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In the winter, fish have a much slower metabolism than in open water, so panfish and trout can get pretty finicky under the ice. Although they may shy away from a big bait, I’ve seen many fish swim up and inhale the fly.

Tight lining has taken the ice fishing scene by storm in the past few years, and for good reason. This highly productive technique utilizes quick-sinking tungsten in combination with realistic ice flies that turn timid, cold-front fish into biters. Hand-tied in Minnesota, our flies are made to withstand fish after fish.

Spikes (mayfly nymphs) and scuds are a favorite food source for winter panfish. The Slab Spike, with its segmented body, rubber legs, and chickabou tail, it closely imitates a small mayfly nymph. The ‘Gill Shrimp is the realistic match of scuds that inhabit lakes. The movement of the chickabou and ice-dub body entices even the pickiest of fish.

Pile of bluegills on Gull Lake that fell for a #14 Slab Spike in an afternoon of fishing, and this is the middle class.

Pile of bluegills and crappies that fell for ice flies on an afternoon of fishing.


Get some hand-tied ice flies in our store.

Tight lines on the ice,

3 Brothers Flies


Top Flies for Panfish

Big panfish eat few flies consistently, while smaller fish swallow everything that moves. In order to catch big panfish you’ll need a box that can adapt to water conditions and fish location. Here are the flies that help me catch more big fish in a variety of conditions:

  Pink Punch

The scruffy collar pushes water and the cone head gets it down, making this fly a good option for murky water or aggressive fish. The pink color makes it irresistible to crappies, and the ice dub gives it a translucent minnow effect.

Thread: Pink or Black 8/o UNI
Hook: # 12-8
Bead: x-sm Silver Conehead 
Tail: Pink Marabou or pseudo marabou
Body: Pink Ice Dub in a dubbing loop

pink punch crappie streamer


the flashy veil and weight of the cone head make it perfect for murky or deep water

the flashy veil and weight of the cone head make it perfect for murky or deep water

   Noah’s Minnow

The Noah’s Minnow is a great fly for picky panfish. The marabou tail twitches in the water driving the most skittish fish to bite. The natural colors and bead chain eyes make it a natural option to throw. I created this one in 2010 and have put it through many renovations, but this is the “finished” product (for now).

Thread: Black 8/o
Hook: # 8 to #12
Eyes: Black or silver bead chain
Tail: Marabou, crystal flash (opt.)
Body: Wrapped marabou, same plume as tail
Extra Weight: 3-4 wraps of .025 round lead free wirethe final fly
 fly fishing for big bluegills

  Flash Bugger

The minnow-like characteristics of flashy estaz followed by the flowing marabou make the flash bugger a killer fly for panfish. It is really easy to tie and extremely productive in murky water or for aggressive fish. My favorite color combos would be pink\blue, pink\chartreuse, gray\blue, chartreuse, olive, and brown (tail\body).

Hook: #8-12
Thread: 6/0 UNI
Bead: 1/8″ copper
Tail: Marabou (any color)
Body: Eztaz (any color)Flash bugger
A nice perch on the flash bugger

A nice perch on the flash bugger

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

A Flash Bugger streamer fooled this nice bluegill

 DNA Mini Clouser

The DNA Mini Clouser is a great for big bluegills and crappies. The profile and shine of the DNA Frosty Fish Fiber looks almost exactly like a small minnow. They’ve got cool transparency that makes them look really nice in the water.

Thread: Black 6/o UNI
Hook: #8-12 wet fly
Eyes: Black or silver bead chain
Over wing: Chartreuse DNA Frosty Fish Fiber, tied on bottom of shank
Under wing: White DNA Frosty Fish Fiber, tied on top of shank




  Panfish Gurgler

This fly is bullet proof, doesn’t sink, and pushes a big wake – a great combination for big bluegills. Both fish and fisherman can track this fly in low light conditions. It will produce any time in shallow water, but the hottest bite is sunset.

Hook: # 12
Thread: 6/o UNI
Tail: Any color of marabou
Body: Palmered hackle
Back: Any color of thin foam
Legs: Centipede legs
Marker: black permanent
the Panfish gurgler a great fly for topwater crappies.

The Panfish gurgler, a great fly for topwater  panfish.


  Soft Hackle Telico

When the fish are less aggressive, you’ll need a subtle fly. The soft hackle will entice the picky fish, making it a must-have for a versatile panfish box. Also add a bead to get it down to deeper fish. This fly has saved several of my trips from being skunked.

