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

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

  1. Agh, nymph fishing…my favorite. I will nymph fish year round, aside from hatch time. Your right though a good plod fashion nymph will work every time. I particularly enjoy fishing them during the winter months. Water is usually high, cold and fish are hungry. No a nymph pattern of sort is always a good option for a winter hungry trout looking for a nymph that happens to float by when food sparse. I have inherited some flies from a much older gentleman than I who upon presentation of the gift shared with me his go to nymphs. His gift and advise have produced some wonderful fish.

  2. #16 bead head hares ear with a #18 bead head pheasant tail off the hook. If you aren’t catching anything with that combo here in the Driftless, move on, the stream you are in must be devoid of all trout……

  3. I think most folks eventually settle on a handful of patterns that work in their home waters (and most others as well). I know my handful includes the tried and true (plus one secret fly). 😉

  4. Very Interesting reading, I late to the game. So what would be the best old school varieties that I should start nymphing with? Im new to this and any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks Ed

    • Some popular go-to flies are zebra midges, pheasant tails, prince nymphs and as mentioned in the article hares ear nymphs. Depending on the stream, you’ll need to vary the size, the color and other factors such as using a bead-head or beadless. As far as color, brown, olive and black seem to usually work, but sometimes you need a hint of another color or the entire fly may need color. Experiment on your stream or ask others who fish there what works. Good luck.

  5. Kent, I’ve decided to focus on nymphs used by competition anglers. My ‘confidence patterns’ are a few Lance Egan flies.

    My theory is that those guys have more vested in fly selection than most anybody and choose flies carefully.

    Also, what are your thoughts regarding the idea that presentation is usually infinitely more important than pattern or color?

    Thank you

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