with John Hey
Let’s look at impressionist nymphs and how to give them life when retrieved. We can tie a nymph that looks the exact copy but when drifting through the current it might as well be a stick. To look good to a fish the fly must show life and to do this we need to use soft fibres to show action. Look under a rock and watch as the nymphs swim back to cover. We can impart some movement by stripping the line and twitching the rod but the real life comes from your fly.
To put life into my damselfly nymph I made it in two sections, with a tail that wiggles, with fibres from marabou to give the simulation of legs. Take a standard pheasant tail, put the eye in a pair of hackle pliers and hold it underwater and move it. See what movement you get. Now try it with a pattern with a small hackle at the head. Notice the movement given by the legs.
Don’t spin your dubbing too tight. I now put my dubbing into a dubbing loop. Loosely put your dubbing mix on your thread then put your needle at the end of your dubbing on the thread, taking the thread back to the body and fasten. Twist with hackle pliers or a dubbing spinner – this gives a spiky effect to your body.
A body of swannundaze which is like flat mono in colours looks good to us but gives no life to the fly, however, tying a body of yarn with a rib of swannundaze allows the fibres to move. One of the best stonefly patterns is tied this way.
In my early days of fly fishing, nymph fishing was a matter of chuck and chance and my success was very unpredictable which led me to not fish nymphs very often. I read Tony Orman’s book Trout with Nymph; a book well worth reading, and slowly I became more confident and began to take more fish on nymphs, as in dry fly fishing, size is the most important part in selecting a pattern with colour and motion close behind. Depending on the pattern this may change. A nymph washed downstream by the current will drift along and may rise to the surface at hatching time whereas dragonflies and damsels swim like baitfish as they leave their cover to hatch.
How do we give movement to snails as they crawl or get washed along on a wave? A few turns at the head works well. When I try to imitate a mayfly nymph hatching in a small stream I use a wet fly pattern casting it across and letting the fly swing on a tight line which will make the fly rise off the bottom to the surface. A sharp tug from a strike or a miss is quite on the cards. Even the heaviest bombs with the right materials will take fish.
A nymph with lead eyes and a body of copper wire is not a nymph but a very expensive sinker.
I once watched the world fly fishing championships over five weeks. It was held during March. I found the event a real eye-opener. The contestants fished on the last day on water only a few hundred yards long and had no choice in the matter as they were given allotted spots. Some stretches had pools and runs and some were fast and uninviting. An Australian angler spat the dummy and left the water early, but the anglers who did well could tie on flies in 10 seconds and covered the water with a fine tooth comb. They only had a limited time in which to fish the beat with the emphasis on numbers of fish, not size. One angler who covered the water, then recovered it with a heavier nymph while crouching waist deep in the stream with no more than 20′ of line through the rod caught one and lost two fish on the second time down, so don’t be in too much of a hurry to cover too much water too quickly.
When tying in dubbed bodies, make sure the fibres are not even and add in different shades of your body colour. It still looks one colour at arm’s length but up close to the fish, will look segmented. When tying your nymphs, put your moving materials in places that move on the nymph, ie tails, gills, legs – use hen hackles and not cock hackles. Marabou and ostrich herl along with rabbit fur give good movement.
A world famous pattern, the woolly worm is a very simple fly, chenille body with a wound hackle the full length of the hook. This fly is a killer but to look at it, you would not even buy it, but it gives lifelike movement that attracts fish and is taken for many things from a dragonfly to a minnow.
Another way to bring life to your fly is to add a flash; a simulation of trapped air’ a simple strip of silver tinsel or Flashabou reflects off the surface. Add rubber legs to your nymphs and don’t be afraid to leave them a little long. As your nymphs come off the tying bench, the scruffier they look, the better they will catch fish.