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.

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 March Brown Nymph

James Leisenring’s nymph template takes some getting used to. At least it does for me. I get the short hackle (even though I do quite well, thank you, with nymphs using long hackle). But I’m still mystified by these “very short” tails. I’m skeptical that a trout will notice an almost-not-even-there tail in a gurgling 3-knot current. Not to mention they’re a pain to tie. But never mind. Who am I to argue with greatness?

Today we have the March Brown Nymph. A handsome creature, part Pheasant Tail, part Hare’s Ear, part soft hackle. Delicious! The menu has been set. Let our diners assemble.

Leisenring’s March Brown Nymph

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Hook: 13 (I’m using a 2x heavy, 1x long 12 or 14)
Silk: Orange (I’m slumming with UNI 6/0 thread)
Hackle: A short-fibered, light brown feather from the Hungarian partridge.
Tail: Three fibers from a cock pheasant tail feather tied very short.
Rib: Gold or silver wire.
Body: Three reddish fibers from a center feather of a cock pheasant tail. (As with peacock’s herl, tie in, twist with thread, and wind up body, twisting together as you go.)
Thorax: Hare’s ear fur dubbed fairly heavily.
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Tying notes: Short-fibered light brown partridge hackles are hard to come by. Be prepared to do some hunting on your skin. Normally, I’d use the same pheasant tail fibers for the tail as I would for the body. But these tails are so short, I kept pulling them out when I tried to use the whole smash. So, separate sets of three for tail and body. I find Leisenring’s directive of twisting the fibers around the thread unnecessary for reinforcement purposes — the gold wire does that nicely. If he’s trying to get some extra orange in the abdomen, well, then, Jim, I’ve failed you. I think a dubbing loop makes for a buggier thorax. Two wraps of hackle are all you’ll need — or manage.

Leisenring’s Tups Nymph (Nymph)

No, dear reader, you are not seeing double. In James Leisenring’s The Art of Tying the Wet Fly, he lists two Tup’s Nymph patterns. One’s a wingless wet, the other’s a nymph. (I covered the wet last year — in case you missed it, it’s here.)

LeisenringBook

They seem to be the same pattern, but the nymph version calls for a tail of two honey dun hackle points; the wet (in the Leisenring’s Favorite Twelve section) does not. And while both patterns specify “very small” hackle, the photo of the wet in the book shows a hackle that extends well past the hook gap. There’s an illustrated S-B-S of the nymph, and it shows an ultra-short hackle that comes nowhere near the width of the hook gap. It’s all a little confusing.

Leisenring is very particular about his nymphs. He calls for heavy wire to help them sink, although he also mentions fishing them near the surface. He states he has “no use for a weighted nymph because they do not swim naturally.” Take that, Euro nymphers! And I love that he is a bear about “exceedingly sharp” hooks. That’s a man after my own heart.

I gotta tell you, though — this is one unattractive pattern. There’s precious little that sings to me, unless I were to be confronted by a hatch of sulphurs or golden stones. Still, Leisenring had a high enough opinion of this fly to make it the nymph tying example. Let the trout be the judge!

Leisenring’s Tups Nymph (Nymph)

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Hook: 13-14
Silk: Primrose yellow
Hackle: Very small light-blue hen hackle or medium-dark honey dun hen hackle
Body: Halved: rear half of primrose-yellow buttonhole twist; thorax or shoulder of yellow and claret seal fur mixed dubbing spun on primrose-yellow silk.
Tail: Two honey dun hackle points
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Tying notes: The hackle length should be well short of the hook gap. You can take the hackle points from the very base of a hen neck. Leisenring wants you to tie in the hackle points with the buttonhole twist over a bare hook shank; that is, starting from eye part of the abdomen, down to the tail, then back. I found this to be a pain in the butt. As always, DMC embroidery floss #744 is my buttonhole twist substitute, one separated strand’s worth. The instructions say the body should be halved, but the illustrations in the book clearly show a 2:1 abdomen:thorax ratio. Seal substitute Angora goat is its usual difficult self; I recommend using high-tack wax like Loon Swax. Leisenring wants you to jam the hackle “almost into the dubbing.” Two or three wraps at the most. Then finish.