Hook: #14 wet
Thread: Black 8/0 UNI
Bead: 3/32 gold copper bead
Tail: Lemon wood duck flank
Body: Yellow GSP or floss
Rib: Copper wire
Shellback: Pheasant tail fibers, folded over body and rib
Thorax: Peacock herl
Hackle: Rust brown/white hen hackle

Tellico Soft Hackle

Tellico Soft Hackle


Tellico Nymph

Bead Head Tellico Nymph

 slab bluegill on the fly mn
bluegill dinner fly fishing

All the flies combined

Tight Lines,

4 Tips for Catching Crappies on the Fly

Fly fishing tips for crappies(Editor’s note: Here’s a post from Noah, the youngest member of the crew and resident panfish guru, on a few tips to help you catch more crappies on the fly.)

Thoughts on flies, location, presentation, and gear that’ll help you start catching more crappies on the fly rod.

As lightning flashed in the distance I stood on a dock casting aggressively. “Just one more fish,” I said frantically to myself. Despite Conner’s warning I stayed on the dock and kept fishing. Stripping in my line, I felt a tug and set the hook. After a short but spirited fight I landed the fish – a crappie, my very first on the fly.

Crappies, a feisty panfish with a big mouth and a bigger appetite, eat flies voraciously and put a good bend in a light fly rod, making them a blast to target with fly gear. To catch fish consistently you’ll need a stocked box, a calculated location, a well thought-out presentation, and the right gear. Here are a few general tips and thoughts that’ll help you start catching crappies more consistently.

 #1. Your Box

When tying or choosing a fly for crappies, there are a few things you should consider: color, size, and sink rate. Bright colors are ideal for an aggressive bite, and natural colors are ideal for more timid fish. Size is another important factor. Sizes 14 through 6 are a good start for crappies, with bigger flies producing fewer but larger fish. Deeper water demands a bead or cone head, but an unweighted fly will suffice in water less than six feet. Also, match the weight of the fly to the water column were you will be fishing.

pink punch crappie streamer

The pink punch is one of my favorite flies for crappie.


Crappie fishing presents the angler with varying depths and water conditions, making a box that can change with the conditions a necessity. Flashy flies that can push water and get down fast are good for deep, murky, or low light conditions. Lightly-weighted flies in natural colors with some flash are more productive in shallow or clear water. Poppers are the obvious choice for top water situations.


In lakes and rivers crappies forage on a wide variety of food. Although crappies will feed on bugs, they strongly prefer minnows, making them an easy first choice for anglers. Bugs can produce just as well, particularly near weedlines. Always look in the water and match fly profiles to possible food sources.


the flashy veil and weight of the cone head make it perfect for murky or deep water

The flashy veil and weight of the cone head and the ability to push water make the Pink Punch productive for murky, low light, or deep water.

 noah's minnow with soft hackle

#8 Noah’s minnow with soft hackle (finesse)


#2. Location

Crappie location varies widely throughout the year, with fish frequenting habitats ranging from shallow, mud bays to offshore basins in response to seasonal conditions. When choosing a spot always keep in mind the four “C’s” for crappies: cover (brush, weeds, and rocks often attract fish),  contour (drop offs, depth, humps, holes, etc.), chow (the fish are where the food is), and comfort (comfortable water temp and current speed, with slower and slack water producing more fish).


Though crappies usually relate to log jams, rock piles,weed lines, and submerged brush, they’ll often abandon cover and suspend in open water, especially in the late summer months. One of the best opportunities to catch crappie on a fly comes in the spring when crappies move to the muddy shallows to spawn and feed. Crappies will often roam weed lines or drop offs in search for food. Bait skipping the surface is a tell tale sign of where they might be. Always analyze the situation and conditions before you randomly pick a spot.


#3. Presentation 

To catch fish consistently not only do you need a good fly but you also need to get down to fish and perform a convincing retrieve. Try to mimic one of the crappie’s three primary prey types: a bug, a bait fish, or top water. Mach the retrieve to what they’re feeding on and experiment to find what works, as what produces today won’t always produce tomorrow. The cast location is another important factor. Cast toward cover, drop-offs, weed lines, or bait skipping the surface. If you see a possible food source in the water match the size, color and swim pattern. Think about where you’re putting the cast as it will determine where your fly will swim.


Crappie from the north fork of the crow river.

Crappie from the north fork of the crow river.

