The Only Cutthroat Fly You will Ever Need

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Backcountry JournalJoin BHA, support your public lands and waters and get four issues a year of Backcountry Journal in your mailbox, and unlimited digital access to current and back issues.


By Zack Williams

There is something uniquely public about cutthroat trout. They reside almost entirely in wild, mountainous rivers of the West – undammed, wild, free places – the vast majority of these flowing through public land from Alberta and British Columbia southward through all the western U.S. to nearly the Mexican border. I have come to love everything about cutthroat – their free-rising spirits, the beautiful places they live and the simplicity of the angling methods required to pursue them.

It was sometime in June when I first set foot on what would become my home, public-land cutthroat river in northern Idaho. I am not afraid to admit that I had not done much research on the fishing prior to that date – I showed up without a plan – not that there is a lot of fishing info out there about the smaller rivers of North Idaho anyway.

The first pattern I chose was completely by chance and not even an educated guess. All I knew was that westslope cutthroat were supposedly not too picky, and that they liked dry flies. This one was a particularly large dry fly (like a size 6), made mostly of foam, had some rubber legs, a olive-tan body and a white wing. I cast it into the current alongside a boulder and a cutthroat lazily rose up and grabbed it – well, that was easy. That process was repeated throughout my first day of cutthroat fishing.

I returned to that same river and several others in the region almost every weekend throughout that first summer, repeating the same fish-catching experience with the very same fly. Occasionally I would try something else and catch some fish, but never at the same rate as with that first fly.

Years went by and I continued to fish the fly, a tan Chubby Chernobyl, without giving it too much thought. It’s embarrassing how many seasons went by before I made a connection to all the stonefly shucks on the riverside rocks and the occasional large golden stonefly that would flutter by. Eventually I put it together: golden stoneflies were everywhere on these mountain rivers throughout the northern Rockies. The fly I had randomly chosen was the perfect representation of one of the cutthroat’s most prevalent and largest meals.

Occasionally, I fish this fly in other colors including the crazy, but now in vogue, purples and pinks. In addition to the golden stonefly, the Chubby Chernobyl also makes a great grasshopper imitation in late summer or skwala stonefly (olive, size 10) in the spring. Sometimes it is fun to experiment, but mostly, when on a cutthroat river, I tie on the tan Chubby Chernobyl, fish it with confidence and enjoy my time on the water.


Learn how to tie the Chubby Chernobyl in BHA's new fly tying video series, Friday Night Ties.

About Zack Williams

Backcountry Journal editor

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