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Fly Fishing 101, Part 22
The 10 Best Nymphs

While I don't personally fish nymphs, there is no question that for CATCHING trout, nymphs are the most important fly in your selection of flies.

Getting you off on the right foot is important. And certainly starting out, catching fish on a fly is a high priority. Somewhere in the future it may become important to not just catch fish, but to do it your way. But for now, work on learning what the various flies are, what they look like (there may be regional variations) and how to fish them. There is a homework assignment on this at the end of this article.

Here are the top 10 nymphs in order of their importance:

  1. Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear

  2. Gray Nymph

  3. Zug Bug

  4. Beaver

  5. Black Midge Pupa

  6. Pheasant Tail

  7. Kaufmann's Stone (Brown)

  8. American March Brown (Nymph)

  9. Scud

  10. Prince Nymph

From 40 Best Trout Flies by Robert H.Alley.
Published by Frank Amato Publication. Thanks for use permission.

Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear: If you can't figure out what is happening, use this fly. It's good for any time of day, and every type of water. It can be used where caddis, stoneflies or mayflies are suspected. In lakes or slow moving water fish near the bottom, using a sink-tip line, or long (9ft. leader) with a piece of split shot a foot above the fly. Use a rather fast 'jerky' hand retrieve, which simulates a swimming motion. In moving water cast upstream and cross current, assuming you have a spot where trout should be. Fish it unweighted on shallow riffles, dead drift - that is no line strips.

Gray Nymph: Thickly tied this is every effective in lakes for both trout and bass. Fish slowly working the bottom. For streams a thinner (sparse) version, should be fished about a foot from the surface. This tends to be a seasonal fly, best for early in the year, April and May.

Zug Bug: A another bottom fly, weight the line above the fly or use sink-tip line. Use a retrieve that will barely crawl the fly along.

Beaver: Primarily a fall fly, used for lakes. Crawl slowly. On streams, use with floating line, across and upstream, dead drift.

Black Midge Pupa: Most common color, although regional variations may include blood or red in the Sierra Nevada lakes and gray and brown in other areas. All midge pupas are fished the same way. Either on the surface or on the bottom. Use 4X, 10 foot leader and fish it, stripped dead slow. On the surface use 6X tippet, and cast it just short of a rising trout's nose. Let it rest one second, barely twitch or move the fly. No take? Pick it up and look for another fish.

Pheasant Tail: If the Gold Ribbed Hare's ear didn't produce results, use this one. Except fish it just barely below the surface. On a lake jerk it quickly and parallel to weed beds or cover. For streams use in quiet spots - pools, backwaters and slow currents. Cast upstream and cross-current.

Kaufmann's Stone (Brown): Very popular with western anglers, (although I prefer stone flies with legs, they look 'buggier'). This fly is best fished in fast, rocky currents. Cast cross current and dead-drift. To fish on the bottom, weight. This is a spring fly, for late April and May.

American March Brown (Nymph): The best use of this fly is for limestone and spring creeks which are populated with brown mayfly nymphs, scuds and beetles. Fish a size 20, upstream in the surface film, (dead-drift) ahead of where trout are - or should be. Mend your line to give a drag-free float. It can also be fished in stillwaters very slowly on the bottom.

Scud: When fished in lakes, this fly needs to be on the bottom, or at weed level. Using it where no weeds exsist won't work. At depths past five feet, a long, 15-foot leader is best. If you find a scud-filled spring creek, this fly should be cast upstream and drifted through currents. Impart a little action with an occasional light line strip.

Prince (Nymph): This is an "attractor" pattern, which almost looks like a streamer. (Streamers are bait fish imitations.) Fish with a floating line and about a 10-foot leader. A split shot about a foot above the fly should get it down to about five feet or the bottom. Use a one & two 'beat' strip. The Prince will also work in fast tumbling water, fished downstream with the current.

Here is your "homework" assignment! Go to a fly shop or a couple. Leave all the credit cards and check book at home. Look at the 10 nymphs listed here. Compare the various nymphs to each other. Note the differences and similarities. Also note that all fly tiers do not tie any given fly exactly the same. Which 'variation' best suits your needs? Ask if there is a local variation of the nymph. To catch fish you must know what a fish eats! Have a question? Email me! ~DB

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