Troutbitten Confidence Flies: Seventeen Nymphs

by | Sep 29, 2019 | 43 comments

All long term anglers find a set of files to believe in. We attach a confidence to these patterns that carries over from the moment we form the knot to the hook eye. We fish better with these flies. We make them work. With more focus, we refine each drift with our best patterns. But there’s also something special about a great fly to begin with.

Rummage through the fly boxes of some die hard fishermen and you’ll see common elements — repeated themes. We all use similar materials and shapes, because these are the building blocks and forms that trout look for. And to these similar, well known frames, we add our own flair: a hot collar for a nymph, a long tail on a dry, or a double hackle on a favorite streamer. The roots of our confidence may start with a familiar form, but our originality seals that confidence in. I believe that my flies catch more trout on these rivers, and I can give you reasons why the tweaks to my patterns matter. You probably believe the same about your own set. And both of us are probably right.

I’ve hesitated to publish this list of flies. Not because I’m secretive about the patterns, but because of something more important. The most common question I receive is about favorite fly patterns. And I’ve answered the question with a wide variety of explanations — always with an emphasis on finding your own confidence flies. And so I reiterate that here. Find your handful of flies. You could surely copy my list and get busy at the vise to fill out your fly box. And that might be a good start. But by fishing thoughtfully, you will eventually tweak your own list into something new — something personal.

These are the flies — as a group — that I see when I open my nymph box. I carry just one box with a full selection that’s tidy and efficient. It covers every nymphing situation I encounter. I also carry some secondary nymphs, alongside this set of seventeen, as change-up patterns for specific circumstances. They’re in that box too.

 

 

Material and Composition

I won’t provide a full recipe for each fly below, because it’s not necessary. Instead, I’ll tell you why these flies have become my favorite and how they fit into a system.

You can tie all of these flies on a variety of steel. If you like thin wire, barbless hooks, choose those. You’ll notice my preference for 1X strong scud hooks and 2X long perfect bend nymph hooks. But you can transfer these patterns to your own favorite hook style and brand. Just be sure to keep the lengths correct. (Don’t tie a Zebra midge on a TMC 5262.)

The material selection, however, is what defines a fly. And substituting Ice Dub for Arizona Synthetic Peacock because that’s what you have in you desk drawer changes the fly significantly. Most of the patterns below are simple designs, with just a few materials. So if you sub one of those materials, you fundamentally change the fly.

READ: Troutbitten | Is your new fly really new? What makes a fly original?

Likewise, the profile of all these flies is essential to their character. If you tie a thin fly too thick or lose the taper, the fly is different.

Every one of my beaded flies has lead wraps behind the bead to about mid-shank. I like the way it provides a taper and adds more weight.

And all of these patterns are designed to look like a lot of things down there.

The System

I’ll mention one more thing before digging into the list. The set of flies below are built and carried as a system. There is very little overlap. Each fly does a specific job or offers the trout a certain look. I could tie a Hare’s Ear in five different colors, but I don’t. Instead, I see the flies in my box as pieces of a puzzle that lock together and fill out a whole. I choose to simplify this collection by carrying one color for each fly. If the trout want a Pheasant Tail nymph on the end of my line, they eat it with a copper bead and a red collar. If not, maybe I’ll change the fly to a Black and Tan. Now let’s get to that . . .

 

Seventeen Nymphs

— — — — — — —

 

Bead Head Pheasant Tail

It’s no coincidence that every good angler has a Pheasant Tail variation in their handful of go-to nymphs. The material is a perfect trout attractor: wonderfully mottled, with micro barbules that undulate in the current. It’s simple and understated — movement in a fly, but not overdone. My PTs are tied with no legs.

Copper bead, pheasant tail, copper wire, red thread collar. #14-18

 

 

Bread-n-Butter

This is the only gold-beaded fly in my box. It’s a flashier change-up to many of my other patterns, but the rust collar keeps it somewhat subdued. There’s enough attraction to gain a trout’s interest and enough realism to seal the deal.

Gold bead, CDL, Hare’s Ear, gold wire, Arizona Synthetic Peacock (Bronze), rust orange thread collar. #14-16

Full pattern description and tying video is here:

READ: Troutbitten | Troutbitten Fly Box — The Bread-n-Butter Nymph

 

 

France Fly

With simplicity of form again, this is the go-to silver bead option in my box. The micro tubing shows a glossy look to the trout — something much different than dubbing or pheasant tail. And it does so without messing with UV resin. I like my dubbing collar on this fly a little more pronounced than Hoffler’s original design.

Silver bead, CDL, olive-brown micro tubing, Hare’s Ear. #14-18

 

 

Walt’s Worm

Walt Young’s pattern originated here in central PA. It’s now fished worldwide because it confuses neither trout nor fly tyers. Hook and dubbing — that’s enough. I’m told that Walt’s original pattern called for Hare’s Ear Plus, with no rib and no bead. I tie those, but I also carry a couple of others. So here I break my own rule against tying just one form of each fly design. Simplicity gone. Sorry about that.

Copper bead, Hares’ Ear, 4X mono rib, hot orange thread collar. #10-16

No bead, Hares’ Ear Plus, 4X mono rib. #10-16

Silver bead, Hare’s Ear Plus (olive), 4X Mono rib. #10-16

Black bead, Mixed Hare’s Ear and Olive Hare’s ear. #10-16

 

 

Black and Tan

I love the platform of the Bread-n-Butter, and I carry a few patterns that keep the form and change the colors, to show the trout a very different look in a deadly effective shape. The Black and Tan is a fly I turn to when the trout shy away from too much flash.