#4. The Gear


The best setup for crappies depends on the presentation it will accomplish. A two to six weight rod and reel are excellent tools for the job (a glass rod is always a blast). The length of the rod depends on how far you’re casting, with longer rods preforming better for longer distances, but a seven and a half to nine footer are adequate options. Sink tips are ideal for deep water when you want a rapid sink rate, but floating lines will suffice the rest of the time. Where you are fishing will determine leader length. A shorter length is better in brush and situations requiring tight casting, but a longer leader is better in shallow water where fly line will spook fish. My favorite tippet size is 6-8lb test. Other necessities include: pliers, scissors, extra tippet, split shot, and a well-stocked fly box.



4wt rod, extra 8lb, hemostats, and a couple of mint tin fly boxes.

4wt rod, extra 8lb, hemostats, and a couple of mint tin fly boxes.


Crappie are definitely one of my favorite to catch. No matter where you target them, chasing crappies with a fly rod is a downright fun way to spend a day. Next time your on the water, keep these tips in mind to catch a few more crappies on the long rod. And remember to just have fun!


My first one.

My first one, small but a start.

Tight Lines,


8 Tips for Summer Trout

The warmest day of trout fishing I’ve ever experienced also happened to be one of my best. It was one of those stifling hot, sticky July afternoons where you lament the fact that you have to wear long sleeves to avoid the nettles, but the Driftless, like many good trout destinations, guards it’s most precious creeks with a fierce wall of bluffs and thorns and more than one type of irritating weed, making long sleeves a necessity if you want to avoid plowing to the creek like a madman. The welts and rashes that these weeds leave are nearly as memorable as the spectacular valleys they grow in.

By late morning we’d hiked nearly a mile through narrow draws and thick brush and awful weeds, and the heat was beginning to get to us. The dense canopy of old-growth hardwoods that towered over the valley floor provided some relief and added a deeply majestic impression to the coulee, hiding the secrets of the valley with a lush blanket of green. This was rugged country, filled with deep coulees, sharp ridges, and dead-end draws that all look nearly alike. You cover lots of ground on this sort of trip, but the bluffs make you wonder if you’re actually getting anywhere. It wasn’t a particularly easy hike, especially in the heat, but the stream at the end of the journey was well worth it.

We rounded the corner of a tight ridge and paused. The valley opened up to a breathtaking canyon bordered by massive, towering limestone bluffs capped with ancient oaks and maples. The canyon floor was blanketed with a mix of wild raspberries and nettles and grass. Bluffs and old-growth forest made for a spectacular scene that I won’t soon forget. But the crown-jewel was the creek that carved it’s way through the fertile valley floor, rushing over boulders and brimming with trout.

The water ran a deep blue color and was stained just enough to hide an angler and get the trout excited. It was exactly what you hope for when you hike through stifling heat and nearly a mile of burnweed to toss some flies at trout, though seriously expecting this sort of thing can be quite dangerous for a fisherman’s fragile psyche. We jumped straight into the creek and cooled off a bit before stringing up the rods. I headed downstream armed with a nymphing setup and plowed through the head-high weeds.

The first stretch, a long, slow pool with a decent riffle at the head, failed to produce any trout in the bright overhead sun, though a few sporadic bankside risers hinted at some promising trout activity. The next piece of water was a sweet sight; a series of swift riffles and churning pocket water plunged into a half-dozen emerald pools. The water was quick enough to make it easy, and a few big boulders shaded part of the creek. In short, a perfect stretch of trout stream.

The fishing was good, too. I pulled over a dozen trout from the fastest spots and shaded pockets, mostly browns in the ten inch range, all wild and feisty despite the stifling heat. A thick-shouldered brown with deep, golden flanks and bold spots highlighted the afternoon.

fifteen inch Driftless Area backcountry trout fly fishing MN spring creek


Hot summer days on the streams aren’t always as good as that one. Anglers often battle scorching temps, oppressive humidity, lazy trout, and biting insects and weeds. But the hot summer months can also be a great time to hit the water. Hoppers bring big trout to the surface. Tricos give a challenging yet rewarding game of frustration, tiny dries, and sometimes triumph. And there’s always a flurry of activity at first and last light, along with the trout you’ll coax during the middle of the day.

Here are eight tips we’ve learned over the years for beating the heat and catching more trout during the summer months, in no particular order. They’re mostly aimed at the small trout streams of the Driftless, but they hold true for most trout streams around the Midwest…

#1: Get Stealthy

The low flows and ultra clear water of summer means ridiculously spooky trout in slow runs and pools. Stealth is an absolute necessity. Fortunately, bankside vegetation is at it’s peak, offering anglers a good way to conceal themselves from wary trout. I think good, dirty stealth is something that all truly good anglers have focused on and nearly mastered. It makes sense, really, because melting into the surroundings and approaching fish undetected only comes from a good understanding of where trout are going to be. It’s this sense of confidence and attention to detail that set the best anglers apart in the stealth game.

