How to tie a nymph

Before beginning to tie a nymph, it is essential to know what we mean by the term. It is used to describe the larval forms of the various aquatic insects that form part of the diet of the trout.

There was a time when the angler used the word to refer only to the larvae of mayflies, Ephemer- optera – the mayfly, olives, and others – but the term now encom-passes all the infant larvae, in-cluding damselflies, stoneflies, and even caddis larvae. Most books that list nymph dressings also include such creatures as freshwater shrimps, waterlice, and the larval and pupal forms of the various midges – in fact, all artificials designed with a natural aquatic creature in mind, as opposed to the traditional wet fly dressing.

One of the first anglers to realize the importance of fishing nymph artificials was GAM Skues, the great chalkstream expert. His success with his nymphs provoked much argument among ‘dry fly only’ anglers. Following Skues, two of the best known exponents of fishing the nymph on rivers were the late Frank Sawyer and the late Oliver Kite, who both wrote books about it.

Basic body shape

Nymph fishing is not confined to the placid chalkstreams of southern England; the modern reservoirngler has evolved his own techniques and patterns to take trout.

Ninety per cent of all nymph patterns are of the same basic shape, variations being found in their size and colour, and the materials used. The body comprises five parts – the tail, abdomen, rib, thorax and wingcase – and, to simulate legs, a hackle can be added, although many patterns dispense with this.

To tie a simple nymph, you need wool hackle fibres, silver or gold tinsel, a turkey or mottled brown hen feather, taken from the wing, a hackle feather, and, of course, tying silk. So far as colour is concerned, try to match the body colour to the colour of the hackle feather you are using – for example, olive wool for an ohve hackle and so on. The hook should be size 10-14, with a medium sized shank.

Nymphs are among the easiest of flies to tie and an effective nymph is well within the capabilities of the beginner who uses the following step-by-step instructions.

First, wind silk down the shank in close, even turns, from the eye as far as the bend of the hook. At this point tie in a small bunch of hackle fibres. Then tie in a thin strand of wool and a piece of tinsel. The tying silk should be taken back to two thirds of the hook shank and the wool follows the silk up the shank, in tight turns, making the abdomen of the nymph. Tie off the wool. The rib should be wound in the opposite direction, and tied off where you tied off the wool. The body of the fly is then complete. The next stage is the thorax and wingcase.

Thorax and wingcase

Tie in a slip of turkey feather fibre for the wingcase with the pointed end of the feather facing the bend of the hook. This should be tied flat on top of the hook as it is going to be taken up over the thorax. At the same point, tie in a fresh piece of wool which can be the same colour as the body wool or perhaps a shade darker for effect. For example, for an olive-coloured body try a brown wool thorax.

To shape the thorax, wind the wool in a ball shape slightly thicker than the body, and tie off the wool, clipping off any excess strands. The turkey feather should be taken over the thorax and tied off, and a hackle tied in at this stage.

Then wind on the hackle just one or two turns, and finish off the fly with a whip finish, and varnish. If you choose not to add a hackle, end with a whip finish.

There you have a simple nymph, easily constructed from inexpensive, readily available materials, and one that can be used for both river and Stillwater fishing.

Cove’s Pheasant Tail

One of the most effective Stillwater patterns is the Coves Pheasant Tail – a versatile nymphal fly, for it can imitate anything from a damsel nymph to a large midge pupa. It is also extremely easy to tie.

Materials needed are a cock pheasant tail, rabbit fur (although any fur will suffice), gold or silver tinsel, and tying silk.

This time a long-shanked hook is used, about size 10. Start by winding tying silk in close, even turns to just around the bend of the hook. Then tie in a bunch of cock pheasant tail fibres and a piece of tinsel. Wind the silk back two-thirds of the length of the shank, and coat the silk with a little varnish this will ensure extra durability.

The pheasant tail fibres should then be wound along the shank and tied off, but do not cut off the excess fibres as these can be used to form the wingcase.

The tinsel rib should be wound in the opposite way to the pheasant tail fibres, as this prevents the tinsel slipping into the turns of the body material. Tie off the tinsel and clip off any excess strands.

To make the thorax, coat the tying silk with some wax, cut off some fur fibres and spin these on to the waxed silk.

Wind the furred tying silk into a balled shape to form the thorax. Then take the pheasant tail fibres that remained from the body and place them over the thorax, tying and clipping off the excess strands. Whip finish the fly and finish it with a coat of varnish.

To give some mobility to your nymph, pick out a few fibres of the fur thorax. These will move in the water and give quite a good simulation of the nymph’s legs.

You will notice that this version of a nymph has no tail. Arthur Cove, the originator, did not think it necessary, as in this form it imitates very well some of the larger midge pupae. A tailed version of the same fly, tied on a long-shanked size 8 hook, makes an acceptable imitation of a damsel larva.


Many fly dressing materials can be used in the creation of nymph flies. So far we have dealt with a wool-bodied nymph and one using a feather fibre, but other feather fibres, such as swan herl, condor herl, peacock herl, and even ostrich herl, have been used to make killing nymph flies. The tying procedures for these are the same as for the previous two patterns.

One of the simplest nymphs ever created employs no fly-dressing skill whatsoever, but is just a fine copper wire wound around the hook shank into a nymphal shape. This particular fly was used by Oliver Kite to show that presentation of the fly was more important than the actual dressing – but if you think that this charlatan of a fly is all you need, let it be said that it does not work all the time.

In the last few years many effec-tive and highly realistic flies have been dressed using rubber latex sheet – that used, under the trade name Rubber Dam, by dentists. It is used the same way as any other body material. When it is wound tightly, a succulent grub-like fly is achieved, and when applied in overlapping layers, an attractive, segmented body is created.

These latex-bodied nymphs can be coloured with waterproof felt-tipped pens to achieve a natural coloration. But perhaps even more realistic in appearance is the new Swannundaze nymph, which is flat on one side and round on the other.

Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear

One of the most effective traditional flies makes a fine nymph – the Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear, thought to represent a hatching medium olive. It can be dressed and used either as a dry fly or as a nymph.

Materials needed for tying the Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear are fur from a hare’s ear, gold wire, copper wire for weight, and well-waxed tying silk. The hook can be anything from size 16 upwards, and is weighted with copper wire.

As for the first stage of making the simple nymph, a few hare’s ear fibres are tied in to form a tail. Then, for the ribbing, tie in the gold wire. The body fur is spun on to the waxed silk as for the middle stage of the Cove’s Pheasant Tail nymph in-struction. Wind the fur down the hook shank to form a tapered ab-domen, and follow this with the rib.

Then wind a bit more fur to form the thorax and finish the fly with a whip finish and varnish. All that remains now is to pick out a few fibres of the thorax to simulate the legs, and you will have a nymph to take trout from reservoir or river.

As with any fly, continual practice will ensure that you tie good nymphs. Always try to tie at least a dozen of a pattern at a time, and do not jump from pattern to pattern. One of the failings of many shop-bought nymphs is that they fall to bits with very little use, so when you make your own, always remember to keep the tying silk and material neat and tight. A neat fly is a secure fly.