Leisenring’s favorite soft-hackled nymphs, in list form with photos

Last month I published a short feature series on James Leisenring’s favorite soft-hackled nymphs. Leisenring first listed these patterns in his 1941 book, “The Art of Tying The Wet Fly.” Here’s a single reference list of the seven nymphs, a photo of each pattern, and a link to the original post with my comments and tying instructions.

Heed the sage advice of Big Jim: “Now, in nymph fishing your hook must be exceedingly sharp…more fish are lost because of dull, cheap hooks than all other causes combined…” — James Leisenring

Tups Nymph (nymph version)

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March Brown Nymph

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Half-Stone Nymph

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Dark Olive Nymph

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Pale Watery Nymph

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Pale Watery Nymph (light-colored dun version)

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July Dun Nymph

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Tie and fish these soft-hackled nymphs with confidence, just as James Leisenring did nearly one hundred years ago.

 

 

 

 

Leisenring’s July Dun Nymph

We wrap up the series of Leisenring’s favorite soft-hackled nymphs with the July Dun Nymph. No doubt Leisenring thought the July Dun matched the summertime bugs he encountered on his beloved Pennsylvania creeks. Certainly this fly could cover any number of small, dark nymphs that trout would think are good to eat.

I hope you enjoyed this little stroll down legacy fly pattern lane!

Leisenring’s July Dun Nymph

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Hook: 15, 16
Silk: Orange waxed with colorless wax.
Hackle: One turn of very short, soft-rusty-dun cock hackle.
Tail: Three fibers of a ginger hen’s hackle tied very short.
Rib: Fine gold wire halfway up the body.
Body: Darkish-brown-olive seal fur.
Body: Medium-dun mole fur.
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Tying notes: You don’t need to use precious tying silk on a pattern like this one (says the guy who used silk). Hen replaces cock for the hackle. Dark Olive Squirrel SLF Spikey Dubbing replaces seal fur. Leisenring uses mole in many of his patterns; a standard-issue mole skin will keep you in thoraxes till your old age. (Mike Hogue has some good skins at Badger Creek.) If you don’t have a mole skin, try rabbit.

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph (light-colored dun version)

This is the second Pale Watery Nymph listed in Leisenring’s book. He adds the qualifier, “effective when light-colored duns are on the water.” No doubt. Buggy, simple, and highly edible.

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph (light-colored duns)

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Hook: 15, 16
Silk: White, waxed with colorless wax
Hackle: One turn of very short honey dun cock hackle.
Tail: Three strands of very short, soft-blue-dun cock fibers.
Rib: None.
Body: Undyed seal fur or pale buff Australian opossum fur dubbed lightly at the tail and thicker at the thorax.
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Tying notes: Absent cock hackle, I used hen. I didn’t have the right color opossum, so I used Hareline Dubbin rabbit. This is a very straightforward tie.

W.C. Stewart’s spiders from “The Practical Angler,” in list form with photos

I recently published a short feature series on W.C. Stewart’s spiders, three ancient and traditional Scottish soft hackles. They first appeared in print in Stewart’s 1857 book “The Practical Angler or the Art of Trout Fishing, more Particularly Applied to Clear Water.” Here now is a single reference list of the trio: the Black Spider, Red Spider, and Dun Spider, a photo of each pattern, and a link to the original post with my comments and tying instructions. If you’re interested in reading an online copy of Stewart’s Book, you can find one here.

W.C. Stewart on the soft-hackled feather: “So soft are they, that when a spider is made of one of them and placed in the water, the least motion will agitate and impart a singularly life-like appearance to it.” — W.C. Stewart

W.C Stewart’s Black Spider

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W.C. Stewart’s Red Spider

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W.C. Stewart’s Dun Spider

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Apply these to clear water near you, and let your mind wander back a few centuries. Picture Stewart on a wee Scottish burn, fishing his beloved spiders upstream…

 

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph

Big Jim loved his Pale Watery nymphs. We know this because he’s got two of them listed in his book. This is the first Pale Watery nymph, and it’s a simple, buggy tie. I’m picturing it as the point fly on a team of three; dropped off the bend of a Usual or Light Cahill dry; or below a dry with the dry on a tag. Speaking of Pale Watery, keen students of Leisenring’s fly patterns will remember the Pale Watery Dun Wingless — one of his “favorite twelve” — from last year’s series here on currentseams.

