I had to change the time of the class to 3:30 p.m., so I thank everyone who signed up for being so flexible. We’re going to be tying “Favorite Nymphs,” proven patterns that get a lot of action when I’m in the mood to go low and slow. There’s still time to join us if you like; the cost is $10 and you register by sending me the fee through PayPal. See you at 3:30.
Thanks to the Ottawa Flyfishers, I am now officially an internationally-known fly fishing speaker. We had a most excellent time last night via Zoom. I talked for an hour about “The Little Things,” my original presentation in the series, that can make a big difference in your fishing success. We did Q&A — I love Q&A — for a few more minutes, then wrapped it up with social pleasantries. A wonderful group of dedicated, enthusiastic anglers. Thank you very much!
Kenney’s in the house! Ken Abrames is doing a series of talks on YouTube: “Kenney Abrames begins a video talk series with this short audio where he discusses his connection with nature.” I know as much about it as you do at this point. I have not yet listened to the first but I’m sure it will be loaded with keen observations. You can find the first talk here.
Finally, I had to switch the time for this Saturday’s “Favorite Nymphs” Zoom tying class to 3:30 p.m. There’s still room if you want to attend. Once again, the day is the same, Saturday, February 20, and the new start time is 3:30pm. The cost is $10 and you register by sending me the fee through PayPal. This also seems like a good time to thank those already enriolled in the class for being so gracious when I had to change the time. I’m lucky to have so many good people who are part of this website!
My third winter fly tying pay-per-Zoom event is Saturday, February 20 at 1pm. Like the others, this will be about 90 minutes of fly tying/tie-along instruction. The cost is $10. To “register,” you send 10 bucks to me at PayPal (ID is email@example.com) and I’ll send you the link to the meeting. Favorite Nymphs will cover some basic, useful patterns that are proven producers. Again, the focus is on template and technique. You should have different color threads, different hooks, beads, tools, etc. You should have at least one hen hackle/hen cape — Whiting makes a good basic hen hackle — or some other kind of soft hackle, whether it’s grouse, starling, partridge, etc. The “right” color is not critical, but if you want to go all in you should have grey or brown or black. The point is, if you don’t have a specific color hackle, you can find it later. Questions? You know where to find me.
Many of you will want a complete materials list, so let’s plan on these patterns: Soft-Hackled Bead Head Pheasant Tail, Bead Head Squirrel and Ginger, Frenchy Variant, Blue Glass Bead Midge. You’ll need 2x short scud hooks (anything from sz 12-16 for the first three and a size 18 or smaller for the last); metallic beads, your choice color, to match hook size; blue glass seed beads (mine are the Mill Hill brand; you can find them online or at a fabric/craft store, sized to your hook, and if you can’t find them you can substitute a tiny metallic bead of your choice); small copper wire; extra small silver wire; pheasant tail; ginger/orange dubbing (I like Angora goat); a squirrel skin if you have one (if not you can substitute a small soft hackle); bright contrasting color Ice Dub, your choice of color; high tack wax (like Loon Swax). Again, if you don’t have some of these specific materials you can substitute/make do as we are just learning some basic patterns and techniques.
I also like the Rainbow Warrior variant, a high confidence pattern. Scud hook, silver bead, PT, opal tinsel, rainbow sow scud dubbing if you have it. Maybe if we’re ambitious we’ll get to this one, too.
I did a series of lightning raids on three spots yesterday within the permanent TMA. (I only had 90 minutes to fish.) The method was nymphing, both indicator and tight line. I found one fish that wanted to jump on. The other two marks were blanks. Even in these low, slow conditions there were anglers everywhere. Usually this time of year, on a weekday, I might see three or four angler cars during my travels. I saw three or four cars in several dirt pulloffs, and multiple solo vehicles. Fishing the Hous the last couple months has clearly spoiled me, as I’ve become accustomed to sharing the water with herons only.
Good news is that the water was nice and cool and there were bugs about. Even with all those other anglers, this was the only trout I saw hooked all day. Lovely halos. She took the Frenchie Nymph variant. Leaves were an issue, and will continue to be with this early foliage drop.
I worked with Bill yesterday on his indicator nymphing and wet fly skills. Water conditions were perfect in the Permanent TMA: 325cfs, cold, clear. The trout and bugs were a wee bit more uncooperative. Hatches (sulphurs, caddis, olives) were spotty and the feeding was inconsistent at best. We fished two marks and saw four trout hooked all day, and since we had two of them, we declared victory. On the plus side, Bill landed his PB non-lake-run brown. He nailed it at high noon (we fished from 10am-2pm) while nymphing. I was observing from upstream, and when he set the hook it sure looked like a fish to me. Bill thought he was stuck on the bottom — that happens sometimes with larger Farmy trout — and then, gloriously, the bottom fought back. Sadly, Bill snapped his rod during the battle, but the fish was landed, much to his delight. To say nothing of mine!
Bill’s new personal best, a gorgeous high teens wild brown. Love those halos. He took the took dropper in our nymph rig, a size 18 soft-hackled pheasant tail. Since that hook was a 2x short, it’s effectively a size 22 fly. Do not underestimate the power of tiny soft hackles this time of year. I almost always make my top dropper on my drop-shot nymph rig a soft hackle. Congratulations, Bill!
Yesterday’s expedition was dedicated to nymphing the lower River. The action was spotty to say the least: six marks visited, three of them total blanks. But…we’ll get to that in a moment.
