Hotspots Make Flies Sizzle!

Do hot spots really improve nymphs? You bet! Add a dash of fluorescent color to your favorite flies, and you WILL catch more trout.

[by Aaron Jasper]

Several years ago, before I started using the new European nymph-fishing techniques, I thought that fluorescent colors were only for catching steelhead and fishing dirty water. If someone had said that I would soon use flies tied with fluorescent colors, I would have laughed at them. I discovered trout flies with hot spots when Torrey Collins, a good friend and fantastic angler, showed me some French-style Pheasant-Tail Nymphs featuring collars of fluorescent fire orange thread behind the beads.


Hook: Standard nymph hook, sizes 18 through 10.
Bead: Red tungsten.
Thread: Dark brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Wood duck fibers.
Abdomen: Tying thread.
Rib: Small copper wire.
Thorax: Mix of brown UV Ice Dubbing and dark brown squirrel dubbing.

For several months, Torrey and I debated about whether a fluorescent hot spot would attract more fish than a fly tied using only natural colors, but when I tried Torrey’s hot spot Pheasant-Tail Nymph, it worked. Until then, I thought that a nymph imitation had to imitate a real insect with respect to size, shape, and color; fishing a fly made using unnatural colors was new to me.

Although this article sings the praises of hot spots, you must understand that they only enhance flies; adding hot spots does not constitute entirely new patterns. Nymphs without hot spots catch trout, but under certain conditions, nymphs with hot spots catch more fish.

History of the Hot Spot

The idea of incorporating hot spots and fluorescent colors into flies started on large lakes and reservoirs in the United Kingdom. Fly tiers added fluorescent colors to the tails of streamers, nymphs, and wet flies to attract the attention of trout from greater distances. Once the fish zeroed in on the hot spots, they came to inspect the flies out of curiosity, realized they were potential food, and struck. The same principle holds true in rivers and streams: Even though there are numerous food items floating in the water, hot spots create triggers in nymphs that elicit reactions from the trout. You will not only catch fish that are actively feeding, but also encourage idle trout to take your flies out of curiosity.

Here’s a collection of flies tied with fluorescent orange hot spots. Even under ultraviolet light, the hot spots reflect orange light.

A fluorescent color reflects light of a longer wavelength than it receives. Don’t confuse this with phosphorescence, which is when a material continues to emit color in the dark after being exposed to light. Fluorescent colors absorb any color of light in the spectrum and still reflect their own color. Blue, green, yellow, orange, and cyan are absorbed by the water, whereas violet and red continue to disperse through the water column. No matter what color wavelength reflects off the fluorescent orange thread or bead, it will reflect fluorescent orange; even if violet light reflects off the fluorescent orange hot spot, it will reflect fluorescent orange. This is the secret to a hot spot: The fluorescent bead or thread continues to reflect light and stay true to its color even though the rest of the fly changes color as it descends through the water column.


Hook: Jig hook, sizes 14 through 10.
Bead: Black nickel tungsten.
Thread: Dark brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Hare’s-ear Krystal Dub.
Rib: Small copper wire.
Hot spot: Fluorescent yellow 6/0 (140 denier) tying thread.

When trout are keying in on sulfur nymphs, a Pheasant-Tail Nymph does the job because when it is four feet deep, it changes to black or gray, but the trout still key in on the size and profile of the fly. If the pattern has a hot spot, the fish will be more likely to see the fly and react.

I have watched bass-fishing shows my entire life, and I have been able to draw on bass-fishing techniques and apply them to fly-fishing. Despite their differences, bass and trout are both freshwater fish and can live in similar habitats. Bass fishermen use colorful, flashy lures that don’t look anything like the forage found in lakes, and yet the fish still bite. Anglers seeking trout can learn a lesson from bass fishermen and use some of the fl ashy, bright, high-contrast patterns to increase their catch rate.

Favorite Hot Spot Colors

Orange is the hot spot color of choice on most nymphs, whether it’s fire orange (a deep fluorescent orange) or standard fluorescent orange. Orange holds its color, even at depths up to 25 feet. The book What Fish See, by Dr. Colin Kageyama, includes photographs of swatches of red, pink, fluorescent fire orange, fluorescent orange, yellow, and blue taken at the surface. When the color swatches are submerged to a depth of 25 feet and photographed from a distance of 25 feet, the two varieties of orange are clearly visible, whereas red and blue look black. This proves that a fly tied using fluorescent orange and fluorescent fire orange can be seen from great distances and at great depths.

ORANGE is the hot spot color of choice for most nymphs.”

Reading What Fish See, I was finally able to understand the science behind many of the observations I was making about trout behavior. I bought this book because I was curious to learn more about the colors fish can see, and I was intrigued by the photographs that illustrate the way colors change as they descend through the water. Once I understood what fish see in the water, I was able to explain the behaviors I observed. Reading What Fish See will make you look at trout—and other species—like you never have before. It will also help you tie or select flies that catch more fish.

For example, fluorescent yellow is a good choice when fishing deep water under low light conditions. Fluorescent yellow is also a great color to use in streams where there are high populations of Grannom caddis fl y larvae; the yellow thread collar behind the bead head not only attracts fish, but it also looks like a cased caddis peeping out from its case.

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