6 Tricks for Tying Better Nymphs

They were on the Yellowstone River catching trout, but our authors found time to write yet another great article featuring their favorite fly tying tips. This time they tell us how to make better nymphs.

[by Al & Gretchen Beatty]

Ten years ago we moved to Boise, Idaho. It wasn’t long before we had plans to travel the backroads in search of new or long forgotten waters.

In preparation for our first trip, we decided to replenish our personal fly boxes; during the previous few years, fly tying had been a hit-or-miss proposition. Over those seasons we did fit in a fishing trip here and there, but we didn’t often get time to refill our boxes. It was great to once again sit side by side at our fly tying stations, cranking out the bugs we needed.

The bulk of the holes in our fly inventories fell into three general categories: nymphs, wet flies, and streamers. We usually write about dry flies because people tend to have more trouble tying them, but the majority of our fishing falls in the catch-all category we call “wet stuff.” We didn’t think too much about the significance of the blank spots in our inventories; we just filled them and got ready for the trip.

The ultimate goal on our first extended journey in almost a decade was the Yellowstone River near Livingston, Montana. We had fished it extensively in years past, and Al had guided there off and on for 15 years. It was almost like going home after an extended absence. During the eight hour drive we wondered if the river had changed much? Would it still produce fish as good as it used to? The answer was fairly simple: We weren’t disappointed.

At the beginning of the first float trip in our new pontoon driftboat, we sat back and enjoyed the solitude the flowing water brought to our souls. We were home! Gretchen was just letting her line hang downstream from the boat with a nymph swinging in the current when a nice trout nailed her fly. Wow, it was a great way to start the day! She commented something to the effect that we usually catch more fish on nymphs and streamers than we do on drys. That comment turned our conversation to the fact that most of the vacancies in our fly boxes were in the nymph category. We decided right there, on that trip to the Yellowstone River, to dedicate our next tips-and-tricks article to tying better nymphs. During the next several hours, we jotted down ideas to include in this column. Of course,we did have to take an occasional break to land a fish, but we soon got back to brainstorming ideas to share with you. It was good to be back on the river!

Tip #1


Several years ago, at a fly fishing show in San Mateo, California, we asked Roy Powell to sit in our booth and tie with us. During the show, when we got a short break from the crowd, we asked Roy to show us how he created the perfectly bent rubber legs on his nymphs, explaining that we could never get them to bend at the right angle. When he reached for a tube of Crazy Glue, we knew we were about to learn a really cool fly tying tidbit. We weren’t disappointed, and now it’s your turn to learn Roy’s simple trick.

Rubber Legs Done Right

Tip #2


We often demonstrate how to tie flies using nontraditional methods that produce patterns that look like we used normal tying techniques; that’s what we’ll illustrate with this fly. As you’ll see, you don’t have to start the tying process at the back of the hook. On this fly, we’ll start by making the hackle collar; wrapping the collar is usually the last step when tying a fly. You’ll also discover that a material (in this case, hackle) can sometimes serve more than one purpose.

One Nymph, One Feather

Tip #3


In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Al was marketing director for Whiting Farms, we often had interesting visitors stay with us. Famous French fly dresser Jean-Paul Dessaigne was one of these people. We spent a delightful evening tying flies with him at our house. Even though we couldn’t speak each other’s language, we could easily communicate through hooks, thread, and tying materials. That evening, Jean-Paul shared an extended-body tip that we brought to you in a recent column in this magazine. Now we’ll take that idea to the next level and add a tail to a dubbed extended body.

A New Extended Body
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