Solving the puzzle – Fly patterns make the difference on the Yampa River |

Solving the puzzle – Fly patterns make the difference on the Yampa River

Catching a trout on a fly can be likened to solving a puzzle. Figure out what insect the trout are feeding on during a given 30-minute window, match the size and color of the bug and fish it at the proper depth – you just might catch a trout.

On summer evenings along the town stretch of the Yampa River, solving the puzzle can be a little more complicated.

“The thing about the Yampa is that there is a larger array of food forms than most people are used to,” Steve Henderson of Steamboat Flyfisher said. “Compare it to the Frying Pan River (near Basalt) where it’s either baetis (mayflies), mysis (shrimp coming out of the dam at Reudi Reservoir) or the Green Drakes (unusually large mayflies).

“On the Yampa, it can be six different bugs at any given point in the day. And each fish is rising to its own bug.”

For dedicated fly fishers, the ultimate solution to the puzzle is to tie one’s own variation of standard fly patterns to suit a particular stretch of water.

A handful of professional fly tiers in Steamboat have managed to license their unique patterns to major fly-fishing catalogues. Paul Russell’s imitation of an emerging mayfly is exceptionally effective on the Yampa. It mimics an insect that has become injured as it struggles to make the transition from the nymphal stage to full-fledged adult. He calls it “Pablo’s Cripple.”

Henderson has a couple of patterns of his own that are in wide circulation. One fly that is often overlooked and isn’t even an insect, is the crayfish.

“There are a lot more crayfish here than anybody thinks,” he said.

“Steve’s Crawbug” is pale in color and tied upside down and backwards on the hook. Crayfish scoot backwards on the bottom of the river and by tying the pattern with the hook pointed toward the surface, Henderson reduces the chance it will snag.

The fly is very effective on smallmouth bass in the Yampa west of Craig.

Guide Tim Widmer’s grasshopper pattern, “Timmy’s Hoppindicator,” has proven so successful that he has been able to license the pattern to Solitude Fly Company of Alhambra, Calif. You can purchase the big, buggy looking fly at local fly shops or from Solitude’s catalogue.

Flies tied to look like grasshoppers can be magical on summer afternoons, Widmer said.

Invariably, when fishing the Hoppindicator, Widmer ties a second fly off the bend in the hook of the grasshopper or beetle. Typically, it’s a nymph meant to be fished below the surface. He is biased toward another pattern he created called the “Nymphicator.” It has a tungsten bead head that gets it below the surface quickly. The pattern resembles another caddis larvae pattern called a “Serendipity” only with a white hula skirt tied around its waist.

Bruce Lee of Straightline Outdoor Sports has come up with a fly that is part spinning lure, part wooly bugger. Lee is also a fan of bird dogs and that enthusiasm is reflected in the name of the fly. His Labrador series is available in several colors – Black Lab, Golden Lab, Yellow Lab and chocolate lab.

The pattern is a twin-bladed spinner that allows the angler to clip a wooly bugger on the end. Casting the Black Lab with a fly rod takes skill, but anyone who can cast a lead-eyed streamer will manage. Another option is to troll it behind a float tube.

The Yellow Lab is said to be deadly on big brown trout in the fall.

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