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
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.
Tail: Red saddle hackle fibers
Rib: Pearl tinsel
Cross-rib: 5-6X tippet
Dubbing: Peacock ice dub
Collar: Ice dub
Red Dart Variation
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.
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.
Body: olive thread, 70 denier
Rib: olive wire
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.
Rib: Silver wire
Wing case: Pearl mylar
Thorax: Hareline rainbow scud dub
Walt’s Worm/Sexy Walt’s
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.
Rib (optional): Pearl flash (or tinsel)
Cross-rib: 5-6X tippet
Body: hare’s ear dubbing
Hotspot (optional): Pink Ice Dub
Soft Hackle Carrot
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.
Rib: Orange Thread, two strands twisted for durability
Body: Hare’s ear dubbing
Collar: Brown Ice Dub
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.
Hotspot: Pearl Flashabou
Body: Stripped Peacock Quill
Wing pad: Black UV Resin (or black nail polish)
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.
Wing pad: Black UV Resin (or black nail polish)
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.
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.
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
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.
Tail: Marabou Blood Quills
Body: Hareline Polar Chenille
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.