The Stonefly, Plecotera, make up a large part of trout diets. They are at their most gluttonous over the summer months when the nymphs will start to emerge from near the riverbanks. With over 2000 species of stonefly around the world, the US only has a selection of about 16 species, thus helping us to narrow down our fly patterns to the ones that we know work.
The stonefly is one of the largest insects in our fresh waters, with only terrestrials topping them. The stonefly has a full life cycle, with the adults having up to a four-year life span. What is great about the full lifecycle is that we, as anglers, can tie and represent each stage of the insect from the egg right through to the adult (dry fly).
So why is it important for us to carry a few of these patterns? Well, simply put, when the stonefly hatch is on, it’s on! Things get heated, and although there 1000’s of flies on the water and the fish are boiling everywhere, a poorly presented stonefly will be ignored. The same goes for the nymph stage and pattern.
Ninety percent of a trout’s diet is made up of the nymph stage of insects, so it would make sense to fish for them low and catch more fish. The stonefly nymph is a much larger fly when compared to other mayfly and caddis species. With this in mind, we all know how far a big brown will move for a fattier/ larger meal.
- Favorite Stonefly Nymphs
- 1. Kaufmann Black Stone
- 2. Edwards Black Stonefly
- 3. Giant Black Stone
- 4. Black Rubber leg Stone AKA Girdle Bug
- Fast Tie – Gridle Bug
- 5. Prince Nymph
- How to Setup a Fly Rod for Stonefly Nymphs
- Favorite Stonefly Dries Flies
- 6. Golden Stone
- 7. Foam Stone
- Fast Tie – Foam Stone
- 8. Chubby Chernobyl
- 9. Henry's Fork Foam Stone
- 10. Little Yellow Stone
- How to Setup a Fly Rod for Stonefly Dries
- Last Cast with a Stonefly
- Sources and More Reading
- Ventures Fly Co. 40 Fly Assortment Has a Great Selection of Flies
Favorite Stonefly Nymphs
Let’s start the chapter with this, NINETY PERCENT, that’s the percentage of nymphs and emergers that make a trout’s diet. Let’s call them the underwater meals. While the visual dry fly eat is what most purists are after, and nobody will argue that it is pretty cool to watch, then fight and land the fish but under the water is where it is all happening, and when you drift a decent stonefly nymph through a potential run, chances are you will go straight very quickly.
Stonefly nymphs are poor swimmers and tend to send most of their nymph stage of life crawling along the bottom of the riverbed. It is here where they feed by passing food sand on the sources attached to the rock. What does this mean for the angler? Well, it means we need to fish deep, covering that bottom section. You want to feel that fly bouncing on the bottom from time to time.
During the higher waters, snow runoffs, or heavy rains is when the stonefly is at its most vulnerable, and this is we, as anglers, get right into fishing the nymph. Yes, sometimes the high waters mean dirty water, and that’s ok as well. You then need to adapt and use the brighter, shiner patterns that stand out. These patterns can also have a few brighter legs as attractors.
It goes without saying that our stone fly nymph imitations are meant to imitate the stonefly of that life stage, but we can tie a few nymph patterns that could lend to imitating a larger, cased caddis or something like that as well.
During the emerger stage of a stonefly’s life, we tend to fish lighter nymphs and often on a double rig with two different weighted patterns. Fished near the surface as this is where the stonefly with start the process. This is known as the crawling stage, and as such, this is when we fish the crawlers.
In the below section, I will go through the stonefly imitations that I like to tie, enjoy fishing, and most importantly, catch fish!
1. Kaufmann Black Stone
Randall Kaufmann designed this fly pattern with one thing in mind. To get down! This is a great pattern to fish on the bottom, and if you were to only have one pattern, then this would be the pattern to carry.
This is a relatively easy pattern to tie, with a few key areas to focus on. The head weight and multiple thorax divisions really create that natural look.
Black is a great base color to work with, as it opens a few doors to other imitations as well. The pattern has all the right triggers, ad when fished correctly. It can be deadly. Due to its size, Kaufmann’s pattern can be used as a search pattern and will convince trout and steelhead alike.
Best fished in blacks and browns in sizes #4 to #10
This is a great little stonefly imitation. The pattern works well as a dropper fly and would be great if fished in tandem with the Kaufmann stonefly. This pattern works well just after the first snow melt and can imitate a range of smaller insects.
This is also a good pattern to fish during the hatch as the dropper flies as well. With a little added weight in the thorax, it drops down and gets in the zone fast. It is one of my favorite patterns to use for this method.
I prefer the Edward stone in smaller sizes, from a #14 to a #18. The colors are black and darker brown for the wintertime.
Very similar to the Kaufmann stonefly and, in all honesty, probably drew inspiration from it. This is the beadhead version, which makes it even heavier to fish. Remember that most of the stonefly patterns have a good bit of lead wrapped in front of it. This is to obviously add the weight needed to cut the column faster, and it provides that essential taper to the pattern that stone flies are known for.
