Mayflies: Nymphs

It is generally accepted that approximately 80% of a trout's diet is taken under the surface in the form of nymphs. As a result, a great majority of fly fishers use a nymph as a primary weapon...some utilize the dry/dropper technique and many use a solitary nymph or a dual nymph setup. Mayfly nymphs are available as fish food 24X7 whereas the winged adults are available only during a hatch or as spinners. Although presentation of a nymph is less a problem than a dry fly, it is still important to avoid drag and to concentrate on a natural drift into the trout's feeding window. Below I have listed a number of the most common mayfly nymphs based not only on my years of experience but also on numerous books and articles I have read.

Gold ribbed hare's ear - This is a classic mayfly nymph pattern. Victorian fly tier James Ogden is often credited with its design. The Hare’s Ear is a generic mayfly nymph. There is something about the gold ribbing in combination with the rabbit fur makes this one of the most essential nymph patterns to have in your box. Hundreds of variations on this fly have been tied and successfully fished in all types of water. This is a particular favorite of mine when fishing stillwater in/around weed beds. Go here for tying information...

Prince nymph - When you take the time to look at live mayfly nymphs, most have contrasting colors. Many will have a light colored bottom with a dark top. The white biots on the prince nymph may not exactly represent any specific aquatic insect, but I believe it is the contrast that helps attract fish...especially in fast water. This fly was developed by Doug Prince of Monterey, California, in the late 1930s or early 1940s. His original “Prince Nymph” had a black body, black soft hackle, and a black tail. A modification of this pattern, which he called the “Brown Forked Tail,” became the well-known Prince Nymph. Some say he developed this fly as a stonefly imitation. 

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gold ribbed hares ear.jpg

image credit: George Daniel/Hatch Magazine

prince nymph

image credit: George Daniel/Hatch Magazine

Pheasant tail - This mayfly nymph pattern was initially created by UK river keeper Frank Sawyer. It is one of the oldest nymph patterns.  Again, there are many variations on this original...many tied with bead head and a mylar flashy wing case. Copper wire is wrapped on the hook shank as weight and as a rib to represent  the segmentation of the abdomen. It is one of my goto dropper flies. 

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Copper John - This fly was designed by John Barr in the mid 1990's. It quickly became a standard for many trout fly boxes. It is relatively easy to tie, sinks quickly and is a very popular dropper fly for fly fishing guides in the West. 

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Pheasant tail nymph

credit: tightlinevideo

Copper John

credit: tightlinevideo

San Juan Worm - I had to spend a night thinking whether to include this pattern. Although I have a few in my nymph box, I cannot recall a single time I have ever fished with it. I see it used very successfully on many Western streams. It also appears in many "top 10 mayfly nymphs" articles. The San Juan worm was evidently invented for the San Juan River in New Mexico and imitates an aquatic worm (annelids).  Worms live in almost every river and they fish great when flows are higher than normal and the water is off color. As I have said earlier, I am a bit of a traditionalist and somehow do not consider this a "fly"...it is a worm...therefor it is bait. It is my problem to live with. It is perhaps the easiest to tie fly there is. 

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San Juan worm