Big bugs, big fish and the big buzz that goes with them
salmon fly
A Lower Deschutes River salmonfly (photo: Arian Stevens).

Both of my boys fished the stonefly hatch before they could walk. That’s my oldest with bulging eyes and bug on hand in the picture below. I can only imagine what’s going on in that brain of his that can’t verbally form cuss words yet.

​The rest of us can cuss and always do when we miss a fish, but the beauty of the stonefly hatch is you won’t miss much. Fat fish are eyes up in feast frenzy fashion when you hit the hatch just right.

​“The stoneflies here in the U.S. are like goliaths compared to the stoneflies where I’m from in England,” says Simon Gawesworth, RIO Products brand manager. “They are not even a 10th of the Idaho size in England. The stoneflies here are like a feast.”

​That feast, commonly known as salmonflies and scientifically known as Pteronarcys californica, are the big bugs of summer that draw big fish to the surface for some of the season’s best dry fly action. They are also the sign of a healthy waterway. They don’t just crawl out of any old river. Idaho is blessed with a hatch. So is Colorado and Montana. That’s the where. I’ll let you figure out the when. Crowds of anglers already have their cast on. Dare you to join them.

baby wit stonefly
An eight-month-old boy, on his first stonefly fishing trip, gets an up close look at the stonefly crawling on his hand (photo: Kris Millgate).

​“The stonefly hatch is probably one of the busiest times of year for us,” says Jimmy Gabettas, Jimmy’s All Seasons Angler owner. “Probably busier than the opening of fishing season just from the sheer number of people in the region that go after the stoneflies and also the people that travel into eastern Idaho for the hatch.”​

​Once you figure out the when, start practicing your hook set for heavy pulls of poundage in pretty places. Fishing the hatch is spectacular in more ways than the obvious ‘fish tale’ factor. If you are fishing the stone fly hatch, you are lucky enough to have some of the country’s cleanest water swirling around your legs. You are lucky enough to witness a rare and short-lived hatch that the wild gorges on. And you are lucky enough to get stoned and laugh to tell about it.

stone fly hatching
Stoneflies deposit eggs in the river. Those eggs eventually hatch, nymphs creep to shore and adult fliers crawl out of cracked casings. Delicate wings quickly uncurl so the bugs can clumsily fly in search of a one-day mate before dropping eggs on the water for posterity (photo: Kris Millgate).

First-time stoners reminisce:

“The first time I fished during the hatch, I didn’t know what I was seeing. I thought they were butterflies. It was impressive to see the fish eat such large bugs off the surface. It was an education and I enjoyed my lesson. The fish are very hard taskmasters.”
— Simon Gawesworth, RIO Products brand manager

​“My fist stonefly trip was a dud. I drove down the road and there were tons of bugs in the air. I showed up at the river to fish and never caught a fish in six hours of fishing. The fish were already gorged.”
— Jimmy Gabettas, Jimmy’s All Seasons Angler owner

“I was overwhelmed by the stonefly hatch the first time I saw it. We were in the thick of it. I was so creeped out by such huge bugs crawling all over me that I couldn’t concentrate on casting, let alone wade in the river. My husband said, ‘We will never time it this perfect again. We can’t miss this. I’m counting to five and if you’re not in the river, you’re not fishing today.’ I was in before he got to three.”
— Kris Millgate, Tight Line Media outdoor journalist

“I remember two things about my first stonefly hatch. One; I threw a big stone, the biggest fly I’ve ever thrown. It was sort of a ridiculous fly to me, but I could see a fish coming for it from six feet away. It was a real slow, fat cutthroat trout. It was the first big fish I landed on a fly rod. The second thing I remember is watching a seagull smack a stonefly in mid air as it took off. I realized how important stoneflies are to fish and everything else around the river.”
— Rob Thornberry, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Idaho field representative

​Now you join the banter. Insert your first-time-stoned story here…



Fishing once with Bob Pfeil, Delray Beach FL, about 15 years ago. Bob was about 11 years old and had just caught his first trout here in Northeast PA, a smallish brookie on Fishing Creek north of Benton. This day we were on the Lehigh in the Gorge, just below Tannery, waiting for the Coffing Flies. Felt a creeping on my neck, reached up and found a mature large brown stonefly, which I picked off and held in my hand. "Watch this." I told Bob and flicked the fly into the Lehigh main flow. 10 feet, 15 feet, 20 feet of peaceful drift. Then BLAM! Jaws! Bob's eyes popped out of his head.