Euro Nymphing: Confidence Flies

There are countless different nymph patterns out there, some unique and some similar.  While I’m a firm believer in presentation over pattern (and that pretty much any nymph can work at pretty much any given time) here are a few flies I find myself tying on more often than not.  I make no claim to be the creator of any of these patterns. Why spend my time designing flies when far better fisherman and tyers than myself have done all the work for me? The list below are flies that work for me in my particular system.  They are all durable, effective, and can be tied in different sizes or weights to fit any given scenario. Give them a go, I’m sure you’ll catch some fish.

General bead sizing for jig hooks (there are exceptions, this is just a good place to start):

Size 10-12 Hooks: 3.3 – 4.0mm Bead

Size 14 Hooks: 2.8 – 3.3mm Bead

Size 16 Hooks: 2.3 – 2.8mm Bead

Size 18 Hooks: 2.0 – 2.3mm Bead

Red Dart

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The red dart is a creation of Lance Egan’s, one of the most notable fly fishermen and fly tiers in the world.  Lance is a huge name in the competitive world and has been extremely successful for Fly Fishing Team USA. The red dart is the definition of an attractor pattern, with two hotspots and a flashy body.  Although it looks like it shouldn’t work, I took Lance’s word on it and since then it has been one of my top producing patterns everywhere I go. Something about the movement of the CDC and the bright colors seals the deal for trout.

Hook:  Jig, size 12-16 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Bead:  Slotted tungsten – Gold, or whatever you’d like (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Tail: Red saddle hackle fibers

RibPearl tinsel

Cross-rib: 5-6X tippet

Dubbing: Peacock ice dub

Hackle:  2 wraps of CDC (Hareline, Wapsi, Spirit River)  Lance ties it with India hen back soft hackle

Collar: Ice dub

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The red dart exactly where it belongs

Red Dart Variation

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When I want the same pulling power as the red dart but I’m fishing swifter water where I need a fast sink rate, I turn to a perdigon-style red dart.  Tied the same way as the red dart, but the body is composed of pearl tinsel over black thread with a coating of UV resin and I don’t include the CDC.  

Thread Frenchie

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After fishing both the original frenchie nymph and perdigons for several years, I wondered why I had never thought of making this fly, but Lance Egan did just that.  This fly is imitative enough that picky trout will eat it but stands out to fish with its UV pink hotspot. It sinks quickly and is a very simple, yet durable, tie.

Hook: Jig, 14-18 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Bead: Slotted tungsten – Copper, silver, or whatever you’d like (notice a trend here?) (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Tail: CDL (Hareline, Whiting Farms)

Body: olive thread, 70 denier

Rib: olive wire

UV Resin: (Loon, Solarez)

Collar: UV pink ice dub

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This wild brown got a new lip piercing in the form of a thread frenchie

Tungsten Surveyor

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Yep, another Lance Egan pattern.  If you like the rainbow warrior and the hare’s ear, you’ll love the tungsten surveyor.  The beauty of this fly is the more you fish it, the more the dubbing gets pulled out and the buggier it looks, which the fish seem to respond well too.  I’ve heard from others that it’s a good sow bug imitation and is particularly effective on tailwaters, however I can’t say this from experience because I rarely have the chance to fish these rivers.  What I do know is it does the trick anywhere I fish. I often strip this as a Stillwater pattern as well, it does a great job imitating a scud.  

Hook:  Jig, size 12-16 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Bead: Slotted tungsten – Silver (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Tail:  CDL (Hareline, Whiting Farms) or pheasant tail fibers (Hareline, Wapsi)

Rib: Silver wire

Body: Hareline rainbow scud dub

Wing case: Pearl mylar

Thorax: Hareline rainbow scud dub

Walt’s Worm/Sexy Walt’s

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The definition of simple.  This fly doesn’t look like any one thing but looks enough like a lot of things to get eaten.  The standard Walt’s is simply hare’s ear dubbing on a hook, dubbed into a tapered or cigar shaped body.  I tend to rib mine with tippet to give it some extra durability and segmentation. The Sexy Walt’s has a pearl rib to add a bit of flash and a red thread collar.  However, the variations are endless. Recently, I’ve been tying mine with a little bit of pink ice dubbing for a collar. The fish eat it.

Hook: Jig, size 10-18 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Bead: Slotted tungsten – Silver, gold, copper, etc. (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Rib (optional): Pearl flash (or tinsel)

Cross-rib: 5-6X tippet

Body: hare’s ear dubbing

Hotspot (optional): Pink Ice Dub

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My first trout of the regular VT season was a fan of the Walt’s worm

Soft Hackle Carrot

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A pattern stolen straight from Lance Egan’s Fly Fishing Team USA team member, Devin Olsen.  Lance and Devin’s instructional films, Modern Nymphing and more recently Adaptive Fly Fishing, in addition to Devin’s book, Tactical Fly Fishing, have been some of the biggest influences on my own fishing style, so when Devin lists this as one of his confidence patterns, I listen.  This fly is a hare’s ear variant with a little extra drawing power, in the form of an orange rib. The CDC adds the perfect amount of movement and the ice dubbing a little flash.  I like fishing this fly all year, especially during colder months when fish are in slower water and the movement of the CDC can really shine.