Large Dragonfly Larvae or even large Shrimp or immature Crayfish can be on the cards if this pattern is fished correctly. Deep and slow is the best way to fish this pattern. As mentioned in the Kaufmann section, you really want to feel the fly bouncing on the bottom of the stone bed.
Blacks and browns in Sizes #6 to #10 are the best for me.
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- I love chasing brown trout, big lake run monsters, night time trophies and memories of big boys that got away. Read 👉 The Complete Guide to Fly Fishing for Brown Trout
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- I’m not sure if any fish is more beautiful than a brook trout. Learn how to find and fish for these beauties 👉 How To Fly Fish for Brook Trout
- The perfect evening for me is floating in a canoe on a tiny lake at that “Magic Hour” around sunset and casting to Bluegills. Read 👉 How To Fly Fish for Bluegill
4. Black Rubber leg Stone AKA Girdle Bug
The Girdle bug is one of those fly patterns that doesn’t look very ‘fly fishing like’ but yet it is a very popular pattern to fish in hatches with bigger insects and can imitate a good few terrestrials as well. Originally tied to imitate the stonefly nymph, hence its added weight, it has become an allrounder pattern in my mind and shouldn’t be left out of the fly box on any trout or even bass trip.
The girdle triggers are its legs which can be tied in a few hotspot colors for those dirtier waters and tough days.
My best sizes are size #12 and size #10’s in black with orange hotspot legs.
Fast Tie – Gridle Bug
Guide Tip – When tying in the legs on the girdle or any pattern with legs, rather keep them longer than you need and trim them waterside. If you cut them too short, the profile and pattern will be out and look off. My golden rule is if the pattern looks off to you, then it may look worse to the fish. Not having confidence in the fly, it has been proven that we fish worse if we are fishing a pattern we don’t feel very confident with.
5. Prince Nymph
The Beadhead Prince Nymph, also known as the ‘Brown Forked Tail,’ has been around for 90 years. Developed by Doug Prince for his home waters in the early days, the pattern has undergone a few changes, but the basic form and function of the pattern have remained. It is a great pattern to have and fish in various weights and colors. If you are a Prince Nymph kind of angler, you with most probably have a whole side of the box dedicated to them.
The fly can be a little tricky to tie, the forked tail created by the two goose biots is what makes the pattern in my eyes, and these lengths and sizes need to be in ratio to the whole pattern.
I like to fish the pattern as a point fly as it is generally heavier due to the lead in the underbody.
The lead serves three purposes in this pattern and similar patterns. 1) serves as weight which is obvious. 2) the wrapped lead holds the bead in position, and 3) the lead helps with a correct body taper, thus saving us in the thread. If we were to wrap the taper, it would take too long and use too much thread. You will fish that adding a little lead wire will do wonders for the above applications.
I fish the pattern in its natural colors in sizes #14 and #12/10 with the appropriate tungsten bead.
Ventures Fly Co. 40 Fly Assortment Has a Great Selection of Flies
This assortment has most of the flies needed lay the foundation for an effective fly box. the most common dries, nymphs and streamers. Check out the on water video review on YouTube – HERE
How to Setup a Fly Rod for Stonefly Nymphs
As we know now, the stonefly nymph hangs on the bottom of the riverbed, so this is what we now need to focus on. The best rig would be a euro nymphing rig or mono rig, as some refer to it. The aim is to keep that nymph bouncing on the bottom and always maintaining direct contact with the fly. This works particularly well with a stonefly nymph as a point fly because they are usually weighted. The second dropper pattern can be slightly smaller and lighter to cover the water just off the bottom.
A ten-foot rod with a 20-foot leader is ideal. Again this is very subjective to each angler and can be altered as needed. This is how I fish, and this is what works for me.
Guide Pro Tip: Learn the techniques I use to keep my flies floating in 👉 7 Ways to Keep Your Dry Flies Floating
Favorite Stonefly Dries Flies
A stonefly hatch is something to witness for yourself. The skies are covered with the adults, and the riverbanks are lined with empty casings.
Once the stonefly has emerged from its casing, the insect won’t naturally return to below the water’s surface. The now adult stonefly will allow its wings to dry then attempt to seek refuge in the nears trees and shrubbage. It is here where it will wait for the perfect time to mate. As an angler who wants to capitalize on this life cycle, we fish large, buoyant dries. Focus on the edge of the river nearest to the bank and work these areas well.
A dry dropper with the lighter nymphs I spoke about earlier, as the drop will work very well here as well, especially if you fish during an emerging cycle.
The hatch is a feeding frenzy and truly something to witness and fish. As the warmer weather approaches, the waters start to warm, and the fish start to move to the faster, food richer areas around the time of the stonefly hatch. The fish feed hard, and it isn’t uncommon to catch a fish with a distended stomach.
