Packing Backup

When nymphing trout make fools of us, the author has a little treat that may turn the tables in our favor.
by Bill Logan

Isn’t it sad how we pity ourselves when it has been too long since we last fished? Why do I not also feel for the trout, never free from predation? They never get to sleep, and they risk everything anytime they eat. They never get a reprieve, and yet here I am, chubby-cheeked and quite content as I plan their demise. I tell you, things should be different. Asking so little, trout deserve to have it easy; expecting so much, we should have it so hard. But there you go: Life isn’t fair and we don’t want it to be. Not when we have wicked plans.

I tell you true, I am now a man to fear, and the fish will find out too late. All through the chilly, bleak winter, I tied and schemed and muttered. Long were my labors. Can you believe what I tell you? Oh, all right, the real truth is that while all a humble trout wants is enough bugs to eat, I’ve tried getting away with making as few as I could. I used to be an industrious soul, but now I clearly see where laziness became habit. The blame rests with that funny dry fly I showed you not long ago. Do you remember it? All you have to do is tug a thread to trim that fly so that it turns from a skater into a mayfly, an emerger, a spinner, or even a caddis.

Justice, where is thy dwelling place? Our poor little finned friends deserve better than I’m about to give them, for now I intend to use this same notion to plumb the depths of the stream as well. Is there any reason not to, aside from the remorse I lack?

Look, I know I can’t tie one nymph that imitates everything. Down in the bottom cobble, the kids are too wild. They’re fat and skinny, long and short, round and flat, smooth and fuzzy, pea-headed, big-headed and even pig-headed with tusks. One fly just won’t do. I must settle in at my vise and earn fish as I always have, by tying specific patterns that take care of business. Ah, but another thought has occurred to me, and it’s damned appealing: Why not try for a nymph that fills in the blanks? Can you imagine how nice it would be never to have to poke through your fly box on tough days, wishing you had just a few more choices?

Making One Fly Fit All
This fly is spot-on for caddis pupa, does nicely as a stonefly, and will pass at a glance for many mayfly nymphs. All we have to do is tie it in the right sizes and color it up well enough. Keep in mind, however, that this pattern’s real job is to fill the blanks in our fly boxes. For it to succeed, we must consider the nymphs in the streams we frequent and identify general rather than specific characteristics that they all have in common. Here’s how I’ve worked it out for my home waters.

Early spring stoneflies and mayflies start out dark (grays, browns, and blacks) and small (sizes 18 to 12); in late spring and early summer, sizes increase (up to size 10) while colors lighten, tending toward amber, cream, and olive. Meanwhile, my caddisflies are a simple lot, almost always amber or gray and tied in sizes 16 and 14; only occasionally are they olive to green. Of course, there are oddball bugs that don’t fit this basic scheme, but I already have flies to match them.

Taking this all into account, I’ll forgo size 18 and 10 hooks and tie our new nymph in sizes 16 to 12. I’m also sticking with the five marking pens in my photos. Three are Sharpie markers (black, brown, and a sort of dirty amber yellow) and the other two are Pantone (119-T olive and 11-T warm gray), but any medium olive and dark gray brown will do. Later in the season, if I run into green pupae after the gray nymphs are gone, I might replace the gray pen with a nice apple green one. That’s as easy as I can make it. I bet the results will be similar if you do likewise.

The final question is what color of Vinyl Rib to use to tie the rib? I employ only gray and clear Vinyl Rib, and rely upon my markers for color. If the caddisflies in your stream are predominantly of one type, however, you might consider using a color of ribbing that matches them or coloring the ribbing before you start making the bugs. Even then, I would take a few clear-ribbed flies along as backup; you’ll be carrying markers for other nymphs anyway, so you might as well cover all the bases.

Solvent-based pens dissolve Nymph Skin. Happily, most pens are alcohol-based these days. However, their dyes aren’t as potent and we need strong color. Sharpie markers fit the bill. Regular designer markers (Pantone and Prismacolor), while weaker, still serve for body tinting. To manage darker coloring with the latter requires an amount of patience; coat the body and let it dry for a minute while you enjoy the streamside view. Quickly apply a second coat with minimum strokes to avoid lifting the first. Again, let the ink dry as you plan your next surprise attack on the trout.

