Welcome to Beginning Fly Tying

Part Fourteen

An Introduction to Fly Tying:

Marabou Damsel Nymph

By Al Campbell

If you live near a lake or slow moving stream, you likely see damsel flies and maybe dragon flies near your home. These are aquatic insects too. In lakes, they make up a large part of the diet of insects the fish eat. In fact, you might be surprised at how important they are.

During the summer of 1997, several biologists from South Dakota completed a project of identifying the food sources of the major game fish in a sampling of local lakes. What they found should open the eyes of many local fishermen. You would do well to pay attention to their findings as well.

For the months of June, July and August, the most common item in the stomachs of trout, bass (small mouth and largemouth), walleye and panfish like crappie, perch and bluegills was a mix of adult and nymph damsel and dragon flies. Yes, I said walleyes. And, the nymphs were still prominent in stomach samplings during the spring, fall and winter months. Reason enough for me to fish a damsel or dragon fly nymph on the local lakes.

Even the biologists were surprised that fish noted as minnow eaters like walleyes, crappie and largemouth bass were eating more nymphs than minnows. Another thing that caught their attention was the number of northern pike that had a fairly large percentage of damsel and dragon fly nymphs in their stomachs. Seems these fish are opportunistic too.

Why not? Dragon and damsel flies live in the weeds and grow to meal sized treats fairly fast. Fish like to look for food in the weeds, so why wouldn't they eat the most common big nymph in their dining room? Maybe the pike think of them as desert?

With this in mind, maybe it's a good idea to have a few imitations of these two treats in your fly box. You might be surprised at how easy they are to tie. It only takes a few materials to do the job.

Before we get to the tying steps, it has been brought to my attention that there is a web site that has hook conversion charts and fly patterns that you might enjoy looking at. As you learn the basic techniques of each style of fly, you might enjoy trying a few others in the same category that use the same techniques. When you have a moment, check out this site.

Now, to the nymph patterns you panfishermen have been looking for.

List of materials: Marabou Damsel:

  • Hook: Nymph, 1xlong; Mustad 9671, Tiemco 5262 or 200R, Eagle Claw L063 or equivalent. Size 10 to 18.

  • Thread: Gudebrod 3/0 black, brown or olive, or equivalent.

  • Thorax: Marabou, same as body.

  • Rib: Clear Angler's Choice Body Stuff, midge Larva Lace, V-Rib or equivalent.

  • Wing Case: Strip of fibers from a turkey tail feather or pheasant tail feather. If you want some flash, you can use pearl tinsel for a wing case.

  • Eyes: Pearl or black plastic craft bead string, brass bead chain or melted monofiliment.

    Tying steps:

  • 1. Start thread and tie rib material to the hook.

  • 2. Attach a pair of eyes to the front of the hook using a figure 8 wrap. (If the eyes turn a little on the hook, you can straighten them out by hand before you continue.)

    Note the size of the eyes!

    Make plenty of wraps to ensure the eyes stay firmly in place. A drop of super glue will help hold the eyes in place.

  • 3. Attach a small bunch of marabou to the hook, tying it down to the place where the body will end (approximately 1/3 hook shank length back from the eye). It should extend beyond the hook bend about half the length of the hook shank. You can either tie it down where the body will end (see picture) or tie it down from the eyes to that point, whichever is easier for you. I usually use the thread tie down point as a visual reference for body dimensions, thus I tie it in where the thorax begins.

  • 4. Wrap the ribbing material forward creating even segments, tie off at the place where the thorax will start.

  • 5. Tie the marabou down to behind the eyes if you haven't done this already.

  • 6. Tie down the wing case material at the back of the thorax area.

  • 7.Wrap the remaining marabou in the thorax area, using as much of it as you can to create a full, thick thorax.

  • 8.Tie the marabou off behind the eyes and trim the excess.

  • 9. Pull the wing case material over the thorax and tie down behind the eyes with four to six wraps of thread.

  • 10. Pull the wing case material over and between the eyes and tie it down at the hook eye.

  • 11. Trim the wing case material, create a smooth thread finish, whip finish and cement the thread. Using an old tooth brush, brush the marabou thorax gently to fluff it out.

  • 12. Your finished fly should look like this.

    I use marabou for this fly because it "breathes" so well in the water. If you wish, dyed ostrich herl will work the same way. Or, if you want to vary it a little, maybe ostrich herl for the thorax and marabou for the body? It's your fly, experiment a little and find the style you like.

    Dragon fly nymphs are fatter than damsel fly nymphs. You can use this pattern though by wrapping a fat underbody of yarn, similar in color to your marabou, after you attach the eyes and rib, but before you attach the marabou. The rest of the tying steps remain the same except trimming the tail (dragon nymphs have very short tails). I leave the tail a little long and trim it on the lake after I catch a dragon nymph in a nymph net, just to be sure of dimensions. Hey, the fish don't seem to mind if you don't trim it as long as it's about the same size as the natural.

    Have you noticed how much your skills are improving? It's easy if you practice a little. Have fun with damsel and dragon nymphs this week. Next week we shift gears again. (Shhhh, it's a secret.) You'll need to have that dry fly hackle then.

    See ya next week. ~ Al Campbell

    Beginning Fly Tying Archives

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