the north end of YNP, but a good choice up here too, especially in clear, low water. Less useful behind a streamer than the other flies discussed here, because it doesn't have enough bulk for a fish chasing a streamer to notice it.
Copper John #12-20 A fly that has exploded in popularity over the past ten years. A good choice in standard copper during BWO season, in red to suggest midges, and in chartreuse late in the season, especially for heavily-pressured fish.
Minch's New Nymph #12-18 An oddball fly we really like at certain times of the year, especially in the spring in larger sizes and in the fall in smaller sizes. Fish big ones dead-drift or swung and small ones dead-drift.
BLM Nymph, PT and Olive #16-20 This fly is similar to the Lightning Bug, which more closely resembles mayflies, albeit in a very flashy way. This slimmer, slightly more sedate bug is mentioned here because of its extreme effectiveness on area lakes, both small public lakes and private lakes. It probably suggests midges and mayflies, as well as something that's bright enough to notice but not so obtrusive to be seen as a threat.


Attractor Streamers

Introduction

All streamers are basically attractors, since their whole purpose is to catch the trout's attention and cause them to chase. Most such flies imitate a relatively small collection of food items, however, usually based on the food item's coloration and silhouette. A Double Bunny imitates streamlined baitfish, while a Muddler-type imitates fat-headed minnows like sculpins, for example. The primary exception is the Woolly Bugger, which imitates many different things, but there are others. We will discuss both Buggers and a couple others here. More-imitative streamers are covered on our Other Trout Foods page.

Description

Streamers that are classified as attractors here either look like nothing at all or look vaguely like many things. In the West, the latter are far more important and popular. Woolly Buggers are the ultimate example, and the myriad things a Woolly Bugger can imitate and the myriad ways it can be fished are a good description of the class of flies as a whole: most attractor streamers are "buggy," suggest roughly through their bugginess a wide range of baitfish and mobile nymphs, and are quick to tie.

The other class of attractor streamers, those that resemble nothing at all, are generally most useful around here as brook trout and perhaps lake trout streamers. A prime example is the Joffe Jewel. Some are also useful in late summer and early fall for aggressive cutthroats. White Marabou Muddlers are the prime example.

When to Use

Generally, Woolly Buggers should be your go-to streamer anytime you want to fish a streamer, with the exception of when you know fish are aggressively chasing something else or if you're fishing for brook trout. Most of the time streamers will catch fewer but larger fish than other flies. The primary exception is lakes, where both the Joffe Jewel (for brook trout) and Woolly Buggers (suggesting leeches) are usually among the best overall bets for large numbers of fish. On rivers, such "exception days" are exceptionally rare but can produce the kind of fishing that will stick in your brain forever, like the time I (Walter) had a client catch 106 fish in a single day, including two "doubles" in which a fish took both the Woolly Buggers he was fishing at the same time.

 

Fly Name Size Discussion
Woolly Bugger #2-14 About 3/4 of the streamers you carry should be Woolly Buggers of one breed or another. Tie them in a variety of colors, a wide range of sizes, with and without flash, with and without eyes, and with both long, flowing hackle and relatively short hackle. The various buggers mentioned on our Custom Flies page are a good place to begin.
Sparkle Bugger #6-12 This particularly bugger variant (black, slim, flashy) is mentioned here because it (and flies resembling it in other colors) are particularly useful as leech imitations on lakes.
Double Bugger #2-6, articulated Rather than exceptionally large buggers, often two medium-sized buggers jointed together are a good choice. Unfortunately, they're not legal in YNP.
Marabou Muddler #2-6 While some combinations of this pattern are sculpin imitations, the most popular colors (white and yellow) are straight-up attractors. They are particularly useful on the Lamar and the Yellowstone, both just after runoff and in early fall when the fish are aggressively fattening up. The Kiwi Muddler is similar but uses rabbit rather than marabou.
Joffe Jewel #8-12 A small, bright, Eastern-style streamer that's a must-have for brook trout that live in lakes. Scale it up if you fish for lake trout.
Squirrel Leech #6-10 Similar in profile to Woolly Buggers, but even fuzzier. A good changeup for the Bugger, especially in small sizes on lakes.


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