Last-Minute Stones

By Jeff Morgan

Stonefly season is here. Are your fly boxes full? If not, the days are slipping away before your cherished annual rendezvous with the monster bugs. You want to try some new patterns, but the Low Ball Stonefly and Rocky Nymph , this column's stonefly installments from last year, take too long to tie.

Don't panic! Here are some patterns I worked on last season. They are fun and fast to tie. Best of all, trout seem to like them!

Chocolate Thunder

The Chocolate Thunder was one of my many attempts to break away from the all-black and golden yellow paradigm that most big stonefly nymphs fall into these days.

Many salmonfly nymphs are not black, but a dark chocolate brown. This fly approximates that shade well when it's wet. To human eyes the difference may be miniscule, but those small color changes make a profound difference in the relative visibility of nymphs three or four feet underwater.

The back of this nymph is a simple strip of brown Body Stretch, ribbed with the same black or brown thread you're using on the fly. This takes little time to add and greatly adds to the segmented appearance of the nymph.

This material can be continued to the thorax and folded over for wingcases. While the fold-over technique takes a little practice to make a tight fly, it is certainly faster than preparing and cutting turkey tail or other materials for the wingcases.

The Chocolate Thunder's leg structure is an attempt to blend the two most common behavioral responses of drifting stonefly nymphs. When drifting, stoneflies usually either kick their legs in the attempt latch onto the bottom, or they tuck up in a ball with their legs close to their body and held still. The combination of the brown rubber legs and pheasant body feather give a unique appearance to the drifting fly: not as much action as an all-rubber-leg pattern, but a bit more motion than a legless pattern.

Riffle Monster

On stonefly nymphs, foam can add bulk that otherwise requires time-consuming dubbing or chenille. The Riffle Monster is a standard rubber-leg nymph that utilizes foam in the abdomen and black Estaz in the thorax; these add some sparkle. The wingcase, as on the Chocolate Thunder, is simply Body Stretch folded over twice.

I like to tie this fly with the legs swept back along the body, but this is simply because I designed it as a low-motion fly (like the Chocolate Thunder) to fit a niche in my fly box somewhere between a Rubber Legs and a Kaufmanns Stonefly .

Half Chernobyl

The reason most anglers love salmonfly season is that they get to throw huge dry flies that seem more suited for bass or sailfish than trout.

These monster size 2 and 4 flies work very well, but there are times when a smaller stonefly imitation can really pay dividends. In the first days of the hatch when fish are reluctant to rise and often only bump the big patterns, a smaller imitation can often encourage a preliminary taste.

Also, golden stoneflies that don't live in food-rich waters will fail to reach their two-inch potential. In that case a smaller stonefly is often the best choice for the duration of the hatch.

The Half Chernobyl attempts to reconcile the prospect of actually tying a Chernobyl pattern on my line (The horror! The horror!) with the fact that they produce fish consistently for thousands of anglers. This fly is basically a Chernobyl hopper with some modifications to give it a more stonefly-like silhouette.

To tie the fly, first cut the Chernobyl body in half, which gives you a thin body that is perfect to match a size 10-12 stonefly (assuming the hook is a Dai Riki 270). This also doubles your material (about four dozen flies per $3.00 package!) and allows you to tie a variety of Chernobyl-style flies in miniature sizes. When tying for stoneflies, use the brown-orange for salmonflies and tan-yellow for golden stoneflies.

Next add a fabric underwing and a deer-hair overwing to match the downwing stonefly profile. The orange foam "sighter" serves to cover up the tie-in point for the deer hair as well as improving the fly's visibility.

Finally, position all the rubber legs at the front of the fly. This gives you an imprint on the water that is eerily similar to a stonefly seen from below.

The final product is a high-floating small stonefly. It gives you a better profile than a Stimulator or Clarks Stonefly , yet it doesn't take appreciably longer to tie. And it certainly floats better than either, and it can double as a hopper fly in the summer. Further, the "natural" enhancements may take away the tinge of the guilt that comes with tying on a Chernobyl pattern!


Chocolate Thunder
Riffle Monster
Half Chernobyl

Jeff Morgan has written many articles for Westfly, mostly on entomology and fly tying. He is the author of An Angler's Guide to the Oregon Cascades and Small Stream Fly Fishing.