Flies for the Livingston Montana Area

Fill Your Fly Boxes with These Top Flies for the Livingston, Montana Area

While you should definitely patronize area fly shops, since all in Livingston, Emigrant, and Gardiner and most in Bozeman are locally-owned small businesses like Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing, you should also come prepared with some flies of your own if you’ll be fishing without a guide, and perhaps even if you are.

This page includes a list of 25 top patterns that will get you some fish pretty much year-round, plus descriptions of other patterns that it might make sense to carry at certain times of year.

The info on this page overlaps quite a lot with the Waters section of the website, which includes specific fly suggestions for individual fisheries near Livingston, and with the Area Trout Prey page, which includes a general regional hatch chart and discussion of other prey items. This page is “just the basics” when it comes to flies you should have.

Top 25 Flies for the Livingston, Montana Area

The following 25 fly patterns are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but you should be able to catch some fish on one of them year-round. They also make good starting points on most creeks and rough water in general, where the fish don’t tend to be large or spooky.

Fill out the remaining room your boxes with the information on the Area Trout Prey page, on the relevant page within the Our Fisheries section of the website, with your personal favorites, and with hot bugs suggested by area fly shops, our fishing report, or your guide. You can also shoot us an email for info on the latest hot flies.

Flies designed or tied by Walter Wiese often have videos on Youtube. When the flies in the list have a link attached, click the link to watch the video in a pop-up.

Top 5 Attractor & Terrestrial Dry Flies

Attractor and terrestrial flies work on most small streams and rough waters as well or better than hatch-matching dries. This is especially true in summer and early fall, but small attractors can work even in the dead of winter. The Hazy Cripple noted below is another of Walter’s patterns, but there’s no video of it. Google will bring up plenty of results, though.

  1. Coachman Clacka Caddis or Coachman Trude, #12–16
  2. Purple Hazy Cripple, #16
  3. Gold Chubby Chernobyl, #10–14
  4. Peach Bob Hopper, #14
  5. Cinnamon Flying Ant, #16

Top 5 Hatch-Matching Dry Flies

Hatches are most important in summer and fall, but there’s a chance of midge and Blue-winged Olive mayfly hatches everywhere that’s open to fishing from fall through spring, PMDs are found on all gentle streams in summer, and Tan Caddis can be matched by an X-Caddis on almost all waters in July and early August. Don’t hesitate to pair one of the flies below with one of the attractors noted above. On rough water, the trout are just as likely to take an attractor with the right silhouette as they are the “imitator.”

  1. Upbeat Baetis, #18
  2. PMD Sparkle Dun, #16–18
  3. Soda Fountain Parachute, #10–14 and #18
  4. Griffith’s Gnat, #18
  5. Tan X-Caddis, #14–16

Top 10 Nymphs & Wet Flies

All of the beadhead patterns noted below can be tied with brass or tungsten beads, on standard hooks and on jig hooks. I usually tie brass-beaded flies on standard hooks and tunghead flies on jig hooks. In general, the nymphs you choose to fish should be larger from April through mid-July and perhaps again in October and November, and smaller the rest of the year.

  1. Beadhead Prince, #12 and #16–18
  2. Bead, Hare, and Copper, #12–16
  3. Brown Girdle Bug, #6
  4. Tan/Brown TJ Hooker, #10
  5. Tunghead 20-Incher, #10–12
  6. Pheasant Tail Delektable Spanker, #16 (or Beadhead Flashback Pheasant Tail)
  7. Red Copper John, #16–18
  8. Black Zebra Midge with Copper Rib, #18
  9. Frenchie, #16–18
  10. Glasshead Pheasant Tail Soft Hackle, #16

Top 5 Other Flies

Olive streamers suggesting either sculpins or leeches (or just big green gobs of meat) are almost always good choices, while eggs can be the ticket in spring and fall. #6 on this list would be a #14 red San Juan Worm with a gold brass bead in the middle of the fly.

  1. Conehead Olive Woolly Bugger, #4–6
  2. Chocolate Brown Bully Bugger, #10
  3. Olive Zonker, #6–8
  4. Olive McCune’s Sculpin, #6
  5. Pink Egg Fly, #16

Types of Flies for the Livingston Area

Besides flies imitating assorted hatches (which get their own page), you’ll often see our fishing report or the waters pages mentioning various general types of flies. These include caddis-style attractor dries, large robust nymphs, stonefly nymphs, soft hackles etc. While we’ll mention specific patterns, too, any pattern within a relevant category is worth a shot—use your favorites if you like. Here’s what we mean when we suggest flies in a given category, plus examples of flies within that category.