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph

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Hook: 15, 16
Silk: Primrose yellow
Hackle: One or not more than two turns of a darkish-blue cockerel hackle only long enough to suggest wing cases.
Tail: None.
Rib: Fine gold wire halfway up the body.
Body: Cream colored fur (Chinese mole or Australian opossum) dubbed very thinly at the tail and heavily at the shoulder and thorax.
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Tying notes: No gots cockerel, so I used a dark dun hen cape. For body fur, I chose Hareline Dubbin Light Cahill (HD1). It is here that find myself faced with a disturbing question. Leisenring specifies that the rib should go “halfway up the body.” Does this mean his other nymphs were meant to have a rib that continued over the thorax? It’s quite possible. I’m not a fan of ribbing over a heavily dubbed thorax — it kind of defeats the purpose of that buggy section — but Leisenring may have intended otherwise.

Leisenring’s Dark Olive Nymph

James Leisenring’s Dark Olive Nymph is sure to be popular among the finned set. For starters, it’s buggy as hell. Not only does it cover the pre-emergent Blue Winged Olive family, it’s also one of those flies that looks like lots of bugs in general, but not necessarily any one in particular.  That’s the good news. The flip side — if I may editorialize — is that I suspect a soft-hackled Pheasant Tail does the same duty, and is easier to tie. One way to find out!

Leisenring’s Dark Olive Nymph

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Hook: 14, 15
Silk: Primrose yellow
Hackle: One or not more than two turns of the tiniest blue dun hen’s hackle.
Tail: Two or three very short, soft blue dun cock fibers.
Rib: Fine gold wire.
Body: Dark green-olive seal’s fur mixed with a little dark-brown bear’s fur (found next to the skin) spun lightly at the tail and quite heavily at the shoulder or thorax.
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Tying notes: It should take me a few minutes to bang out Leisenring’s Dark Olive Nymph; when it takes longer than that to tie in the bloody “very short” tail, I curse my lot in fly tying and pine for the simplicity of the soft-hackled pheasant tail nymph. At this size, Angora goat (my standard seal’s fur substitute) would be an unruly mess. And since I’m right out of bear, I made the command decision to use Squirrel SLF Spikey Dubbing, dark olive and dark brown. I’m pleased with the results. A single dubbing loop for both abdomen and thorax.

 

Leisenring’s Half Stone Nymph

Finally, Leisenring dispenses with those noseeum tails! (Not to worry. They’ll be back.)

I rather like the Half Stone Nymph. I know a small stream that gets a decent late spring hatch of yellow sallies. This pattern, dropped off the back of a bushy dry, will drive the char absolutely out of their minds. On the smaller side at 13-14, I can also see it supersized to an 8 or 10. Its grey and yellow palette reminds me of Ken Abrames’ R.L.S. Easterly (and the soft hackle I tie by the same name). Mole fur is underused in the modern fly, so it’s good to get reacquainted. Bonus: Mole skins are cheap and fairly easy to find. Look for one at Badger Creek.

Leisenring’s Half Stone Nymph

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Hook: 13, 14 (I’m using a 2x heavy, 1x long 14)
Silk: Primrose yellow
Hackle: Very short blue dun hen’s hackle, 2 turns or 3 turns at the most.
Tail: None.
Rib: Very fine gold or silver wire.
Body: Primrose yellow buttonhole twist.
Thorax: Mole’s fur dubbed fairly heavily.
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Tying notes: Much easier of a tie without those infernal very small tails! As always, DMC embroidery floss #744 is my primrose yellow buttonhole twist substitute, one separated strand’s worth. I attach it just below the thorax, then wrap back up over the first layer. I think a dubbing loop makes for a buggier thorax.