An Expert Guide to the Top 12 Nymphs

Nymphs are crucial flies to have in your fly box no matter what you're fishing for this season. Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Smith lists the top twelve nymphs!

Hands holding a nymph fly attached to a fly line.

Photo by Josh Frenette

For beginners, nymph fishing is under-appreciated. With the advent of Euronymphing, the specter of using nymphs has almost taken on an occult status. Only experienced anglers with special Euronymphing gear are allowed to talk about nymphs. Besides, if you turn a rock over and see a nymph, it looks freakish, nothing like the elegant mayflies that some of these aquatic insects morph into. For trout, however, nymphs are an important part of their diet. In fact, nymphs and subsurface insects make up about 90% of a trout’s diet. Although nymph fishing is nowhere near as exciting as watching a trout take a delicately presented dry fly, if you want to catch more fish, nymphing is the way to go.

There are many ways to nymph fish, so don’t let Euronymphing scare you off. With simple techniques such as swing and dead drift under an indicator, even beginners can catch fish. Keeping that in mind, here are 12 nymph patterns that every fly fisherman should have in their fly boxes.

1. Zebra Midge

Zebra Midge flies.

Zebra Midge. Photo by Joseph Smith

This fly imitates both the nymphal and pupal stages of numerous insects. The beadhead on this pattern helps get the fly down in the water column as well. This fly can be fished year-round, and if a body of water has fish, fish the Zebra Midge. I prefer to have these in sizes 16 and 18, and I often fish these as trailers to other nymphs.

2. Hare's Ear Nymph

Hare’s Ear Nymphs.

Hare’s Ear Nymph. Photo by Joseph Smith

Amongst non-beadhead flies, this classic nymph fly stands out. This nymph is an easy fly to tie, as it is made primarily from one item — hare’s mask dubbing. This fly, however, imitates many kinds of mayfly nymphs as well as caddis nymphs, scuds, and sow bugs. There are plenty of versions of this, from a beadhead to a soft hackle variant. Traditionally, this fly is tan in color, but other coloring options exist. I tend to carry this fly in sizes 12–16 in a variety of styles.

3. Pheasant Tail Nymph

Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymphs.

Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph. Photo by Joseph Smith

This is another classic nymph that keeps on producing. A little more sophisticated than the Frenchie, this is the original. This mayfly nymph imitator can be weighted with lead wire or tied with as a beadhead nymph. I like to keep a variety of these in sizes 10–16.

4. Frenchie

Although purists would say this is just a version of the pheasant tail nymph, this is a much simpler fly and is fished differently. Created by competitive anglers, this fly features a hotspot that turns fish on that otherwise are not eating. The heavily weighted fly sinks fast. I like to carry a range of sizes of Frenchies — from size 12 to 18.

5. Prince Nymph

Prince Nymphs.

Prince Nymph. Photo by Joseph Smith

There is just something about those white biots’ antennae that drive rainbow trout crazy. Other trout seem to think it looks tasty as well as this fly commonly produces takes. Of the beadhead nymphs, perhaps this is the best known. Made to look like a stonefly nymph, every box should have some in sizes ranging from 10–16.

6. Walt's Worm

This nymph is probably the least glamorous fly you have ever seen. People have modified it to give it more flashy and risqué names. Those variations are fine but don’t go without a Walt’s Worm. It is easy to tie and deadly to fish. They carry these in sizes ranging from 8–16.

7. Copper John

Copper John flies.

Copper John. Photo by Joseph Smith

This is a fly that I have yet to find a reason not to fish. This fly just produces. Designed to sink, this fly makes a great trailer for nymph rigs. Available in different wire colors, I prefer the red. I keep this in sizes 14–18.

8. San Juan Worm

San Juan worms.

San Juan Worm. Photo by Joseph Smith

This fly, although often looked down upon by fly snobs, is a simple fly to tie and a great imitator of annelid aquatic worms. This can be weighted if one likes, but always have some of these in sizes 8–14. These will often save the day.

9. Mop Fly

Mop Flies.

Mop Flies. Photo by Joseph Smith

Many people do not consider this a fly. Others feel that it takes no skill to tie or fish, and as such should be banned, but this fly catches fish. For beginner fly tyers, tie some of these up. They can be tied in all sorts of colors and all sorts of variations. They work on trout, panfish, bass—just about anything that swims. I tend to keep a color combination of whatever my children tie (and yes, they catch fish), but I prefer, chartreuse, orange, and brown in sizes 10 and 12.

10. Green Weenie

Although this fly looks like an inchworm, it catches fish where inchworms are not found, and it is fished as a nymph. This is the simplest fly to tie and is often the first one that fly tiers learn how to tie. This fly also catches a wide variety of fish. As I believe beginning fly tiers should have success with their first creations, and since this fly produces, it makes the list. Tie some up and have some fun.

11. Black Stonefly

Black Stonefly Nymphs.

Black Stonefly Nymph. Photo by Joseph Smith

If you look under most rocks in a stream, odds are you will find a stonefly nymph or two, and this fly seems to imitate most of them. This fly is effective in sizes 12–16.

12. Pat's Rubber Leg Stonefly

This simple stonefly imitation has those rubber legs, which just seem to invite fish to strike. Effective as a searching pattern or on nymph rigs, these are great in sizes 6–12.

Well, hopefully, this will give you the courage to start nymph fishing. Depending on where you fish, you may develop your own list of best nymphs. As you do, remember that just as there are great fly fishing brands when you consider your gear, there are important features that make a great fly. If you need any help in making your selections or help with any other gear, please reach out to a Fly Fishing Expert here at Curated. We would love to help you. Tight lines!

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Written By
I am an avid fly fisherman. Luckily, I have a pond in my backyard exactly two minutes from my fly tying bench. If there is open water, I will fish just about every day. Although I grew up fishing the fabled streams of Pennsylvania, I love to travel and fly fish for diverse species both fresh and sa...

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