Amazing Odonata
Article & Photography by Igor and Nadica Stancev

Dragonflies and damselflies have inhabited the earth for many millennia, and they are important to modern fly fishers. If you fish slow-moving or still waters, be sure to carry these two damsel imitations.

Odonata, which in Latin means “toothed,” was the name given to a fantastic order of insects by the scientist Johann Fabricius in 1793. Odonata includes Zygoptera (damselflies) and Anisoptera (dragonflies).

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What a picture! This dragonfly has captured a mayfly in midair and is eating its prey. This photo gives us a greater appreciation for the wonders of nature and what we encounter when we go fishing.


These insects are some of the oldest living creatures on our planet. Fossil remains show us that the wingspans on some early ex-amples were almost 30 inches in width. The size of these insects is about the only thing that has changed with Odonata; today, dragonflies and damselflies are much smaller than many of their prehistoric cousins.

The largest populations of both damsels and dragons are found in lakes and ponds, although some species have adapted to live in moving waters and at higher altitudes. Odonata needs a lot of sun, and you’ll rarely see them on cold days. For fly anglers, damselflies are more important because they appear in larger numbers than their bigger dragonfly cousins.

 ImageOlive Marabou Damselfly Nymph
Hook: 2X- to 3X-long nymph hook, sizes 10 to 6. The authors are using the     Tiemco 5262 in the tying photographs.
Thread: Olive 6/0 (140 denier).
Eyes: 2- to 5-millimeter dumbbell eyes, black or gold.
Tail and abdomen cover: Olive marabou and a piece of gold holographic tinsel.
Rib: Medium brass or copper wire.
Abdomen: Olive sparkling dubbing and a piece of gold holographic tinsel.
Wing case: Olive marabou.
Thorax: Olive hare’s-ear dubbing.
Legs: A brown partridge breast feather dyed yellow.
Note: If you plan to use this nymph for fishing deeper water, you may wrap a little lead wire in the thorax area before tying the body of the fly. Feel free to tie this imitation in other colors to match the real nymphs in your local lakes and ponds.
 
 ImageDamsel Dry Fly
Hook: 2X-long dry fly hook, sizes 12 to 8. The authors are using the Tiemco 5212 in the tying photographs.
Thread: Gray 8/0 (70 denier).
Abdomen: Micro Chenille in a color to match the natural insect.
Thorax: Your favorite dry-fly dubbing in a color to match the abdomen.
Thorax covering: Closed-cell foam in a color to match the thorax dubbing.
Wings: Flashabou and two gray cock neck feathers.
Legs: Black deer hair.
Adult damselflies are easily recognized by their two sets of wings. In most cases, the wings are glossy and have a span of about two inches. The bodies of damselflies are slim and elegant, and come in many colors: red, dark green, brilliant blue, and azure.
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This damselfly, Ischnura elegans, has just hatched: it has crawled out of its nymphal shuck, and blood is pumping into its wing veins. When at rest, the insect holds its wings together.


Damselflies usually appear starting in April, but the hatches really build through autumn. After their emergence, which occurs in the morning on bankside vegetation, the males stay near water while the females fly away and then return when they are ready to mate. Although it is possible to see trout and bass trying to catch adult damselflies flying near the surface of the water, nymph imitations catch larger numbers of fish.

Damselfly Nymph Biology
Damselfly nymphs are carnivorous, and they eagerly catch and eat other insects. These small predators hide in submerged vegetation where they lie in wait for their victims. Their most common prey are smaller mayfly nymphs and chironomid larvae, but they will attack other insects equal to their size.

The most critical time for damselfly nymphs is when they swim to shallow water prior to hatching. Damselfly migration usually takes place from late spring to midsummer. When they are ready to emerge, the nymphs crawl out of the water and onto the bankside vegetation, where they transform into winged adults. When large numbers of damselfly nymphs migrate at the same time, the trout will take notice and might selectively feed on these insects.
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Some dragonflies live as nymphs for up to four years. During this long period of development they prey on other insects. When they are ready to hatch, the nymph will crawl out of the water to emerge into a winged adult.

 
Damselfly nymphs swim using an undulating, side-to-side body motion, but this whipping movement creates a lot of action for minimal forward progress. To mimic this motion, tie all damselfly nymph imitations using materials that breathe and have a lot of movement in the water. Real damsel nymphs occasionally stop when migrating and sink slowly toward the bottom. When a trout attacks a resting damselfly, the insect turns down and dives to the bottom to escape.

When you are fishing, your damsel imitation should match the swimming motion of the real nymph. Use an intermediate or slow-sinking line to help the fly to sink. Use a slow retrieve, and occasionally stop the fly and allow it to sink. Be sure to straighten your leader before fishing a nymph imitation; any coils in the line will reduce your ability to detect subtle strikes.

We would like to share with you our favorite nymph and adult damselfly imitations. These patterns contain the most important characteristics that encourage fish to strike. We believe that if you tie and fish these patterns on your local waters that contain real damselflies, you will definitely catch some nice trout.

Igor and Nadica Stancev are two of the newest members to the roster of regular Fly Tyer contributors. Although new to writing articles for an American audience, they are two of Europe’s brightest fly-fishing stars. This talented husband-and-wife fly-tying team hail from Macedonia.

 
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