Sunday Classic / Traditional Old-School Nymphs Catch Trout, Don’t Forget It

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Don’t let the new hot fly patterns outshine your traditional old-school nymphs. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Great isn’t great enough, or is it?

Every year, I spend quite a bit of time scouring the interweb and flipping through numerous fly company catalogs, all in the effort to stay up to date with the latest new fly pattern creations. Many are just variations of already existing fly patterns, but quite often it’s a new fly tying material that’s created, manipulated, or that’s managed to stay under the radar and discovered, that’s used to develop these new fly patterns. I usually spend my time reviewing the new flies and their recipes, and hear my inner-voice chattering over and over, “why didn’t you come up with that fly pattern, dumby”. But even after purchasing and tying several dozen of the new fly patterns, many of them ultimately fall short on the water of producing trout numbers like my traditional old-school standby nymphs do. Why is that?

I think the the fly tying world is very similar to the rod manufacturing world, where a company builds a great fly rod that 90% of fly anglers love, and then a couple years down the road they discontinue the rod line, to make room for the introduction of the next innovative fly rod. Quite often, in my opinion though, that new rod design’s performance falls short of its predecessor. I know this process is called product life cycle, and it will continue to happen again and again, but it sure seems like we’re in way too much of a hurry to move on, and should instead be more content with sticking with a great product longer. It’s the notion that great isn’t great enough, and that we should retire the greats, in the hopes we can find something, for lack of a better word, that’s perfect. The problem is, there’s no such thing. No one product will work perfect for the infinite number of situations it will encounter on the water. My point being, in the target zone and scope of fly patterns at least, it may benefit many of us if we stop getting lost in creating and searching for the next best fly pattern, and instead spend more time just fishing the fly patterns that have proven to catch fish for us consistently for the past century.

Not long ago, I spent a day floating a very popular tailwater in the Southeast. It has an extraordinary trout population, supporting something like 6,000+ trout per mile. Fly fisherman travel from all over the country to fish it, and many of them go-in thinking presentation aside, that success is going to be determined by fishing the latest hot fly patterns that the fish haven’t seen. They run to the local fly shops and buy these new fly patterns. They then hit the river, and if their lucky, they land a handful of fish. Prime example, that day on the water with my friends, when everyone else was fishing those new virgin fly patterns, I out fished every one of them by tying on and fishing a simple size 18 beadless hares ear nymph. I’ll admit it wasn’t my first choice. I was in the same boat with everyone else in the beginning, but when those freshly bought fly patterns failed to produce, I quickly went to a fly pattern that I knew had caught fish on probably every trout stream in America. And just about every trout I put that hares ear nymph in front of, ate. It wasn’t rocket science, it was just me not forgetting about the the veteran fly patterns, the All-Stars in my box that have been so good to me over the years. It’s real easy for our old-school nymph patterns these days to get overlooked and out shined by the younger and fancy fly patterns on the market. When you find yourself on the river trout fishing, and fishing is slow, do yourself a favor and tie on a fly pattern that our past generations of fly fishermen used to catch trout, like a prince, hares ear, or pheasant tail nymph. Solving the “Trout Da Vinci Code” can sometimes be as simple as that.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Traditional Old-School Nymphs Catch Trout, Don’t Forget It

  1. I couldn’t agree more; I’m not as addicted to fly fishing as I once was, but I’ve fished coast to coast over my lifetime, and in Newfoundland back when it was still really Newfoundland, and I’m still carrying the same 5 patterns, two dry, two nymph and one streamer that I started with on the Boardman River in 1963. They have known days when flies should be illegal; they’ve never struck out.

  2. we have a fly here in New Zealand – its just a humble hare and copper backed up with another simple olive / black woolly bugger and you will catch a lot of fish here add a smelt pattern and a cream caddis and you would have it sorted – however I still take around 200 flies onto the water – just in case LOL

  3. Raises the question. If you were only allowed to use one nymph pattern, which one would it be? Frank Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail Nymph. The great riverkeeper maintained that the pattern should be kept simple. Mind you I have to admit a variant of Frank’s pattern, the Cove Pheasant Tail invented by Arthur Cove comes a very, very close second in that the great English stillwater flyfisherman brought the abdomen slightly round the bend of the hook more than Frank. a classic of a simple and effective pattern in both stillwater and river.

    Okay I’ll give myself the luxury of two classic patterns, never bettered! 🙂

  4. Wholeheartedly agree, wish I could include a picture of the gorgeous Stave river BC cutthroat I caught on a beadhead Prince (my own of course!) just recently. I had spent several hours working various baitfish patterns (the salmon eggs are popping here mid-March), that got me nowhere, thought I would fall back to the tried and true. Thanks for the work you do gents.

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