Trimming and primping a fly streamside using scissors is far easier than with leader nippers. Why not kidnap a pair old scissors from your tying bench and slip them in your vest, along with your marking pens? Also, clasp each fly you’re altering and coloring in forceps; believe me, it makes things much easier. It is also easier to apply the coloring in sequence, moving from lighter to darker tones.

The fly we’re going to tie isn’t perfect; it’s a fish getter, but I’m sure you’ll make changes to make it even better. We can start with that, use it, and adjust things as we go along. Isn’t this how the best flies are created? We have a fine idea, work it out with our buddies, and catch a few fish. That’s cause enough to keep tinkering in between trips. Sometimes quickly and sometimes over time, we come up with something that makes us believe that luck has little to do with anything!

It’ll be a very good year. I know where the fish are and so do you. Take a good look at this fly, and think about that. Tie it, change it, or use just the notion. New ideas start right here.

Bill “Bugs” Logan is an artist, fly tier, and freelance author. He lives in New Jersey but spends much of the summer knocking around on our Western rivers. Bill is working on the definitive book about collecting and preserving fine antique prints.


Tying the Double Trouble Nymph
Daiichi 1150 or other similar model, sizes 16 to 10.
White 8/0 (70 denier).
Pheasant tail fibers.
Large gold Mylar tinsel.
3-millimeter-wide strip of translucent Nymph Skin, Flexibody, Thin Skin.
Medium-sized Vinyl Rib.
Tug loop:
Strong sewing thread.
Trailing legs:
Brown or olive Krystal Flash.
Nymph Skin.
Coarse, fibrous white dubbing. I prefer synthetic dubbing that is crinkly and has sparkle.
Streamside tools:
A small selection of marking pens and a pair of tying scissors.


Image1. Wrap a thread base halfway into the hook bend. I next attach a generous amount of pheasant fibers; the tail is as long as the hook. Next comes the tinsel, secured silver side up with the tag end extending forward to the middle of the shank. If you glance at the next photo, you’ll see it’s bound on a bit in front of the tail. This is important!



Image2. Bind down and trim the butt ends of the tail and tinsel. Next, wind the tinsel underbody. Notice how the first wrap folds over, turning the gold side up. Wrap the tinsel to the middle of the hook. Tie off and clip the surplus tinsel.




Image3. Clip the tip of the Vinyl Rib at an angle. Tie the tapered tip to the middle of the hook. Once it’s secured with several firm wraps, pull the rib modestly taut and wrap back over it, keeping the material on top of the hook. Finish with five or six tight thread wraps at the rear, a bit in front of the tinsel.




Image4. Cut the Nymph Skin at an angle. Tie it on by the tip. Bind the Nymph Skin to the hook with firm wraps of thread.





Image5. Wrap the Nymph Skin up the hook; stretch the first wrap very tight, and gradually reduce the tension as you wrap up the hook. Tie off and clip the remaining Nymph Skin. Do you recall attaching the tinsel and rib ahead of the tail? Here’s the payoff. You can see I’ve begun the first wrap of the rib, bringing it under the hook. Keeping it taut, I’ve folded a generous amount of thread around it. Now I’ll finish the wrap over the tail, which will stay neatly in place rather than being dragged around the hook.


Image6. Continue wrapping the Vinyl Rib up the hook. Tie off the rib under the hook and clip the remainder.





Image7. I like adding a strand of Krystal Flash to the fly. It adds glitter and the impression of legs. Next, tie a strand of Nymph Skin to the top, leaving a short tag with a square-cut end extending rearward.




Image8. Pull the flap of Nymph Skin back and hold it in place with masking tape. Make a dubbing loop, and fill it with dubbing.





Image9. We’re at the finish line! (Counterclockwise from the left.) I’ve wrapped the thorax, brushing the fibers back with each new wrap. Next, part and brush down the dubbing, and stretch the Nymph Skin flap forward. Last of all, tie off and trim the front tag, making a neat head.


Tag it:
Furl it!