Creative Construction of a Nymph

Put some funk in your subsurface bugs

Bleached PT fibers make this pattern a killer

I have been giving this topic a lot of thought lately as I have been filling some of my own boxes in between orders, and it also stems from several questions that we have gotten about substituting materials specific to nymphs.  If you are "Recipe Guy," you might as well not read the rest of this post because it will make you go absolutely MAD...  Well, maybe not that extreme, but you get the point right?

I know there are about a bazillion types of nymph patterns out there, but for the sake of making this article simple, I'm going to talk about the standard parts that make up a general nymph pattern: tail, abdomen/body, thorax, wing case, and legs.  Like any other pattern out there, there are no hard and fast rules about how you have to tie a nymph.  I'm going to list several of the materials that I like to use on nymph patterns, and I know I'll miss some here, so please list any that I didn't list in the comments of the article.  Most, if not all, or these materials can be found at

  • Pheasant tail fibers...  duhh
    Biot tail, dubbed body, and thin skin to win
  • Biots.  Great for making stonefly-ish patterns.  Try throwing some on your next batch of Hare's Ears
  • Barred fibers.  This includes partridge, coq de leon (both hen and rooster), wood duck, teal, guinea, etc etc.  If it looks cool, it makes a good tail
  • Synthetics.  Antron, zelon, shuck yarn, etc. etc.  All of these make good tails depending on the fly
Abdomen / Body:
  • Dubbing... Again duhhh.  Mix it up a bit and make a body out of dry fly dubbing, or make an
    This fly has a marabou abdomen. Suuuper buggy
    extra tight dubbing noodle so it makes a nice segmented body.  Dubbing is by far the most versatile material at the bench.
  • Marabou.  Yep... Take some long strands of marabou from one of your nice marabou plumes and tie them in by the tips.  Then twist up the marabou and wrap forward.  This makes for a very buggy body that tapers nicely from slim to chubby. Just make sure you counter wrap this style of body with some wire for durability.
  • Feather fibers.  Pheasant tail is the most commonly used material, but turkey, mallard, etc etc can be used exactly how PT is used.  Again - wire counter wrap for durability
  • Biots.  This is nothing new, but biots make great bodies for smaller nymphs.  Get creative with them too - like adding a biot on the back half of a hare's ear.  There is a 67% guarantee that it will work.
  • Dubbing.  This is the easiest and most versatile choice.  Dubbing on a thorax is nothing new,
    Picked out dubbing thorax and a yellow peacock herl body
    but branch out and try something new that might just give your fly an extra kick.  I have been tying hare's ears with Hare'e Ice Dub with very cool results.  There are lots of new dubbings on the market that make for killer nymph patterns.
  • Peacock. Peacock is one of the greats, but now there are so many different colors to choose from.  Spirit River has done a great job of bleaching and then dying peacock into some very interesting colors.
  • Beads. To make a more natural looking bug, you can put a tungsten bead in the thorax instead of at the head, or in the cast of Charlie Craven's Two Bit Hooker, you can use a bead in the thorax and at the head.  
  • Thread. If you are tying small sleek patterns that need a really thin profile, it's not a bad idea to just make the thorax out of thread.  You might even think about using multiple colors of thread to give your fly a hot spot.
Wing Case:
  • Feather fibers.  If you tie traditional flies like the hare's ear or the pheasant tail, you have used feather fibers for a wing case.  Basically any feather can be used as a wing case, but make sure you reinforce it with some cement so they are longer lasting.
  • Plastic sheeting.  This includes thin skin, skinny skin, fino skin, scud back etc etc...  In my opinion these are the best option because they come in many different colors, they are cheap, and they can be cut to any size or shape. 
  • Flash.  This can be used on its own or in conjunction with any of the above recommendations.  When I say flash, I mean tinsel, flash sheeting, easter egg grass, flashabou, krystal flash etc. etc.  
  • Dubbing.  Hare's ears get their buggy profile by brushing out the thorax to give the impression
    Daddy long legs fibers for the legs on this one
    of legs.  
  • Barred feathers.  Partridge, grizzly hen, coq de leon (rooster and hen), grouse, guinea, etc  This is really not anything new, but try throwing barred legs on something that wouldn't normally call for them and see what happens.  This is a great way to kick up your nymph from normal to hatch matching super fly.
  • Synthetic stringy stuff. Krystal flash, fluoro fibre, antron, zelon, kling-on, etc etc.  One of my favorites is a very small clump of antron fibers that I put little bars in with a marker.  Makes for killer little legs.
  • Rubberish legs. These are perhaps my favorite to put on patterns that have big bulky legs (like a stonefly, drake, or some of the bigger clinger mayflies.)  I use silicone, round rubber, and some of the life flex - style materials (span-flex, life-flex, daddy long legs etc) quite a bit in my patterns.

As you can see, you can build a nymph out of almost anything under the sun!  I have benefited greatly by paying attention to how fish react to my flies and making subtle changes to make them more effective.  

~ Cheech