Nymphs We have Known & Loved
The Bighorn River has some outstanding dry fly fishing. Some of our clients travel here for that purpose alone. But day-in and day-out, nymph fishing produces far more trout. Trout are almost always feeding near the stream bottom, and the correct imitation drifted right in front of their noses is extremely effective. Also, nymph fishing tends to be less technical than dry fly fishing. Our insects are generally small, and fine tippets and a delicate presentation are required for success.
While there are a multitude of effective nymph patterns, several have distinguished themselves for their productivity and versatility. The first one I’ll mention is the Flashback Quill Nymph. We usually tie it in size 18, and its slim silhouette and dark color allow it to be an effective midge or Baetis mayfly imitation. It also works well as a black caddis pupa. You can catch fish on this pattern year round, but it is best in spring and early summer. We used to tie this pattern with stripped peacock quill for the abdomen; hence the name. But to make the fly more durable, we now substitute a black thread body and silver wire ribbing.
The Ray Charles Sowbug is probably the most effective sowbug pattern we sell. There are many variations of this pattern now. Tiers have added hackle, epoxy backs, tungsten beads, antennae, and maybe even minute sex organs for all I know, but it’s still difficult to improve upon the original. Ostrich hurl is the key to its effectiveness. We tie it in both tan and light grey, and the hurl imitates the crustacean’s legs quite well. The pearlescent mylar flash back is highly visible, and this pattern makes a good “up fly” on your two-fly rig. We tie it in several sizes, #16 being my favorite.
The San Juan Worm is another standby. I remember when this pattern was first used on the river back in the 80s. A number of guides expressed righteous indignation at the idea of using a “worm” imitation for Bighorn trout. Most of these same guides now have a couple of boxes devoted exclusively to the pattern, but they keep them deep in the bowels of their drift boats, and the boxes are unlabeled. For those of you who feel that the use of this pattern threatens your aristocratic identity, I recommend that you refer to it an “aquatic annelid imitation.” This sounds much more impressive, and better yet, many people won’t even know what the hell you’re talking about.
The San Juan Worm is usually tied with ultra chenille, and the most popular colors are burgundy (medium bodied with earthy hints of violet & spice), earthworm brown, and red. Fly tiers are now including a contrasting color band on the pattern that represents the clitellum. The clitellum has a reproductive function, and the inclusion of it on San Juan Worm patterns just shows you where the minds of many fly tiers are today. Anyway, the San Juan Worm is very effective, especially during high-water periods when aquatic worms are being swept off of the substrate (“substrate” is a fancy name for “stream bottom.” Don’t attempt using these words unless you’re a professional writer … or a fishing guide.) A variation of the original pattern excludes the ultra chenille and ties the body completely out of thread—flat waxed nylon to be more specific. It is usually tied in bright colors like orange or pink, and is known at the Atomic Worm. Still another variation is the Wire Worm, which is usually tied on an English Bait Hook. This pattern gets to the bottom (substrate) quickly; plus it turns and twists in the water.
These three nymph patterns have stood the test of time on the Bighorn. Tie some up and hang onto the rod with both hands.