First, be advised that Monday is the new Saturday on the Farmington. I’ve never seen the river this crowded on a Monday this early in the season. There were anglers in four of the six pools I hit, sometimes three or more. If you value solitude, gird your loins.
The method was drop shot nymphing, about 25% tight line and 75% indicator. I fished a size 18 soft-hackled pheasant tail on top dropper, and a Frenchie variant on point. I took trout on both flies.
It’s semi-sweet to say that you may have already landed your biggest trout of the season, but it is what is. I was nymphing a deeper run when the indicator dipped and I set the hook. The emotional and logical thought protocols immediately kicked into gear: “Is that the bottom? No, it is not, I can feel a head shake. Let me re-set the hook. OK, that’s a decent fish. Wow, that’s a strong fish. Shoot, he’s sulking on the bottom. Gotta keep him away from that submerged boulder. Gotta move him. I’ll do that steelhead side-to-side rod arc thing. Gotta get him out of the current so he can’t breathe. That frog water looks like a good LZ.”
And then, as you get your first visual, you wish for a bigger net. But you’ve whipped the fish fast (remembering the sage advice of Stu Apte: “To play him long is to play him wrong.”) and now the moment of glory is at hand. Swing and a miss. Again…yessir. Wow!
Hunk-a hunk-a burning Survivor Strain love. Wotta tummy! Wotta tail! And shoulders that simply aren’t done justice by this photo. Easily over 20″, but this is a fish that should be measured in pounds.
A trout like that called for a celebration. So I fired up a Rocky Patel The Edge torpedo and did just that.
What are the best nymphs for early-season trout? It’s hard to say. “Best,” after all, is not an absolute like the firmness of the earth or the sun rising in the east. But if you asked me make a choice, I’d tell you you could do a lot worse than these three proven nymph patterns — and the trout would agree.
Soft-Hackled Bead Head Pheasant Tail. Size it up, size it down, the pheasant tail remains a classic because it looks like so many things that trout like to eat. I love this version for its buggy peacock herl thorax and so-many-quivering-sexy-legs of a soft hackle. For recipe and tying video, click here.
Frenchie Nymph Variant. The same fly as above — but different! We’ve traded the wiggly legs for a flashy hot spot. The result is a slimmer profile with different bite triggers that keeps this a high-confidence early-season nymph. What makes it variant? Unlike Lance Egan’s original, this has a brass bead, not tungsten, and it’s tied on a scud hook. (Since I don’t Euro-nymph, I rarely use tungsten beads in my nymphs.) For recipe and tying video, click here.
Rainbow Warrior Variant. Another Lance Egan creation, this version uses a brass bead instead of tungsten (see Frenchie, above) and omits the mylar wing case. The Rainbow Warrior takes the flashy attractor nymph to a whole new level. Good stuff!
I’ve got nymphing on my brain. I’m hoping to get out this week and scratch that itch, but right now I’m chained to the computer. So here are some of my favorite winter nymph patterns. It’s a short list — I like to keep things simple. These are all high-confidence patterns, which makes them the best nymphs for me. What nymphs do you like to fish in the winter?
You’ll find a lot of tiny bugs in the cold months, especially on a tailwater, so going small with your nymphs is usually a good idea. This late winter beauty fell for a size 18 (2x short) BHPT.
Frenchie Nymph Variant. A little flash, a little color, a little contrast, a little natural brown means a lot of good nymphing mojo
Squirrel and Ginger Beadhead. Sans bead, one of my favorite caddis emergers. Add a black brass bead and deepwater magic ensues.
G-R Blue Bead Midge. Love this fly in winter when the flows aren’t too high or fast. Make it your top dropper, and if the trout are on small stuff, hold on.
Rainbow Warrior. I like this fly on brighter days. (That’s a general rule of thumb for me: if a fly is based on flash and shine, it won’t do its job as well on overcast days). The Rainbow Warriors are on the cork to the left in the linked shot.
Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail. Sizes 12-14, with a bead, this is my point fly on a two-fly nymph rig. Size 16-20, no bead head, it’s a terrific top dropper. Looks like a ton of bugs in general.
Hare and Copper Variant. What’s there not to like about Pheasant Tail, Red Fox Squirrel, and Hare’s ear? Oh, and there’s a copper bead, too. Sign me up!
There comes a time every year when I declare my tying bench a disaster area. I’ve been busy churning out flies for clients and myself all summer, and there’s never any time to put things back where they belong — let alone sweep up that mountain of shaved deer hair. OK, if you’re one of those few who keeps things neat and tidy, I humbly bow before your uncluttered presence. For me, a clean tying area is going to have to be a winter project.
Live and in the studio. No edits!
Oscar Madison bench, Felix Unger results. Some bugs for the Farmington this week.
What a deep, dark, buggy design. No wonder Leisenring loved this fly. Although only two medium hook sizes are specified, I can see this translating to a 2x short scud hook in a 16 or 18, and strategically placed as the top dropper in your nymph rig. Not what the creator had in mind, but surely the trout would support the decision. The real beauty of this bug may be in that it does not look like anything in particular, but a lot of things in general. Bravo, Big Jim!
This concludes the series of James Leisenring’s favorite twelve wet fly patterns. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Stay tuned for more good wet fly stuff on currentseams.
Iron Blue Nymph