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

Trout sitting in low, clear water won’t tolerate a lazy, impatient fisherman, so be prepared to do some crawling and bushwacking for a few extra fish. It’s sweaty, muddy work, especially in the heat of summer, but it’s definitely worth the extra effort if you want to remain undetected.

You’ll learn quickly to walk softly and not wave your line over the fish, yet adding an extra element of stealth and thoughtfulness to your approach can really improve the catch rate. Think about casting angles, shadows, and any downstream trout that might bolt and spook the fish you’re working on. Wade if you must, but do it gently. Take the time to slow down, enjoy the creek, and plan your strategy of attack. Fish long, light leaders (as long as you can handle for small dries and nymphs, sometimes up to twelve or thirteen feet and 6X) and lighter rods. I’d guess that I spook more fish than I end up seeing on any particular outing, making stealth an awfully good and somewhat easy way to improve my angling.


#2: Find Cold Water

trout heaven in se mn

High in the headwaters….springs in the upper reaches offer colder water – and often happy trout

Spring brings cool, comfortable water, plenty of bugs, and happy trout, but once the dog days of summer hit, fishing can taper off rapidly as bright sun and warmer water put trout in a mood. Finding cold, comfortable water becomes key to finding happy summer trout, especially during those bright, scorching August afternoons when nothing seems to be moving.

There are a few good options for beating the heat and finding happy trout in the dog days of summer. First, try fishing higher up in the headwaters where cooler temps are more plentiful, particularly on spring creeks and tailwaters where springs and dams pump a consistent supply of icy water into the stream. Another good strategy is hitting the mouths of tributaries or venturing up the smaller creeks themselves. Tributary creeks are often quite a bit cooler than the main river and offer trout some thermal refuge, along with a good supply of food. Terrestrials can be deadly in these spots, and cold tributary mouths often surrender some big trout that nose up into the colder flow looking for a bit of relief from the heat. Fast water also holds more trout friendly temps (see tip #6) and can be very productive.

Note: Don’t accidentally kill trout! Watch water temps carefully and know when to give the coldwater fish a break. Hot water temps can put unnecessary and often lethal stress on trout when they’re caught. Most agree that 68 degree water temps is a good time to stop. For a more detailed look at safe summer trout temps, check out this piece from Hatch Magazine.


#3: Fish Smaller Flies

While trout will still occasionally snatch a #14 Hare’s Ear in faster riffles and runs, the combination of low, clear flows and tiny hatches makes micro nymphs and dries a good option for fooling trout consistently in the heat of summer.

Spring creek meadow...perfect water for terrestrials and small nymphs

Spring creek meadow…perfect water for terrestrials and small nymphs

Small bugs are particularly good for those torturously slow pools and runs where fussy trout float like gazelles on an African plain at hunting time, ready to bolt at the slightest sign of anything unnatural or risky. Besides requiring a great deal of stealth and even more patience, these trout can be fooled with tiny, lightweight nymphs floated under a small yarn indicator or an unobtrusive dry fly, preferably a terrestrial pattern.

But micro nymphs have also proven themselves in faster, more fisherman-friendly waters. I haven’t found many days when trout will turn down a tiny #20 Pheasant Tail or Sunk Trico Spinner rolled along the bottom behind another nymph. It’s a deadly tactic, and the extra finesse a tiny nymph offers is often enough to coax a trout to eat even during the middle of the day.


#4: Fish Bigger Flies

Fat late-summer brookie that crushed a big hopper

Fat late-summer brookie that crushed a big hopper

There’s nothing like watching a big trout smash a big dry on a hot summer afternoon. Once mid-July and August roll around, trout stop eating the perversely-tiny bugs of early and mid-summer and start attacking hoppers like smallmouth on steroids. It’s some of the most exciting dry-fly fishing of the season.

Cut banks and grassy meadow stretches are prime spots for tossing big terrestrials. Moths, hoppers, crickets, and all sorts of bigger bugs fall from the grass, and trout learn to watch for any big, lively critter hitting the surface. Big Stimulators in #6 to #12 are a good general match for a wide variety of terrestrials that end up in the creek. Hopper patterns in the same sizes are deadly. And if you mind your presentation and approach, leaders for bigger bugs don’t need to be quite as long and fine as those for tiny nymphs, bringing a nice change of pace from the tiny bugs.

