Yellow Sally and Little Olive Stoneflies

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Parachute Sally Madam X, Gold
Chubby Sally Madam X, Olive
Yellow Sallie, Larimer's Stimulator, Yellow
Yellow Sally Stoneflies
By: Rick Hafele
This Yellow Sallie is technically called Cultus tostonus, but when the females drop to the water to lay their eggs trout just call them dinner.
This Yellow Sallie is technically called Cultus tostonus, but when the females drop to the water to lay their eggs. Trout just call them dinner.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in camp on the Deschutes River. The early June sun had finally decided to show itself and a variety of insects responded to the warmth with the same enthusiasm I felt. It can be hard to get a close look at the different insect adults whizzing by in the breeze - usually more of a gale on the Deschutes - but if you tent camp you know that tents attract bugs. Turns out my tent is often where I look for what’s hatching on the river. On this trip I found caddis adults crawling around under my rain fly and another bug that I was particularly interested in, the little yellow stones. In fact they seemed to think my tent fly was the perfect spot for mating.
My tent fly seemed to attract the opposite sex of these Yellow Sallie adults.
My tent fly seemed to attract the opposite sex of these Yellow Sallie adults.
Starting in mid June and continuing well into August little yellow stones take to the air to lay their eggs. Females ready to lay eggs often gather above the water and fall to the river like tiny yellow leaves to release their eggs. Trout find them much more appealing than leaves.
Yellow Sallies come in a variety of sizes and like other stonefly species the females are often larger than the males.
Yellow Sallies come in a variety of sizes and like other stonefly species, the females are often larger than the males.
These small delicate stoneflies are commonly called little yellow stones, yellow sallies, or stripetails depending on who is doing the calling. They belong to a diverse family of stoneflies – Perlodidae – and most to a single genus, Isoperla, though other genera also fall into this group. For example right now the species Cultus tostonus is active on many Northwest rivers like the Deschutes, Yakima, and northern California streams. The genus Isoperla has the highest species diversity of any genus of stoneflies with 57+ species currently known in North America. Some species are widely distributed occurring across most of the country, while others occur only in small regions. Altogether the diversity of species is evenly spread across the country with about 27 species in the east (Northeast to Southeast), 24 in the midwest, and 23 in the west (Rockies to the Pacific). Suffice it to say a lot of species get called Yellow Sallies.

Fish on!!!
The great variety of species within this genus makes it difficult to find a few defining traits that apply to all species. The size of mature nymphs and adults ranges from 6-18 mm (1/4 to 3/4 inch) body length, with most species tending to the smaller end of the range. Adults appear larger than they really are as their wings normally extend past the tip of the abdomen; however, some species exhibit greatly reduced wings, a trait common to a variety of stonefly species. Color patterns, normally a poor character to rely on, can be useful for recognizing little yellow stone nymphs. Nearly all species show distinct dark and light longitudinal stripes on top of the abdomen. In addition Isoperla nymphs completely lack gills, and their tails are as long as or longer than their abdomen.