Attractor Dry Flies

Attractor dry flies are probably the most effective flies overall in July and perhaps early August, especially if you hang an attractor nymph underneath. You seldom need anything else on most small streams, and attractor dries often work great on rough rivers, even big, famous ones like the Yellowstone..

Attractors roughly match a variety of bugs or just look “buggy,” so they work best in fast water where the trout don’t have time to closely investigate their food sources and sort of have to eat whatever they can. They should still look vaguely like the food sources present at a given time of year, though they can be bigger, brighter, etc.

Mayfly-Type Attractor Dries include classics like the Royal Wulff and Parachute Adams (which is awfully close to being a hatch-matching dry, for any gray mayflies). In this category I like my purple and copper Hazy Cripples, Nyman’s Royal Wulff Cripple, and Stranahan’s Brindle Chute better than old-school patterns. Mayfly-type attractors are best from sometime in August through April, when mayflies are the most common insects hatching.

Caddis-Type Attractor Dries include Elk Hair Caddis fished when there aren’t caddis hatching, classics like Coachman Trudes, and perhaps flies like Yellow Stimulators if the trout don’t squint at them too hard. I like my Clacka Caddis in peacock and pink for a high-floating fly and Trude Cripples for a low-floating one. Caddis-type attractors work best surrounding the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch in early May, then again from mid-June through early August. Small ones can also work in fall and winter when they probably suggest midge clusters.

Stonefly-Type Attractor Dries include the classic Stimulator, the ubiquitous Chubby Chernobyl, and the Turck’s Tarantula. All of these have their place. Small ones (#12 and smaller) are most effective on smaller waters from mid-June through mid-August, but can also work on larger rivers. Big ones (#10 and larger) are most effective on big water from late June through early August. They get used as hoppers later in the summer, but I prefer other patterns.

Large Attractors include any of the above from about #10 on 1XL hooks (normal dry fly hooks) and #12 on 3XL hooks (used for most stonefly-type attractors) on up. Most are stonefly-type attractors, but some cross over to big caddis, especially in late June and early July when I like a #10 Synth Double Wing.

Small Attractors are anything smaller than the above. Most suggest mayflies and caddisflies, though small Stimulators also apply.

Attractor Nymphs

Attractor nymphs are any nymphs not tied to explicitly match one order of insects (mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, etc.). This includes many old-fashioned nymphs like Princes, Hare’s Ears (or our preferred Bead, Hare, and Copper), plus contemporary favorites like Girdle Bugs and many Euro Nymphs.

Large Attractor Nymphs are #12 and larger on 3xl hooks or #10 and larger on 1XL or 2XL hooks. While more suggestive of stoneflies than anything else, they can also look like large caddis larvae or pupae, crayfish, or even baitfish. Really they’re just big gobs of protein the fish grab when conditions demand they eat big meals. They work best from late winter through mid-July and again (especially for pre-spawn browns) in September through November. A big fish might take a pass at one anytime, though I think streamers are usually better choices for big fish in summer and in most autumn-fishing situations. Good bets include Girdle Bugs and 20-Inchers (which most resemble stoneflies), Minch’s Golden Stone (the fly pictured at the top of this page, which looks like lots of things besides stoneflies), big Princes, and even small Woolly Buggers fished like nymphs.

Small Attractor Nymphs are far more useful the year-round than large attractor nymphs. Almost all nymphs #12 and smaller on 1X hooks can be fished as attractors. Even a Pheasant Tail, which looks most like a mayfly, could be taken as a lot of other things. If you use see “small attractor nymph” in the fishing report, odds are I’m talking about things like Beadhead Princes, Delektable Spankers, various heavy “Tag-style” Euro nymphs, and assorted bright nymphs like red Copper Johns and many Perdigons, etc.

Imitative Nymphs

Imitative nymphs at least nominally look like one order of bugs, or in some cases even one species. They are more effective on gentler streams (especially spring creeks) and on larger rivers when the water is low, especially from late summer through April. Even so, there’s a lot of crossover between imitative and attractor nymphs. A brown Girdle Bug is an attractor, but it does a perfectly good job of imitating stonefly nymphs, for example.

Mayfly Nymphs we use range from standards and standbys like Pheasant Tails to new patterns like Radiation Baetis. Except in the dead of winter, when drab patterns like WD-40s (which also suggests a midge pupa) are more effective much of the time, it’s common to fish mayfly nymphs that include hints of color. For example the Radiation Baetis we like is basically brown except for an orange thread head.

Caddis Larvae/Pupae are most useful around the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch in spring and in late June and July when most summer caddis hatches take place. The fish can also turn on to cased caddis larvae in the fall, in which case some pheasant tail fibers on a hook with a black bead and a green thread hotspot can be as effective as anything else. We like Bird of Prey Caddis, Fuzz Bastards (name changed after the video came out) in peacock or tan, and Kryptonite Caddis.