#5: Fish Terrestrials

hopper fly rodTWThis one is obvious yet too important to leave out. Ants, beetles, hoppers, and attractor dries are some of the most consistent producers for summer trout. Drift them through pools, slap them near the bank, or toss them through meadow stretches (finding grassy sections or areas that are conducive to bugs falling into the stream is key). Trout love them. Don’t neglect to fish your terrestrials!

#6: Hit The Fast Water

Having spent the first few years of my fishing career on warmwater lakes where most fish retreat to the depths once summer hits, going shallow towards the fast water seemed a bit counterintuitive at first, but it can really hold great rewards. There are two primary reasons fast water holds plenty of trout: oxygen and cooler water temps. As water warms, its ability to hold good concentrations of dissolved oxygen – a critical aspect of a trout’s survival and comfort – suffers greatly, pushing trout out of areas with slower current and warmer water. Fast spots hold some of the most oxygenated water in the stream, acting as a natural aerator and providing cool, comfortable temps. This is particularly important on freestones and lower stretches of spring creeks that don’t receive a constant supply of good, cold water.

Black Beetle

Beetles are good producers in fast meadow runs and riffles

Faster riffles and runs that brush up against banks with brush or grass or undercuts that shade the water are particularly productive. They’re usually loaded with hoppers and ants and beetles, which is a good equation for producing eager trout.

Trout holding in fast water also tend to be less discriminating in their fly selection, so it’s naturally a good place to target fish during the summer months.


#7: Early and Late


Tricos…real good early morning fun

Some of the best fishing of the summer can be found right at dawn or dusk. The lower light levels bring colder temps and plenty of bugs on most days, which usually means some good fishing. Tricos are notorious for blanketing streams at some uncivilly early hour of the morning, usually when air temps hit somewhere around 68*F. These tiny bugs can provide some of the most consistent, frustrating, and rewarding dry fly fishing in the Driftless starting around early July and running through late September (Also, check out  the post on 3 Tips for the Trico Spinner Fall and 4 top flies for the Trico hatch for recipes, Trico strategies, and a few good bugs).

The last hour of the day can also bring some good fishing. In the midwest, many species of caddis hatch in the evening, and there are usually a few trout rising to various bugs as the sun slips behind the trees. A CDC & Elk or a small parachute Adams is good for these sporadic risers.

Night fishing can also be a good bet in the summer. The legendary Hex hatch starts around late June and can provide great fishing when the giant bugs start popping a bit after dark. Mousing can also be pretty epic as bigger browns lose some of their wariness under the cover of darkness.

Mousin' after dark...

Mousin’ after dark…

(note:hoppers and terrestrials are one important exception – those bugs are more active in the heat, so midday can be quite good if the water stays cool enough).


#8: Sunken Bugs and Dry Dropper rigs

Sunken Trico Spinner

Sunken Trico Spinner – check out the recipe or try a few from the shop HERE

One of my absolute favorite tricks during the Trico hatch is hanging a sunken spinner off the bend of a terrestrial or nymph. While fishing sunken spinner patterns is nothing new in the fly fishing scene, the sunken spinner adds a bit of finesse that’s enough to fool plenty of stubborn trout, particularly when the hatch isn’t substantial enough to produce consistent risers. But sunken spinner fishing isn’t limited to the few hours of the day when Tricos are on the water. After seeing tons of these bugs wash downstream and get smashed in the current, trout have no problem eating a sunken spinner nearly all day long during the summer and early fall.

Sunken terrestrials can also be killer. Sunk beetles, ants, and even hopper imitations are great for drifting along grassy banks and will often catch trout that aren’t quite willing to grab a bug off the surface. The Black Wet Fly is a good example of an effective sunken terrestrial.

A Pink Squirrel on a dry-dropper fooled this wild brown on a small Kinnickinnic River trib.

A Pink Squirrel on a dry-dropper fooled this wild brown on a small Kinnickinnic River trib.

Dry-dropper rigs are perhaps the ultimate searching strategy. I often fish with a trio of flies to match a few different bugs that are around this time of year. Start with a big hopper or terrestrial like a Stimmy, drop a nymph or sunken terrestrial off the bend (scuds or pink squirrels are usually good in the Driftless), and trail a sunken trico or micro nymph behind the second fly where regulations allow. This rig very efficiently covers the three major bugs trout are eating in the summer – terrestrials, random nymphs/scuds/sunk terrestrials, and tricos/tiny nymphs.


Perhaps the best part of tossing three flies is the ability to fine tune your combination once you find what the trout are after on a particular day. It’s really a deadly and very efficient tactic.


