My Two Favorite Picky Trout Tailwater Nymphs

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One of many trophy browns taken on splitcase nymphs during our trip. Photo Louis Cahill

These two patterns never let me down on tough tailwaters.

Most of you are aware that Louis and I just got back from fly fishing and having Camp 4 Collective shoot our segment for Playground Earth, sponsored by BFGoodrich Tires. We had the pleasure of fly fishing the Owyhee River, one of the finest trophy brown trout tailwaters I’ve ever had the opportunity to wet a line. The resident brown trout here proved to be quite picky, calling for not only accurate drag-free presentations from us, but our casts also had to be timed correctly to fool the feeding trout we had located. Out of the thousands of flies that we had on hand between us, two nymph patterns accounted for 80% of all trout landed. The splitcase bwo nymph and the splitcase pmd nymph were regularly cobbled up by the beautiful 20″ average brown trout during our stay on the Owyhee River. Never again will I only have a handful of these patterns on hand. I was down to my last splitcase nymph by the end of the trip. I can’t tell you enough what trout catchers these guys are. I’ve now caught fish on them from the east coast all the way to west coast and inbetween.


Splitcase BWO & PMD Nymphs – My favorite tailwater nymphs.

The reason I think these two flies worked so well is because they are very sparse nymph patterns that can also double as emergers with their hotspot wingcases. When you find yourself dealing with very educated drift feeders, bulky flies can often be a dead giveaway to trout that your fly is unnatural. The splitcase nymphs work equally well dropped off the back of a dry fly or on a tandem nymph rig. Give them a try next time you’re fly fishing a technical tailwater and the fishing is tough. I’ve yet to be put in a situation where I couldn’t at least get some trout to take one of these two splitcase nymph patterns on the water fly fishing. That’s why they’ve become my two favorite fly patterns for picky tailwater trout.

Below is a fly tying video by Hans Stephenson demonstrating how to tie the Splitcase PMD Nymph:

What’s your favorite picky trout tailwater pattern?

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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22 thoughts on “My Two Favorite Picky Trout Tailwater Nymphs

  1. Serious question: how much of the success of this fly can be accounted to your confidence in it?

    I find that I’ll tie on certain flies in certain situations and because I believe in the flies ability, fish it ‘better’ – and therefore catch more fish.

    My old man tells a story from his student days of losing his two favourite flies one morning and not catching another fish all day, his buddy however kept catching. On reflection, Dad felt that as soon as he tied on a different fly, he automatically started fishing it with less confidence and therefore did not catch fish.

    • Fred,

      Serious Answer: That fly was critical in getting fish to consistently eat. It caught 80% of all fish during our time on the Owyhee. We managed to catch some fish with other flies, but by far, they were the most productive patterns we found after trying out many.

      Confidence is very important, I totally agree, but in situations where you find trout being super selective in what they’re eating, pattern choice can be very important for getting consistent bites. In our case, we would have had a much harder time catching fish on demand for the cameras without them. Thanks for your comment.


      • And thanks for the answer. I do find the correlation between the confidence in fly and hookups very interesting. But that being said, as your answer clearly shows, that the type does make a difference – especially with selective trout.

        I don’t think I get to fish enough to highly selective trout – which probably results in me putting more into confidence than actual pattern.

        Is a tailwater like that fished all year?

  2. Kent,

    Loved the post yesterday, and can’t wait to see more footage from your adventure.

    You said you like these flies for technical tailwaters. Is there a reason they may not work for small spring creeks in the Driftless Area, or were you just commenting on the specific situation you fished them in?

    • Michael,

      Good question, these nymphs will work on all trout water. The splitcase nymphs have just been my goto pattern when I’m on tailwaters and trout are heavily pressured and are looking at drifting food with a magnifying glass.


  3. red zebra size 22, just the most basic pattern just absolutely destroys the owyhee’s brown trout. no matter what. 365 days a year. good to see this post. definitely tie up those and drop the red zebra for maximum potential

    • Michael,

      Thanks for the fly pattern suggestion. I will have to try that out next time I’m up there. They work really well for us on the east coast as well. Have a great week and thanks for comments. We may have to meet up there next time we head out there. That would be sweet. I was looking at plane tickets the other day. ha


      • Kent, I work with the usgs and we do a lot of stream ecology\entomology and I can most certainly say that Chironomidae make up a huge percentage of all inverts in the water. Thus they always work. But yea, let me know if you ever head out this way. Once the south fork boise and silver close up. Owyhee is really the only solid option. That and the boise in town which can produce. 20+ rainbows and browns! Mike

        • Mike,

          Thanks for the information, that’s good to know. We caught some fish on midge pupa and larva but BWOs were consistently coming off and the splitcase worked really well.


  4. Hey guys, love the pattern, but do you find that the beadhead is ever detrimental to fooling big, educated fish? For example, when I fish Cheesman Canyon, the fish are very hesitant to eat a fly with a bead on it, regardless of bead color. I know the black bead is helpful in terms of subduing the flash of the bead, but in my experience, educated fish dislike beads on most patterns. Did you guys notice a difference in results between fishing a beaded pattern vs a non- beaded one?

    • Andrew,

      These beads are extremely small b/c they are tungsten. They are also black which I personally feel look more natural than other bright colored beads. I’ve found at times that beaded nymphs will be out fished by non-beaded nymphs. However, each stream is different and so is the fishing day at hand. If you’re in a situation that you feel the fish are shying away from your nymph b/c of the bead. Try a nymph without one. Many fly fishers carry fly patterns with and without beads for just this situation.


  5. Hello thanks for the great did you rig either of those patterns did you use them as point fly? Or as dropper.I am not an expert on this stuff so this info is so helpful.

    • How did you do?! Me and my son just got back from a short trip there, the split backs were the only way to go. I did hook one nice brown on a hopper pattern that I was using as my top fly but the rest we hooked/landed were on split backs.

  6. Hey Ken agree this is a killer pattern for PMDs, but what color do you put on a BWO pattern in stead of Yellow razor foam?

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