Hook: Jig, size 12-16 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Bead: Slotted tungsten – Gold or copper (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Tail: CDL (Hareline, Whiting Farms)

Rib: Orange Thread, two strands twisted for durability

Body: Hare’s ear dubbing

Hackle: Two wraps of CDC (Hareline, Wapsi, Spirit River

Collar: Brown Ice Dub

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I’ve had good success using the carrot as a land-locked Atlantic salmon pattern


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Another one of Devin’s patterns, this little perdigon was likely my top producing fly of last summer.  It sinks quickly and does a great job of imitating a Baetis nymph (a small mayfly nymph). The quill body is very impressionistic, while the pearl butt will set it apart from the scores of other real nymphs drifting by a feeding trout.  I strip my own peacock quills for the body, but polish quills or synthetic quills would probably be even easier. This pattern is very simple and very effective. A winner.

Hook: jig, size 12-16 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Bead: Slotted tungsten – Copper, silver, or whatever you’d like (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Tail: CDL (Hareline, Whiting Farms)

Hotspot: Pearl Flashabou

Body: Stripped Peacock Quill

Wing pad: Black UV Resin (or black nail polish)

UV Resin: (Loon, Solarez)

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This WY brown ate a quilldigon in some fast water on the front side of a mid-stream boulder


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You guessed it, another Devin Olsen perdigon.  In contrast to this impressionistic quilldigon, the butano is a pure attractor.  It will get down quickly in swift water, which is why I usually turn to perdigons or other slim-bodied patterns.  Like the red dart, this fly also surprised me with its ability to catch fish, even though it doesn’t look like anything that’s in a river.  I’m glad I gave it a chance though, even pressured fish will eat this fly with confidence.

Hook: Jig, size 12-16 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Bead: Slotted tungsten – copper, silver, or whatever you’d like (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Tail: CDL (Hareline, Whiting Farms)

Body: Orange or pearl Krystal Flash

Wing pad: Black UV Resin (or black nail polish)

UV Resin: (Loon, Solarez)

Squirmy Wormy

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Hate it or love it, the squirmy catches fish.  I’m not a purist and I have no qualms about using this fly because fish are already hard enough to catch and I’ll take any advantage I can get.  The squirmy is especially effective in cold or off-color water, although I’ve caught fish on it in all conditions I can think of. Using a large bead, it’s a great anchor fly and can be fished deep.  I’ll also break the squirmy out in shallow water and fish it unweighted or with a light bead. Its slow sink rate in this circumstance allows for a natural drift in situations where a fly with a faster sink rate would catch bottom before drifting by fish.

Bead: Slotted tungsten – I’ve used many different colors and noticed no difference. (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Hook: Jig, size 10 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Body: Squirmito – The Original Squiggly Worm Material

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This VT steelhead took an interest in a squirmy

Mop Fly

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Possibly the definition of a trash fly, I’ve caught more fish on this piece of kitchen cleaner than I feel good about.  I’ve found (and seen others write about) that on a given day in a given stretch of water, the mop fly either works spectacularly or it doesn’t.  Put one on for a bit and if it isn’t working change it out. If it is working, you’ll certainly know. I often fish the mop in windy conditions, where its heavy, water-logged body will help keep contact with your rig and help to minimize the effect of wind on your sighter.  I’ve also had times where a jigged or stripped mop has worked when nothing else has. Chartreuse is my favorite and what I’ve fished the most, but I’ve done well with a cream color as well.

Hook: Jig, size 10 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Bead: Slotted tungsten – Color doesn’t seem to matter.  If a fish is going to eat a mop, I don’t think it’s paying attention to bead color (correct me if you’ve noticed otherwise, though) (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Body: Wapsi Mop Chenille

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A tandem rig of squirmy and mop, AKA the “dumpster rig”

Jig Streamer

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Another Lance Egan creation, while not technically a nymph, this pattern is a great addition to the euro-nymphing arsenal and allows the finesse of the euro set-up to be brought to a streamer approach.  I often fish this as an anchor of a two or three fly rig and fish a nymph(s) above it. This little streamer is killer when drifted with a slight up and down jigging motion of the rod tip. Additionally, it can be stripped or swung, just like a regular streamer.  This is another fly I break out when it’s windy, because the bulk of this fly along with the jigging method of fishing help keep contact in these conditions. Additionally, a proper dead drift is not necessary for this fly which makes a good option in wind as well.  You’ll also be surprised by how many fish eat a nymph dropped off of it.

Hook: Jig, size 8-12 (Umpqua, Firehole)

Bead: Slotted tungsten – Silver (Hareline, MFC, Wapsi)

Tail: Marabou Blood Quills

Body: Hareline Polar Chenille

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A wild VT rainbow that couldn’t resist a small, black jig streamer

About the Author

Calvin McClellan @jah_eel_vt

I’m an Environmental Science major at the University of Vermont who spends way more time fishing and tying flies than I probably should.  Although I do enjoy a good dry fly or streamer take, I most often can be found using European-nymphing techniques to targt the wily wild browns, ‘bows, brookies and salmon of the Green Mountains and neighboring states.  While I’ll always have a love for the challenging (and sometimes frustrating) streams of Vermont, I often migrate West during the summer to fish remote rivers and alpine lakes.

3 thoughts on “Euro Nymphing: Confidence Flies

  1. The Sexy Walt’s is my go-to Euro nymph. During spring and fall, I have great success on one with a chartreuse hotspot collar and blowtorch-style floss tail stub. Also, I rib it with opalescent Sulky Sliver Metallic Thread which complements the chartreuse color scheme well. During the winter, I like the “McKenna” style of Sexy Walt’s. That one uses red floss, a silver wire rib, and an additional purple SLF hotspot. The pattern also calls for a pink bead but a copper bead is a pretty close match.

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