While not all ventures on the creek are quite as good as that day in the valley, summer is an awfully good time to be a trout fisherman. Terrestrials, tricos, and flurries of action at low light bring some of the most exciting and rewarding fly fishing of the season. Hopefully these tips will help you catch a few more trout in the summer months.

3 Tips for Fly Fishing the Trico Spinner Fall

 3 tips on how to fly fish the Trico spinner fall with less frustration, more trout, and more triumph

There are hardly any hatches that bring as much frustration and triumph as the Trico hatch of summer and early fall. Massive spinner falls of these minuscule mayflies, sometimes stretching down to a #26, bring trout to the surface like lumberjacks eating pancakes. It can be an agonizing hatch, filled with long leaders, uncivilly early mornings, tiny bugs, perversely difficult trout, fine tippet, and often a good dose of tears. But there’s not much in fly fishing that’s as rewarding as fooling a good trout on a Trico dry fly.

Wild Minnesota Driftless brown on a Trico

Wild Minnesota Driftless brown on a Trico

Tricos start to hit streams in mid July and provide consistent and reliable match-the-hatch dry fly fishing until late September. Male duns (hatched mayfly adults) emerge in the evening, followed by female duns in the early morning, but it’s the spinner fall that attracts the most attention, and for good reason. Trout stack up and feast on these tiny dead mayflies, which congregate above the water in sprawling mating clouds that sometimes darken the air like a thick fog on a cold fall morning. It’s an awfully sweet sight for a fly fisherman, yet it also brings plenty of challenges. Spinners tend to appear when the air temp hits 68 degrees F, an affair that usually happens at a horribly uncivil hour of the morning in the hot summer months. But even with the severe shortage of sleep, you’ll have to hold back on the caffeine as jittery hands have a hard time tying on the #20-24 dries that Tricos demand. Trout sipping Tricos also have nasty habit of sitting in calm slicks and glassy runs, affording them plenty of time to scrutinize an artificial fly and its presentation. Long leaders and finely executed drifts are a must, though you’ll certainly get a few refusals even with what looks like a perfect presentation.

Tricos are a game of challenges and stealth and strategy. But that’s partly what makes them so rewarding. There’s nothing quite like the triumph of devising a strategy, making a perfect drift, and catching a trout on a tiny dry fly.

The Trico spinner fall is my favorite mayfly event of the trout season here in Minnesota, though it’s certainly not because I catch lots of fish. The tiny bugs have beat me more than a few times, and I haven’t come close to cracking the code (if it is indeed possible), but I have learned a few things over the past seasons and usually manage to catch a few trout each time I hit a good spinner fall. Here are a few tricks and tactics I’ve learned over the past few seasons that have lessened the frustration and increased the triumph over the Trico spinner fall…


#1. Double Dry Fly Rigs

Double dry fly rigs are mainstays in any good Trico strategy. Tracking tiny Trico dries, both for detecting takes and keeping a tidy drag-free drift, is a large part of successfully fishing the Trico spinner fall. Drag a fly over rising trout and you’re sure to get a refusal. Rip the leader across the pool on a misjudged strike and you’ll send any nearby risers straight into the undercuts. A buoyant, visible dry fly tied twelve inches up the leader lets you track and manage your drift, something that, unless you have eyesight better than a blue heron, is quite difficult to pull off with minuscule, low-riding Trico spinner patterns. Sometimes trout will even take the bigger dry.

Small hi-vis beetles, Ausable Bombers, Stimulators, and any other bugs that float like corks and stand out like ducklings are viable options. There is, however, a very real danger of tossing a fly that’s too gaudy and spooking wary trout. Foam hoppers or anything else that splats on the water makes a poor lead fly, while flies with lots of hackle and a soft landing are better options. Leader twist is also a potential problem, as big, air resistant bugs don’t tend to cast well on the long, fine leaders necessary for Trico-sipping trout. For these reasons, I like to fish dries in the #12 to #16 range, preferably something on the smaller end. Lately I’ve been fishing a #14 Pass Lake, an old Wisconsin pattern with a distinctive white, trude-style calftail wing and a pheasant tippet tail that vaguely resembles a Trico and draws a few strikes itself. Tie it to 5x tippet on a leader that’s as long as you can handle, and drop a Trico spinner twelve to sixteen inches off the bend on 6 or 7X, using clinch knots for all three connections. Micro-drag between the two dries can also be a concern, so make sure the trailing tippet is long enough to allow a good dead drift (single dries are nearly always the most fool proof way to obtain a better drift and avoid this, though double dry rigs have their share of advantages).

Whatever bug you decide to tie on, a double dry fly rig can be a very valuable asset in your Trico strategy.