Fast moving mountain streams usually have large populations of Yellow Sallies.
Adult Isoperla often show the same longitudinal stripes along the top of the abdomen as the nymphs, but not in all species. The head and prothorax (thoracic segment directly behind the head) also show distinct light and dark color patterns. Tails are well developed, but not unusually long. While known as little yellow stones, the color of adults ranges from light yellow to medium brown. Overall, the pale to dark yellow color, light and dark stripes on the abdomen, distinct light and dark color patterns on the head and thorax, and lack of all gills or gill remnants are the primary characteristics for recognizing species of Isoperla. Cultus tostonus adults have a distinct color pattern with the front two thirds of their abdomen yellowish-brown and the last third a bright to dark orange.
The little nymphs of Yellow Sallies lack gills but show distinctive dark strips on their thorax and abdomen.
The little nymphs of Yellow Sallies lack gills but show distinctive dark strips on their thorax and abdomen.
One of the key identification features, namely the lack of gills, strongly influences where and how these small stoneflies live. Without gills nymphs must obtain oxygen by diffusion directly through the exoskeleton. This normally occurs where the exoskeleton is naturally thin, like the base of the legs. Still, it is a rather inefficient approach to breathing, and to compensate, species tend to prefer cold streams with high levels of dissolved oxygen. Riffle areas also contain higher levels of oxygen than slow quiet flowing reaches of a stream, and therefore riffles tend to be the habitat of choice for most nymphs. The need for cold water also results in a general trend of more abundant populations in smaller higher elevation streams than in larger lower elevation rivers. Some species, however, have adapted specifically to large rivers.
Whether fishing nymphs or adults the majority of activity for yellow stones will be around choppy riffles where there is plenty of oxygen in the water.
Whether fishing nymphs or adults the majority of activity for yellow stones will be around choppy riffles where there is plenty of oxygen in the water.
Riffles provide a variety of niches and food choices for small creatures like stonefly nymphs. Most little yellow stones will be found around the base of cobble and large gravel where the current is significantly diverted and slowed. These areas also trap leaves and small pieces of wood, which provide both shelter and the primary food for most Isoperla nymphs. Some species have been found to be predacious, eating a variety of small insects like chironomid or midge larvae. Even those species that are herbivorous early in life often switch to a more meaty diet in their last month of development as they put on a final growth spurt before adult emergence.
Mature nymphs normally find a large rock protruding above the water upon which to climb out of the water for emergence into the adult, or they crawl out of the water onto shoreline vegetation. There have also been reports of some Isoperla emerging directly in the surface film similar to mayfly nymphs. It is also true that such reports have been widely disputed and I for one have never observed this type of behavior. But neither have I seen all the species of Isoperla emerge, and given the resistance of insects to conform to one type of behavior I wouldn’t be at all shocked if somewhere this happens.
Depending on the species and geographic location, emergence may begin as early as May or as late as October. Peak emergence activity typically occurs in June, July and August in most coldwater trout streams. Newly emerged adults hide on shoreline vegetation. Mating takes place a few days after emerging, also on the shoreline vegetation. Like other stoneflies many male Isoperla adults attract mates by “drumming” the tip of their abdomen against a suitable substrate. Only virgin females respond, often with their own drum reply. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the sound of drumming stoneflies the next time you’re fishing along a stream during a good stonefly hatch, however. You need the ears of a female stonefly to easily pick up the frequency of these invertebrate percussionists. After mating females remain on the vegetation a few days while their eggs finish developing. At that point they take flight on some pleasant summer afternoon and lay their eggs on the water’s surface. The entire life cycle, from egg to adult, requires approximately one year.
It’s easy to see why these  Little Yellow Stones are called Yellow Sallies..
It’s easy to see why these Little Yellow Stoneflies are called Yellow Sallies.
Fishing tactics for little yellow stones vary with time of year and activity of nymphs or adults. The months following adult egg laying activity are spent as eggs (3 or 4 weeks) and very small immature nymphs, neither of which requires imitation by the angler. Growth of nymphs continues slowly through the winter, and then picks up dramatically in the spring. A month or two before adults actually start emerging is a time when nymphs are available to fish. However, even then these stonefly nymphs do not drift in the current as readily as many other aquatic nymphs, so they are not often important to the angler. The one time I find the nymphs worth imitating is during the early stages of adult emergence. The number of migrating nymphs peaks at this time, and good numbers get washed off the bottom into the current where feeding trout wait. Drifting a nymph pattern close to the stream bottom at the tailouts of riffles or heads of pools can be effective at such times.

My favorite, and I think most effective time to fish imitations of little yellow stones, is when adults are active. A simple dry fly works great when females are laying eggs. You can adapt a number of standard patterns to this task: a yellow sally, yellow renegade, or yellow elk hair caddis for example. I also use a simple dry fly with a light yellow body, white CDC wing, and light brown hackle. Fish the dries with a drag free presentation where you see the adults laying eggs and fish rising to them. I have also found a small yellow soft hackle effective. This works great for adults that get trapped in the surface film. Fish it dead drift in the surface or an inch or two below just like you would a dry fly. Sometimes fish find these swamped adults more enticing than those floating high on the surface.

Idyl's Parachute Yellow Sally
This pattern has the attraction of both being a realistic low floater and yet is highly visible to the angler. When trout get really picky, trim the parachute post to lower the silhouette.
Item Description Size Price To Top
TSF0024 Idyl's Parachute Yellow Sally 14 3 for $5.85
TSF0045 Idyl's Parachute Yellow Sally 16 3 for $5.85

Chubby Sally
Hatched from the vice of Brian Silvey, this unsinkable little yellow stone pattern is sure to put a grin on your face.
Cubby Sally
Item Description Size Price To Top
SIG2059 Chubby Sally 14 3 for $7.50

Stimulator, Yellow
This seems to be the most popular of the Stimulator patterns.  It is used as a golden or yellow stone or hopper imitator.  It may rank with the Royal Wulff as one of the all time most popular searching flies.
Stimulator, Yellow
Item Description Size Price To Top
11991 Stimulator Kaufman's, Yellow 12 3 for $7.50
11992 Stimulator Kaufman's, Yellow 14 3 for $7.50
11993 Stimulator Kaufman's, Yellow 16 3 for $7.50

Yellow Sallie, Larimer's

A revolutionary Yellow Sally patter by Tom Larimer. Floats good, very durable and easy for both fish and fisherment to see. Travis Johnson says it is the best of all of the Sally matching patterns he has tried, by far.

Item Description Size Price To Top
D560-14 Yellow Sallie, Larimer's 14 3 for $7.50
D560-16 Yellow Sallie, Larimer's 16 3 for $7.50

Indicator Madam X, Gold
This low floating fly has a white tuft on top so that it is more visible in low light conditions.
Indicator Madam X, Gold
Item Description Size Price To Top
13037 Indicator Madam X, Gold 10 3 for $7.50

The key to success is "understanding".  You can never know enough.
Understanding the organisms that trout feed on is one of the keys to catching trout.
The Hatch Guide For Western Streams by Jim Schollmeyer 
is great reference material for the trout fisher.
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