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Designing Deceptive Nymphs

4 – Will I Use the Fly During Cold Weather?

If you plan on using the fly during colder months, then it should be slightly larger and gaudier for one key reason: Trout are cold-blooded creatures, and their feeding habits slow down as water temperatures drop. As a result, I think they sometimes need a little extra encouragement during these slower feeding days.

CDC Caddis Pupa

Hook: Tiemco TMC2499 SP-BL, sizes 18 to 12.
Bead: Black tungsten or brass.
Thread: Brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Abdomen: Chartreuse Ice Dub.
Thorax: Peacock Ice Dub.
Overwing: Pheasant tail fibers.
Collar: Dark brown CDC.
Rib: 5X Monofilament.

I often dead-drift a large sculpin, stonefly, or egg pattern during the coldest winter months. While this theory doesn’t always play into my favor, it results in more wins than losses. Don’t be afraid to go larger—even on spring creeks and tailwaters—when water temperatures drop to their annual lows. You might be surprised with the results.

5 – Will Certain Mayflies Hatch Within the Next Several Days?

Two good friends, Paul Weamer and Greg Hoover, shared the following tip about fishing mayfly nymphs, and it has increased my success rate.

An immature mayfly nymph’s wing pad begins darkening before it ascends the water column to become a winged adult. This darkening results from the insect’s wings beginning to break through the wing pad. Remember, trout sometimes key in to small details, and I believe placing a black wing pad on a nymph increases my catch.

My first choice for creating this budding wing pad is a black flashback material. This material is very durable, easy to use, and provides just enough flash to gain a trout’s attention.

6 – Should the Fly Have Built-in Movement?

I’ve made two trips to Portugal’s Penecova region—once as a competitor for Fly Fishing Team USA, and once as a coach for the United States Youth Fly Fishing Team. On each trip, I learned more about designing flies using cul de canard from our guide, Jorge Pisco. When I asked to look at his fly box, I noticed a common theme: a strong presence of CDC integrated into standard nymph patterns.

For example, Jorge adds collars of cul de canard to many of his nymphs. We’re not talking about excessive amounts of CDC, but just a single wrap on a fly to allow several fibers to stand out. This small amount of CDC adds a large amount of “trout appeal” to a pattern.

William’s Biot Nymph

Hook: Knapek Nymph Hook, size 14.
Bead: Black tungsten.
Thread: Dark brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Brown partridge.
Abdomen: Mahogany brown turkey quill.
Thorax: Dark Brown SLF Squirrel Dubbing.

Another option is to cut CDC fibers off the feather stem and blend them into your favorite dubbing. This method works great with most bodies tied using natural fur dubbing. It doesn’t take much CDC to add life a standard nymph.

When fishing a nymph tied using cul de canard, try adding a small application of powdered silica. The silica allows bubbles to form on the pattern, which is a must when immature nymphs are breaking free from their shucks.

7 – Will My Fly Have Sufficient Contrasting Colors and Segmentation?

All the major insects we attempt to replicate possess two key features: contrasting colors and segmentation. As an example, the few prominent stoneflies that inhabit my local river possess dark tops and lighter underbellies. Woven flies were created to replicate this two-tone appearance. While I love the look of a woven fly, I believe we can achieve the same appearance with less effort. For example, wrapping a strand of variegated chenille around a hook shank also creates a two-tone effect, and I tie a simple rubber-legged stonefly pattern utilizing brown/yellow variegated chenille. While this fly does not look as realistic as a woven pattern, it achieves the same effect and catches just as many fish.

Adding a rib to a fly increases its durability and creates segmentation. To maximize these attributes, wrap the rib in the opposite angle direction of the body. For example, I wrap a dubbed body with the bobbin going away from me over the top of the hook as I work up the shank, and I wrap the rib in the opposite direction; the rib crosses over the wrapped body. Too many tiers wrap the body and rib in the same direction, and ribbing sinks into the grooves of the body. Do it correctly and your fly will have a durable, sexy-looking segmented body.

Tying flies is an enjoyable pastime. You might not save money, but you will create flies to match the challenges of your local waters and catch more fish.


George Daniel has represented the United States at the World Fly Fishing Championships. This fish hound has competed in Portugal, Finland, New Zealand, Scotland, and Poland. He has also coached the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team. If you want to know more about how to catch fish using nymphs, be sure to read his terrific book, Dynamic Nymphing: Tactics, Techniques, and Flies from Around the World (Stackpole Books). The photos for this article are from Fly Tyer editor David Klausmeyer’s book, The 7 Master’s Fly Box (The Lyons Press).


Fly Box

PT Cruncher

Hook: Knapek Nymph Hook, sizes 16 to 10.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Pheasant tail fi bers.
Abdomen: Pheasant tail fi bers.
Rib: Small copper Ultra Wire.
Thorax: UV chartreuse Micro Polar Chenille.
Collar: Brown hen hackle

Pisco’s Caddis Pupa

Hook: Tiemco TMC2499 SP-BL, size 12.
Thread: Dark brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Dark olive SLF Squirrel Dubbing.
Rib: Extra small copper Ultra Wire.
Underwing: Medium dun CDC.
Overwing: Natural deer hair.
Collar: Dark brown SLF Squirrel Dubbing.
Eyes: Melted monofilament.