#2: Sunken Trico Spinner

#20 wide-gap Sunken Trico Spinner... (buy a few here or check out the recipe)

#20 wide-gap Sunken Trico Spinner… (buy a few here or check out the recipe)

One of my absolute favorite tactics for fishing spinner falls is dropping a Sunken Trico Spinner off the bend of a dry fly or nymph. It’s an especially deadly strategy for pressured creeks where trout see dozens of sloppy presentations and artificial flies. Sunken spinners are nothing new to the Trico scene and have proven themselves on many tough trout streams. Like any hatch, fish get wise to the whole (dry) fly fishing game, but sunken spinners will often fool fish that are hesitant to take a fly on the surface.

Along with taking cautious fish, sunken spinners will still provide good action long after trout have stopped rising to the morning spinner fall. This is one of my personal favorite tactics for late summer and early fall. Tricos are one of the most prolific and dependable hatches on Driftless streams (and many other regions), popping of quite regularly during the summer and fall months, and trout become accustomed to seeing sizable numbers of these bugs on a daily basis. Plenty of them get churned underwater and drift through the system long after the duns and spinners have quit their aerial activity. On any given moment in early September, you’re likely to find at least a few drowned spinners flowing through a trout stream, particularly in the lower stretches. And trout don’t ignore them.

Sunken spinners are nearly always on my nymphing rig during Trico season. I like to hang them 14“ behind an attractor nymph, usually something like a Trout Snatcher or Squirrel and Copper. Fish them as you would any prospecting nymph rig, casting to any likely riffles and pools. Back eddies and foam lines are particularly productive spots as they collect tons of bugs – and feeding trout. And while they’re certainly quite effective right after the trout stop rising, don’t forget to toss them during later hours.


#3: Double Trico Spinner

Frustrated with hooking trout on tiny Trico dries? The Double Trico Spinner is tied on a #16 hook for more hookups and more trout...buy a few here or check out the tying recipe

Frustrated with hooking trout on tiny Trico dries? The Double Trico Spinner is tied on a #16 hook for more hookups and more trout…buy a few here or check out the tying recipe

If you’re anything like me and occasionally have trouble hooking trout on #22 dries, a Double Trico Spinner is a good change of pace from the tiny bugs. Tied on a #16 dry fly hook, the Double Trico sports two full sets of Trico bodies and wings, offering a bit of extra room for hooking fish. It has saved plenty of frustration on days when the tiny dries prove to be too difficult. And while it’s not the most imitative Trico pattern and won’t perform as well on especially persnickety fish or during sparse spinner falls, most of the time the trout don’t seem to mind the extra body on the hook, making it a great pattern for days when the fish just aren’t sticking.

Glassy, calm flats and runs aren’t ideal spots for the Double Trico due to the extra inspection time they afford the trout. Instead, focus on faster water and foam lines and swirling eddies, where the trout are far more eager to sip an artificial. Trico fish have a habit of sitting in perversely difficult or calm spots, but there always seem to be a few that hold in more fishable areas. These are the ones I’m usually after.

Trailing a standard Trico Spinner 16“ behind it is also a good strategy. The smaller dry gives the fish a more precise option, and if they take the Double Trico you’ll have a much easier time hooking them.


Despite the many challenges and frustrations, Tricos are one of the most fun and rewarding hatches of the season. There have been many mornings filled with frustration, and occasionally triumph, but all the time I’ve spent standing in a cold, meandering stream, watching the morning fog lift from the water, and tossing tiny dries to hungry trout has been very memorable and rewarding. Next time you find yourself on a trout stream in the dawn hours of a summer morning, remember a few of these tips. Some challenge and frustration is inevitable, and perhaps imperative to a rewarding experience, but hopefully these tactics, flies, and tips will increase the prospects of triumph over the Trico hatch.

Tight lines and good luck on the water!




(All the Trico patterns mentioned are available over on the Fishing Gear shop. Also, check out the fly box page for tying recipes. Tight lines and thanks for the support!)

5 Tips for Summer Trout Fishing in the Midwest from Black Earth Angling Co

Local Wisconsin guides share strategies for beating the heat and catching more Driftless trout during high summer.

It’s been a peculiarly mild summer here in the Driftless. The oppressively humid days that usually plague August have been mostly absent, the past few nights have had a cool bite reminiscent of early duck season, and the trout have been mostly happy. But there are still plenty of challenges facing Midwestern spring creek trout anglers in the height of summer.

