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

By Kent Klewein

Are you fishing the hot new fly?

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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11 thoughts on “Traditional Old-School Nymphs Catch Trout, Don’t Forget It

  1. Good article and I fully agree! The classic patterns have been catching fish for a long time and will continue to do so. Adams, elk hair caddis, hare’s ear and prince, give me those 4 only and I wouldn’t feel undergunned.

  2. Yeah, I don’t buy new patterns. For trout, a few nymphs, a few traditional wets, and midges in assorted sizes usually gets it done. A few proven dries specific to an area, several terrestrials, San Juan Worms, and a few buggers and muddlers… all for specific streams/seasons/conditions round it out. But 75-80% of the time the midges, nymphs and wets get it done.

    The local hardware store has all that I need.

    Going after black bass, stripers, etc… That is different.

  3. I can’t resist buying a few of the newest fly patterns, but only if I’m in a small streamside fly shop. I consider the purchase a fair cost of acquiring some local knowledge, getting acquainted with a few of the true characters in the industry and talking them out of a decal to stick to my cooler. I always wonder if this is truly a miracle fly or if the shop just overstocked and needed to reduce inventory. Either way I’ve enjoyed the transaction and will give the new pattern 15 minutes to perform it’s magic. Then it’s back to a stimulator trailed by a soft hackle nymph. Thanks, guys!

  4. My own experience reflects your own … terrific-looking new nymphs, fun to tie, very appealing in the water but then — nothing. The thing that keeps me tying and trying is the realization that there was a time (and not that long ago) when the EHC, the Prince and even Hare’s Ear and PTN were newfangled flies themselves. Someday, inevitably, something new will become classic. In fact, full disclosure, there were a couple of occasions the past few years when a little rubber-legged beadhead thing has been remarkably provocative for lazy grayling…

  5. Great article. It’s useful to remember that the classics became classics because they work. The conundrum is that if we limit ourselves to the existing classics then we may never find the next Hare’s ear, Prince Nymph, or Copper John.
    So experimenting is good, as it may bring about another tool to the arsenal, but thinking that there is a fly out there that will make us better anglers is a slippery slope.
    Nailing down the fundamentals of casting and reading the water with a handful of classics will likely move folks along the learning curve a lot faster. After all, even a mop fly has to be cast into the right places!…

  6. I remember when the Sparkle Pupa both Deep and Emergent were the new hot fly innovation. They are one of many of Gary’s creations that have become my go to flies more often than not.

  7. I still use the classics but have added a few of the newbies to the quiver. In the past decade the copper john in red has been the overall best addition to the box. Howeve,r in the past 5 years the batman, blue prince, and purple psycho prince have taken up a little real estate in the box too. I typically fish two nymphs at a time. More often than not one fly becomes the object of desire on a given day in a given waterway. It’s great to be able to sleuth through these challenges with good tools.

    I still use traditional princes, hares ears, and pheasant tails-my version of old school choices but I’m happy to try something new.

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