12 Tiny Nymphs that Always Seem to Get the Job Done

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Rainbow trout falls for a tiny attractor midge larva. Photo Louis Cahill

12 Tiny go-to flies for when trout fishing gets tough.

I used to shy away from fishing tiny nymphs during my rookie years of fly fishing. Particularly those size 20-26 midge patterns. Those intimidated me especially. When I used to look at those flies in the bins at fly shops, I can remember thinking, “how can the fish see these in moving water and is there some special rig you’re supposed to use for fishing them?” I’ve since found out I was nuttier than a fruit cake to assume all of the above about tiny flies, and they’ve become my go-to patterns when fishing gets really tough. Make no mistake, small flies have the ability to catch all trout, trophy fish included. In fact, one of the best times to fish tiny nymphs is when you’re sight fishing on water that holds lots of educated, mature trout. A prime example of this would be the “dream stream section” of the South Platte River in Colorado. I’ve had many days after the sun got up high in the horizon, that sub-twenty size nymph patterns out fished everything else in my fly box. In general, small subsurface nymphs can be your winning lottery ticket for consistently catching fish when you’re confronted with heavily pressured waters or fishing tailwaters that usually sustain high numbers of small aquatic insects. To fish them, just down size your tippet to 5x-7x and rig them up the same way you do with all your other favorite fly patterns, streamers excluded. That’s about it, there’s nothing special, no hidden secrets, it’s all about getting them wet and giving them equal opportunity.

If you’ve found yourself striking out lately when other anglers around you are catching fish, try tying on and fishing a tiny nymph for a while. You’d be surprised how often a trout will shun repeated presentations with large profiled flies and then turn around and eat a tiny nymph with total abandonment if you put it in front of them. In most situations, regardless of the time of year, anglers fishing tiny nymphs with confidence will find that they can catch trout regularly just about anywhere. They’ll work every day of the year, and they also work equally well for both wild and stocked trout.

Below is a list of 12 tiny nymphs that always seem to get the job done when I’m dealing with picky trout. Stock them in your fly box and give them a try next time you’re on the water and find your larger fly patterns aren’t working. Remember, you’ll never get confident nor reap the rewards of tiny flies until you gain confidence in their ability to catch trout and start fishing them. These days, before I head out on a trip, the first box I always break out and make sure is fully stocked, is my midge and tiny nymph box. When fishing gets extremely tough, these tiny fly patterns always get my rod bent. Click the photos for a link to purchase online.



Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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16 thoughts on “12 Tiny Nymphs that Always Seem to Get the Job Done

    • Billy,

      Thanks man. Heck, yeah, I’ve had days where that Brass Ass was a true fish caller. Disco, you always have to carry those guys because they are consistent. There’s two flies I left off that list that I probably should have put on there. I fish it all the time and it’s got me out of a crunch on numerous occasions. The two flies are the Ju Ju Midge / Ju Ju UV Baetis. Thanks for your comment Billy.


      • I had also stayed away from nymphs up until last year. On a day a dry was simply not working, I figured what the heck and tied on a tiny bead headed nymph and on my first cast brought in a nice bow.

        I have started to tie my own flies and these patterns are all fairly easy which is nice. I have actually had to designate a seperate fly box to nymphs that I carry with me at all times.

        Love the blog and keep up the great work!


  1. You just can’t go wrong with a zebra midge or a WD40 in my opinion. Especially when the fishing gets tough. Just recently won a tournament when I went to smaller flies on the 2nd day of the comp. I was one of few that downsized dramatically from what everyone else was fishing and it paid off bigtime. A #22 red zebra midge put fish in the net for me that day and really won the comp for me. Don’t ever be afraid to fish the smaller stuff!!!!

  2. My list includes some of those and a couple more. Pennsylvania (my home) has lots of spring creeks. SCUDS get the job done every time. followed by the Zebra midge. fish em in tandem and fish DEADLY!

    • Dave,

      You are so right about the scuds man. Drop a comment with a link to one of your favorite scud patterns if you don’t mind so the community can get the goods. Thanks for the comment.


  3. Pingback: The Fly Fishing Daily – First Casts 03.08.13

  4. Pingback: Tippets: Perfect Day, Best Tiny Nymph Patterns, Economy of Catch & Release, Good Hats Contest | MidCurrent

  5. Kent, I like your list of tiny nymphs and use a number of them plus a couple more that work for me as recently as today. I have a question: do you think the wider gape on the scud or pupa type hooks helps or hurts with reliable hook-ups. I always thought it would be helpful, but someone on a recent list said standard nymph hooks are actually better at getting and sustaining hookups. I think the rounder hook shape allows a great shape and presentation, especially for the way midges and larvae appear and move in the water column, so I will still use them when I tie. But I would like your opinion on the hookset issue.

    • Hey Ralph,

      Glad to hear you are catching trout. Of course that’s usually the norm with you 🙂 I will say sometimes I think certain fly patterns can be more effective when tied on curved hooks, but I don’t think they make a huge difference in how they move in the water. Take any aquatic insect and put it in a test tube with water and you’ll see that it will kick and swim rapidly. Neither a fly tied on a straight shank or curved shank hook can mimic that same life-like action. The closest thing we can do to match that is use tying materials that breath really well and then tie our nymphs articulated. Problem is, you really can’t do that with many tiny nymphs without making them too big. I’d suggest just tying your flies with the hooks you are most confident. I carry tiny nymphs tied on both types of hooks. Thanks for your comment. I hope I answered your question satisfactory.


      • Thanks for the response. I saw a video on the life cycle of midges a year or so ago with amazing video. They twist and turn in a way that the curved hook emulates very well. As for getting the right proportion on the fly, using a thin hook, lightweight thread, and sparse materials seems to help me. In my opinion size of the hook is less important than the size of the materials you put on it.

  6. I had the experience of a lifetime fishing the exact stream you’re talking about last year when I was on holiday in Colorado. The Peak Fly Shop recommended these tiny nymphs and they were an absolute winner. I’ve since used them on the River Clyde in Scotland and had the best day’s fishing of this year. I’m now going to tie up a lot more of them. Tight Lines to all in Colorado

  7. These flies are all very good patterns. If i were to add one small nymph for fishing tial waters specifically (like the ‘Dream Stream’ and the Blue River below Dillon Res.) is the Rainbow Warrior. sz. 18 or smaller. Great list. Time to go home and finish filling my midge box for my weekend adventure to that famous Dream Stream. Tight Lines!!!

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