Midnight Stones | Montana Fly Fishing Favorites – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Midnight Stones | Montana Fly Fishing Favorites

If you have spent anytime walking along the banks of the Yellowstone or Gallatin rivers the last couple of weeks, surely you have noticed stonefly shucks covering the rocks near the water’s edge. However, you won’t usually find any of the adults crawling around the bushes, landing on the water, or flying in the air. This ha always been one of the oddest hatches that we see during the year as there is evidence of prolific insect activity, yet there are no bugs to be found. The “Nocturnal Stones” have been around all summer, but their numbers and activity have increased dramatically the last two weeks and fishing has changed with their arrival.

The name makes them sound like the “Boogeyman” of stoneflies and finding an adult, Midnight Stone, is kind of like looking for Bigfoot. Urban – fishing guide legend – says that the females have poorly developed wings and will make clumsy attempts at egg-laying flights over the water. The males, however, have undeveloped wings and are unable to fly. One needs to start turning over rocks with fresh shucks on them near the water’s edge to find evidence of the adults. They are there, and there are a lot of them out these last couple of weeks.

They change the fishing by just being around and active during a time of year when there is very little going on in terms of aquatic insect activity. For most of August, the fish in the Yellowstone and Gallatin are looking up for terrestrial insects such as Spruce Moths, Hoppers, Ants, and Beetles. Sure, there are still some hatching insects around like Caddis, PMD’s, and Trico’s but these hatches tend to be sparse and isolated during the hottest weeks of the year. You can always tell when the Nocturnal Stones really get active by the changes in the fishing that pretty much happen overnight.

I guide on the Yellowstone River most of my days through August and into early September. I typically tend to fish the river a little bit more downstream than most of the local guides and anglers and get on the water very early to beat the rush. I had been fishing primarily hoppers through most of August and then it just started to slow down about 10 days ago. Sure, the days had been very warm but the water temperatures were staying in the low 60’s early in the day and I’m typically off the water by 3 on those hot days anyway.

Midnight Stone Eating Trout on the Yellowstone River

I started to fish sunken hoppers (another fly fishing guide urban legend) and more fish began to move out of the riffles to eat the dropper hopper versus the dry. One look at the bank and I noticed the rocks were covered with shucks. The fish aren’t looking for drowned hoppers, they are looking for Golden Stone nymphs. Since late August, I have been fishing a hopper with a small rubberleg dropped about 3 feet below the hopper. I’m still getting fish on the dries, but the numbers are coming off the dropper fly. Traditional, deep nymphing will work as well, but expect to end up with more whitefish to hand than trout!

When the hopper bite slows down and there aren’t any bugs out, look around for clues as to what might be going on. Sometimes it’s just too hot and the fish are inactive, but more times than not, they still want to eat. Look for fats moving water, gravel bar edges and deep seams while avoiding the “dead-water” and “frog-ponds” between the good water right now. If the rise is sporadic or entirely absent, add a stonefly dropper and fish the faster water. Tis should be the norm until we start to see some cloudy, cool days that bring the arrival of some of the larger Mayflies of Fall.

Stop in our Bozeman fly shop for the best selection of flies in the area and we’ll show you our go to Nocturnal Stone patterns. Get out there and poke around the rocks, these bugs are fascinating to watch crawl once you realize how many of them are around! Be sure to ask your guide about the Midnight Stones when you are on the water the next couple of weeks. Our Montana fly fishing guide service has limited availability throughout September so call us at 406-586-2188 to make a reservation.