The Case Against Fly Fishing Media's Favorite Hatch
By Miles Nolte
The following statement does not necessarily represent the beliefs Skwala Fishing. The author is solely responsible for its contents and accepts any and all liability, public ire, threats of excommunication from angling media, and frowny face emojis.
Don’t believe the hype.
That may sound odd, even disingenuous, coming from a guy who gets paid to convince you our products are superior to everything else in the market. Am I a hype man? The Flava Flav of waders? Maybe—I’ve been called worse—but I’m also pretty damn cynical and skeptical. One thing I mistrust immensely:
You been following our Instagram lately? You see the salmonfly posts? The macro video of giant stoneflies crawling all over each other, the artsy slo-mo of a four-winged behemoth fluttering awkwardly away, the time-lapse emergence, trout chasing down flies the size of Andre The Giant’s pinky finger and savaging them off the surface? How about the other roughly 87,000,000 salmonfly related posts that have invaded your feed over the past three months?
This isn’t new. Before posts we had magazines and tv shows that sold the same mythology. Just find the salmonflies, and you’ll be transported to piscatorial Valhalla where the trout are all giant and stupid and eat surface flies that even an octogenarian with severe cataracts can see.
A salmonfly hangs on after emerging from a local river in Southwest Montana.
Salmonflies are overrated.
There. I said it. Such a public admission might be considered a sin against the gods and gatekeepers of fly fishing media, but you know what? It’s true.
I’ve spent 20 seasons fishing christened salmonfly corridors—the Madison, Yellowstone, and Big Hole, among others—and over those years, I have tasted glory. I’ve seen clients revel in the ecstatic fugue state that follows a day when all the big fish in the river are actively hunting giant bugs, and even poorly presented casts are met with battleship sinking explosions. Those miraculous moments do happen, but they are far less common and predictable than fishing media (especially social media) would lead you to believe.
The vast majority of salmonfly days go something like this: You hear the big bugs are hatching on X river, so you head over there with sweaty palms and visions of Walters dancing in your head. You arrive at a boat ramp or access point that looks more like Coachella than A River Runs Through It. But that’s cool, you figure, because the bugs are there, willows crawling with orange-throated adults, females lugging bulbous egg sacs on their abdomens. You tie on a big fluffy dry and begin casting with full confidence that this will be the best day of your life. You then grow progressively more and more disappointed as each fishless hour passes.
Why? How could this possibly be? You nailed the hatch, where are the fish?
A hungry brown trout who couldn't resist even the simplest presentation.
Well, let’s be logical. Trout can only eat so many salmonflies before gorging themselves like Pizza the Hutt, and they get at least halfway stuffed eating nymphs before the adults ever make an appearance. Additionally, when 80 boats put in at Lyon’s Bridge with 160 anglers are throwing salmonflies at every bank, boulder, and bucket, trout wise up to the game pretty fast. After about 5 years of guiding, I studiously avoided any piece of water rumored to have salmonflies on it.
Salmonflies are not the problem. Larger-than-life expectations created by fly fishing media folks (like me), gear companies (like this one), outfitters and guides (like I used to be), and influencers are the problem. The truth is that if you just happen to be there on the day when it’s happening, you will enjoy one of the best days of dry fly fishing imaginable in the Lower 48 states. Days like that shouldn’t happen often, and they shouldn’t be gifted to everyone with an Instagram account and access to good rivers.
That’s what really makes salmonflies special; they’re enigmatic, and finicky, and difficult to predict. If you wanted things to be easy, you should have taken up something other than fly fishing.
Miles Nolte probably burned your favorite spot in some fishing publication or another over the past couple decades. He also made a living pimping out the rivers of Southwest Montana and parts of Bristol Bay, Alaska for much of his adult life. He was the cohost of the fishing podcast, Bent, which pissed off fly anglers and bait fishermen alike. In his twenties, he waited tables at a country club, which is why he hates golf and golfers.