Golden Stoneflies – My Six-Legged Obsession

As I slowly become a better angler and better at things like reading the water and paying attention to what’s going on around me, I’ve started to develop an appreciation for some of the flies that I’ve had in my box for a long time, but never used.

Few flies encapsulate this more than a golden stonefly pattern I’ve had, but never really used, for about 3.5 years now.

Stoneflies first caught my attention when I was preparing for a trip to the Columbia River around the time that the stonefly hatch was happening. I only knew this because I’d been reading up about fishing on the Columbia around that time and everybody was talking about them.

I didn’t know much about them beyond that, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to get a couple when I had the chance.

Well, that couple of stonefly nymphs I picked up sat there and sat there just kind of taking up space until I started getting serious about fishing nymphs. Once I started paying to what was happening around me on the water, however, I realized that stoneflies were everywhere. Every time I stopped to look down, there was a shuck, just sitting there on a rock. And, not only that, but every time I saw a shuck and tied on a stonefly nymph, I caught fish almost right away.

Then, one day I looked down into my fly box and realized that the golden stonefly had kind of taken over. I officially had an obsession.

The nice thing about stoneflies is they’re almost always around, which means that tying on a golden stone pattern is a safe way to start fishing if you don’t see any other obvious signs of a hatch.

So, for those who aren’t really sure what a golden stonefly is, or looks like, let’s dig a little deeper.

What is a golden stonefly?

Golden stoneflies are pretty prolific across North America. They belong to the Order Plecoptera and the Family Perlidae. The exact kind of stonefly that you may find around you could be any one of neary 50 different kinds of golden stonefly. As you can see, it can be tricky to pinpoint the exact stonefly sometimes (I have no idea what I see out here).

As nymphs, they are ravenous little creatures and are highly predacious. The ones I see are quite long, probably 1 – 1.5 inches in length and, like most nymphs, they spend the bulk of their time under rocks. They nymphs range in colour and pattern depending on where you are, covering everything from a light yellow-gold to a deeper brown colour. They often have mottled shells, with a darker brown colour in the pattern.

They spend upwards of three years in the nymphal stage before emerging as adults. Look for evidence of these hatches on rocks near the shore. Sometimes you’ll see one nymph by itself, but sometimes you’ll find a small cluster of them (or two) all in one place (see above).

When adults emerge, they’re around for a couple of weeks before mating and dying off.

How to fish golden stonefly patterns

When it comes to fishing with golden stoneflies, nymphing is the way to go (at least for me). A good pattern under an indicator is almost as good as it gets.

Golden stone nymphs are great because they are typically fairly big (remember the naturals are at least an inch long) and, since they tend to be pretty bulk flies, they also end up being nicely weighted. They get down to where you want them to be and fish well (very well).

My current setup when fishing stoneflies is under an indicator. Set your indicator about 1.5 times the depth of the water (more or less depending on how fast and deep the water is). Stonefly patterns seem to work for me just about anywhere there’s fish. So much so that they’re my starting pattern now when I hit the water (unless there’s obvious dry fly fishing happening).

The most effective patterns for golden stones tend to be ones with rubbery legs (as you can see above), although for me, a variation on a Kaufmann stonefly has been ridiculously good to me.

Once they hit adults, dry patterns like stimulators are a good bet. They aren’t the strongest fliers as adults, so they tend to stay pretty close to where they emerge (the only adult I’ve ever seen was just hanging around on a rock).

When to fish golden stoneflies

The simple answer here is just about any time is a good time for these babies. If you see shucks on the rocks around you, tie one on. If you see them floating down the river, tie one on. If you see an adult hanging around on shore, tie one on.

The best times seem to be late spring, early summer, but that’s just when they’re at their most active. I’ve had great days with golden stonefly nymphs late into the fall and early in the spring. Ultimately, at least for me, the best time to fish a golden stonefly is any time you’re on the water. It’s served me well on streams I’ve never really fished before (as something of a searching pattern), as well as streams that I know intimately.

Of course golden stoneflies are probably best described as my current obsession. I have a feeling that next year it’s going to be something different (just as last year I was consumed with following traveller sedges around). It’s one of the things I love so much about fly fishing. It doesn’t take much at all for the whole game to change. Hitting a couple of lakes during the traveller sedge, for example, or being around when boatmen are plopping down from sky can as easily change an entire year’s worth of plans.

So, now that I’ve told you about mine, what’s your six-legged obsession (or multi-legged obsession if you’re got a thing for scuds).

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  1. Thanks, Plaid Camper! I have a long history of being obsessed with bugs and nymphs. It predates fly fishing by a long time. I love how much I’m able to go back to all the stuff I used to read and look at under rocks since I started fly fishing. All that useless knowledge is coming back to serve me well.

  2. The golden stonefly obsession is a valuable one, indeed. Wherever you find cold, clean water (a necessity), you’ll find stonefly action. Out here, the Little Black Stonefly is beginning to hatch on the mountain streams and, for a while, that will be an obsession with yours truly, as a drifting nymph and a dry fly, as well. Later on, the Stimulator (dry) will be front and center. Thanks Douglas!

    1. Thanks, Walt! The little black stoneflies should be starting up soon around here, too. We normally get a hatch starting in March, I think. I’ve never managed to be on the water for it. I hope to this year, though.

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