Stonefly Nymphs have a lot of crossover with large attractor nymphs, and large attractor nymphs are usually just as effective around here as dedicated patterns. The main exceptions are when the fish get fixated on Salmonfly and Golden Stonefly nymphs right before they emerge, in which case Bitch Creeks and Lex’s Golden Stone are more effective, and when they focus on Yellow Sally Stonefly nymphs a couple weeks later, in which case Montana Jig Sallys are our favorites.

Midge Larvae and Pupae are seldom important near Livingston, thankfully. Zebra Midges and Miracle Nymphs are good choices in the winter months, and large Zebra Midges in particular can work well in the Lamar System in September and October. Otherwise, you seldom need to fish midges on streams other than the Paradise Valley spring creeks. On lakes, larger midge pupae are often effective, ranging from “Ice Cream Cone” nymphs (thread, a wire or flash rib, and a white bead on a long-shank #14 hook) to our favorite, the Driscoll’s Midge (#16 short shank hook). The BLM nymph in #16–18 is nominally a mayfly nymph, but it works well on lakes in olive-brown and rusty brown, almost certainly as a midge pupa.


Streamers imitate baitfish, leeches, and perhaps crayfish. Around here, the only specific fish we often need to imitate are sculpins. Otherwise, streamers are just a big hunk of meat to get the fish excited.

Woolly Buggers and Similar: Generic streamers like Woolly Buggers in various sizes, as well as flies with similar profiles like squirrel or bunny leeches, Sparkle Minnows, or in lakes Simi Seal or Goat Leeches, are our most effective streamers overall. They’re often all you need. In lakes we often fish these patterns unweighted, but in rivers larger ‘Buggers in particular often produce best with coneheads, tungsten beads, or even brass barbell eyes. Fish a #4–6 with either a nymph or a much smaller streamer on the dropper.

Sculpins: Sculpin imitations are extremely effective on larger rivers, especially when you’re floating the Yellowstone and hoping for a small number of large fish. While Woolly Buggers can work as sculpins (especially the Bow River Bugger with its big deer hair head deliberately intended to look like a sculpin’s big noggin), on float trips in particular you want more-specific patterns. Olive McCune’s Sculpins are most popular, but Sculpzillas, Sheila Sculpins, Zoo Cougars, and many other sculpins also work. Small classic Muddler Minnows also work well, especially on rough water in Yellowstone Park where they might have crossover appeal as drowned grasshoppers.

Other Streamers: The large articulated patterns all the rage now can work around here, but most are not legal in Yellowstone Park as-tied. These multi-hook patterns must have one hook point removed and cannot be tied with lead eyes, which cuts out many Kelly Galloup patterns. Because of these restrictions, we mostly fish large articulated patterns on the Yellowstone River, especially in April and the fall. Slender baitfish-style streamers (Zonkers and Double Bunnies) work well in lakes, especially Yellowstone Lake where they look like baby cutthroats to lake trout, and can also be the ticket on the Yellowstone River at certain times, especially in late summer when the trout have seen one too many fake sculpins. Slender, bright bucktail and marabou streamers work well on all lakes containing brook trout. Crayfish patterns work best on the Lower Madison River and a couple private lakes.

Other Flies

Other flies the trout might eat near Gardiner are a grab bag that tend to be useful here and there at certain times of year.

Scuds & Sowbugs are most common around here in lakes and the Paradise Valley spring creeks. They usually aren’t the top flies even in these locations, but they’re usually good for a fish or two if you can’t figure things out. Most of these crustaceans are gray-olive in color around here. If you visit one of Montana’s famous tailwater rivers (Missouri and Bighorn), a wider color palette is required, with pink or “rainbow” flies in particular crucial from late fall through May.

Worms: Worm patterns (San Juan, UDO, Wire Worm or Pig Sticker) are most useful on streams in spring. They may also work immediately following rain events when the water is rising and getting muddy. The higher the water, the bigger and nastier the worm. Big Red San Juans work on the Yellowstone when it is just barely clear enough to fish, for example, whereas on the Paradise Valley spring creeks, a slender whip-like worm tied from Sexi Floss or Spanflex (spandex floss) works well from February through April. On lakes, San Juans work from spring into summer, with translucent red epoxy-coated worms suggesting both aquatic worms as well as huge chironomid larvae.

Egg Patterns work best in March, April, and October–November, all periods when spawning trout mean lots of eggs are in the drift for other trout to eat. Fish the deep water downstream of spawning areas. Pale pink and pale orange (often called apricot) standard egg patterns are best, with or without a bead or a dark orange “eye spot.” Standard nymphs with a flame orange bead also work, especially from late fall through spring, when they push the “egg button” while otherwise looking like normal trout food.