Learn more FLY FISHING TACTICS with these articles
- Learn about reading moving water in – Reading Moving Water for More Trout
- You can pick the perfect fly and make a great cast BUT presenting is everything learn more in – The Art of Presentation While Fly Fishing
- You see the dimple caused by a trout, what does it mean? Read more in Understanding Trout Rise Forms
- Are you sneaking up on fish? This is a MUST learn how with this article – Learning How to Approach Fish
- Fish-On! Okay now what? – Learn how to Land and Release Fish
Are you read to learn even more? I offer a FREE video dry fly fishing workshop that includes downloads, casting and fly selection it’s easy signup with this link – How 2 Fly Fish
6. Golden Stone
With the bigger terrestrials and bugs that we imitate on the surface, there is one thing to keep in mind. How does the pattern look from the bottom? The silhouette that the fly creates in the water. Does it lie in or on the water film? These are important factors when tying a dry or bug pattern. The Golden Stone and specificaLibby’sby’s golden stone do all of the above really well, providing you tie it correctly.
The silhouette that is created and the way the pattern rides the water film is very natural and thus making it a very good pattern to fish in the stone fly hatch, madness.
Keeping the colors natural and as single-toned as possible, it is a great pattern to single drift with or dry dropper, and lastly, it is a good pattern to skate with.
Skating a fly- is a little trick you can do for a little extra movement. Activate the pattern by wiggling your rod tip near the end of a drift. By doing this, your fly will make small movements on the water’s surface. Now I know we are taught to aim for ‘he ‘dead drift, but in certain scenarios, this little tip really makes the session.
7. Foam Stone
The foam stone is one of our favorite patterns to fish during a hatch. It is a great pattern to fish as a single dry or as a dry dropper rig. I love this pattern for its visual aspects and how the foam rides the water film. Foam floats are a little different from how most people think it does.
It isn’t like a cork and doesn’t bob around, the small microcells do get water clogged, and it is at this point that I think the fly works its best. The same applies to the hopper, Chernobyl’s, and other foam-crafted flies. The foam sits in the film, and this is how I like to fish the fly. If you think about how the larger insects float in the water, you will understand what I am after.
Yellows and browns are great choices for this fly. I carry 14’s, 16’s, and 18s in my box.
Below is a link to an step by step for the fly, and please, as per normal, you can change and adapt what you need to. If you have any questions, please send over a note from the page – contact me.
Fast Tie – Foam Stone
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Chubbies are a must for any angler who likes a little surface action from time to time. I, for one, carry a smaller box dedicated to these patterns, which include hoppers and foam stones. It really does pay to have a few of these in various sizes and colors. The Chubby Chernobyl doesn’t need much introduction either, as it has been used for years to imitate various bugs across all environments.
It floats really well; it is highly visible and what the ability to support a heavy tungsten bead under it. I prefer my yarn posts to be in a hot spot orange, but I do tie them in white. I then use my hotspot skaffer to color the post slightly. This work very well in those low-light conditions.
I like the larger sizes #10 and #12 in again the more natural colors.
The Henry’s fork Foam Stone is a hybrid version of the chubby Chernobyl. The head gets a foldover of the foam to give it a more tapered bullet head in appearance. A similar technique is used for bullet head hoppers. These head finishes work well when the wind is up as they cut it better, and you can get a little more distance.
Mike Lawson originally designed the pattern to imitate the golden stone, but it can be fished as the other stones as well. It is best to start the pattern on the high top and let it ride high. If you don’t have much success, then change the tactic and fish it in the film as a sunken fly. This is a very effective method when the fish is picky.
Fished in the tans and browns in size #10 and #12 are my preferred way to fish these flies.
The yellow stone is a small pattern designed to imitate the yellow sally on the freestone rivers. The fish often key in on the orange/red egg sack of the insect and try to eat them as they fly low and drop their eggs. This is why a great technique when fishing these flies is to bounce them on the water’s surface to imitate a low-flying Sally.
Fished in smaller sizes, #14s, and #12s, this is a deadly paten to fish when the hatch is on.
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How to Setup a Fly Rod for Stonefly Dries
These days there are many ways you can choose to fish your dry flies. Many anglers like to keep them close and in contact, while others purposefully use a slacked leader method to ensure drag-free drift. I like to use both approaches. When I’m on a pronominally nymphing water, I would change my tippet rig to a dry or dry dropper rig and fish my mono leader setup.
This works better with a dropper rig, as the added weight helps with the shooting of the flies. If I know, I’m on the water where a hatch can be expected, or if I’m feeling a whole lot traditional, I will rig up my glass 8-foot dry fly rod with a long 12 to 15 foot leader.
A long leader to provide slack to let the dry fly drift naturally with a couple s-curves. That natural drift is the key to enticing shy trout during a stonefly hatch.
Last Cast with a Stonefly
Like them or not, it’s so worth carrying both nymph and dry patterns with you. If you are new to the world of fly fishing, the above selection will have you covered. If you are a well-versed angler, I hope the above will provide some new insights or at least get you amped to get out on the water.
Guide Pro Tip: Hey, I’ve got a FREE Fly Tying Class. Videos, and written instructions can be found with this shortcut link 👉 How to Tie Flies Step by Step
Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.