The guys at Black Earth Angling Co. have a ridiculous amount of experience chasing trout in the spring creeks of southwestern Wisconsin and the Driftless, and I was very, very excited when they kindly agreed to share some of their strategies for summer trout. I’ve been drawn to their operation ever since I stumbled upon it on Facebook a while back, and for good reason. There’s an authenticity in their fly fishing that acutely represents the Driftless experience. They run sweet smallmouth float trips on the Lower Wisconsin River that perhaps epitomize good, honest Midwestern warmwater fly fishing. But most importantly, they seem to focus on the indelible memories and experiences fly fishing creates – the people, the incredible places, the journey, and all that makes fly fishing truly meaningful.

Without further rambling, here are a few honest and insightful tips for Midwestern spring creek trout fishing during the height of summer….

Five Tips for Summer Trout Fishing in the Midwest.

By Black Earth Angling Co. 


1.  Don’t.

Why go trout fishing this time of year?  Combine the claustrophobic height of the valley grasses with abundant mosquitoes, biting flies, thistle, the phototoxic wild parsnip and giant hogweed, as well as the solid risk of turning an ankle in an animal den or getting stuck in a mucky seepage just trying to reach some tiny stream, with the likelihood that it is almost entirely draped over with grasses and presently some of the most unpleasant casting you will ever experience and there you have high summer Midwestern spring creek trout fishing to me, and I avoid it.

Go bass fishing.  The bass, especially the smallmouth, are slamming the fly just as the creek-side herbage is getting almost head high, and are twice the fun of trout anyway.  Strong fish, wet wading, big flies, river floats – that is summer fly fishing at its best. Also, bass bugging for largemouth during a Dog-day twilight on a local pond is the kind of good honest fun that everyone who has ever been 10 will recognize.

2. Go when and where you are comfortable.

If you do insist on trout fishing this time of year, do your best to be comfortable.  Ditch the gear and waders for a small pack, extra water, and quick dry pants.  Fish early and late because it is cooler and more comfortable – not just better fishing. Ditto overcast days.  Cool mornings mean slower mosquitoes too, so be extra motivated to get an early start and optimize those ideal mornings when they do occur.   Also, target some areas with tree cover, or in the shadow of a bluff or hill so as to stay cooler.   Be willing to hop from one spot to another, or to switch streams to stay in or get to the shade (but clean your feet!) Find those streams or stream sections that are more freestone-like or more open and wadeable and target them.  Summer is a time of focused trouting sessions.  And, if legitimately hot weather occurs, and has for days, do seriously just stay off the water.  If water temps are high, catching cold water species puts them at an even greater undue risk than normal.  Good conservation and ethics  demand you know when to cut them a break. (Editor’s Note: Most agree that water temps around 68-70 F are the upper fishing limits for browns and rainbows, and a bit lower for brookies. Seriously, just go bass fishing. If you want more info, here’s a good piece from Hatch Magazine on summer trout temps).

3. Follow the cows.

Grazing cows are great for midwestern trout and trout fishing.  There is an emerging body of science supporting this out there and the key is portable electric fencing and what is known as ‘rotational grazing.’  If managed well, these are win-win situations for farms, streams, fishers, and even cows.  Check it out, and buy meat and milk from people who use it.

I do agree however that crushed stream banks and doleful Holsteins watching you watch them dump pounds and pounds of feces into pretty little creeks is NOT ok. Nonetheless, grazed streams are going to be much, much more approachable this time of year because the grass will be of negotiable heights and many of the nasties like parsnip will be non-present.

4. Take a novice.

The first time I fished the renowned Mt. Vernon Creek I was ignorant of its reputation as a place where the trout can smell you coming.  Good thing. I did pretty well catching a bunch of little browns and brookies on small hopper patterns.  Which goes to show one of the joys of summer trout fishing: active fish looking up and non-selectively slapping at highly visible flies that land with a splat.  This strips trout fishing of much of its bravado and makes it more approachable and fun again.  So take a novice whose cast into and then off of the bushes and into the stream is in fact the perfect presentation.  They may be rewarded with bites from more than just the ‘skeets.

5. My favorite summer fly – the Poodle.

Just an ingenious fly from Japan that makes a killer ant imitation.  Note the Klinkhammer or emerger style hook that puts the abdomen below the water while the parachute hackle rides in the film.  Dress only the hackle and post when fishing.

The Poodle - Fly and Pic by Black Earth Angling Co.

The Poodle – Fly and Pic by Black Earth Angling Co.


Black Earth Angling Co. runs guide trips for trout, smallmouth, and other warmwater species in southwestern Wisconsin. Also, be sure to check out their Facebook page for recent fishing reports and Driftless fly fishing.

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