Black bead, CDL, x-small copper wire, Hare’s Ear Dubbing and a very narrow band of Arizona Synthetic Peacock in Dark Hare’s Ear color. #12-18

 

 

Rainbow Warrior

Here’s the opposite of the Black and Tan. Egan’s Rainbow Warrior is a little too much for my trout on most days. But I’ve had many mornings with slow action turned fast by changing out to a RW. Sometimes this one just turns trout on.

Silver bead, Pheasant tail, pearl tinsel, Rainbow Sow Scud dubbing, red thread collar (and underbody). #16-20

 

 

Woodstock

This is another of my own pattern solutions to fill a need in my box. Woodstock has a thin profile, with subtle flash coming mostly from the collar. This one-off pattern at the vise hit so well that it gained a permanent spot in my lineup.

Black nickel bead, Lemon Woodduck, copper rib, olive thread body, Arizona Synthetic Peacock (bronze). #14-20

 

 

Polish Woven

This is the fly that taught me to tight line nymph on the Mono Rig. As a point fly, the Polish Woven reaches and rides the bottom like nothing else. The woven embroidery floss creates a tight-bodied fly that plummets, then ticks the bottom (inverted) and keeps the angler in contact. If you want to stay in touch, this is your fly.

Copper bead, copper wire, yellow and brown embroidery floss in a shuttle weave, SLF Squirrel (natural). #8-12

 

 

Girdle Bug | Turd | Pat’s Rubber Legs

The legs of the girdle bug were first formed with round elastic strands from an underwear waistband. These days the pattern has evolved, with various names and materials. However you tie it, put wiggly jiggly legs and chenille on a hook, and you have a winner.

Copper bead, brown chenille, brown legs. #6-12 (2XL)

 

 

Standard Issue

The Hare’s Ear Nymph is another that finds a home in every angler’s fly box. And this is my version of that platform.

The Standard Issue has no bead. And this is the pattern I use when I need that tumbling, free-rolling look you can only get with split shot and a light fly.

A few lead wraps for a taper, Ringneck Pheasant back feather tips for the tail, copper wire, SLF Squirrel (brown) blended with orange sparkle yarn (70/30), turkey tail wingcase. #10-18 (1XL)

 

 

Green Weenie

Every game fish eats chartreuse, and trout are no different. Some anglers believe the Green Weenie is taken for an inchworm, fallen from overhanging trees. Meh . . . maybe. I believe trout eat the GW because it grabs their attention and has enough of a natural larva shape that they can’t resist trying it out.

I tie this to the original design, with a loop tail at the back and with no bead at the head. It fishes better by using split shot for the weight. I promise.

About six wraps of .015” lead cover the front third of the hook, providing a tapered look, Chartreuse rayon chenille. #12 (2Xl)

READ: Troutbitten | Mop Fly Thoughts

 

 

Sucker Spawn

Here’s another fly with color that attracts. Eggs are my go-to winter pattern and provide an odd change up on slow summer days. Trout are conditioned to eat eggs. And this is my favorite fly to kick in that instinct.

Hot Orange thread, Caron Simply Soft yarn (Sunshine), tied in loops. #12-16

Full article with tying video for the Sucker Spawn here.

READ: Troutbitten | Troutbitten Fly Box — The Sucker Spawn

 

 

Nuke Egg

When trout don’t eat the Sucker Spawn with enough conviction, I show them the orange Nuke Egg. This is an old school glow bug, but with an added veil. That thin over-body makes a huge difference.

Orange Mcfly foam, Oregon Cheese Glow Bug yarn. #12-16

 

 

Squirmy

When the squirmy first hit the scene, it was lights out, no matter where we fished it. I never saw anything like it. And watching that kind of production has had me looking for the next miracle fly ever since. At first, we pulled the legs off kids’ Kooshball toys for the material. But by the time every fly shop was selling their own brand of Squirmy material, the trout had wisened up. It’s still a good fly, but the timing has to be right. I do carry more muted colors, but pink is still my go-to. Here’s another fly that I believe fishes better without a bead.

Rust-orange Hareline dubbing, Pink Squirmy material. #14

 

 

WD40

The WD40 is a natural pattern. With fly boxes full of flash, beads and rubber legs, this fly stands out by being subtle. The last three flies on this list are tiny, and I love trailing them behind something larger or more attention getting. Sometimes, tiny flies are just the thing for turning the trick. And the WD40 is my favorite. It’s a near-perfect match for a BWO nymph, and I’m sure trout see it as plenty of other foods as well.

Lemon Wooduck, olive thread for the body, Lemon Woodduck wingcase, grey Fly Rite dubbing thorax. #18-22

 

 

RS2

When I was introduced to the RS2, I thought I didn’t need another fly, and I hardly gave it a chance. But I was wrong about that. The RS2 is so unique and so versatile, that I couldn’t keep it out of my box. There’s nothing extra on this fly, nothing flashy, just a natural, convincing look. I fish it as a nymph or an emerger. I even dust it up and fish it as a dry sometimes.

Dun Microfibbets, grey Fly Rite dubbing, dun CDC puff. #14-22

 

 

Zebra Midge

Here is another favorite trailer. The glass bead gives the Zebra Midge a different look than anything else in my box, and it has a unique attraction compared to the RS2 or WD40. I’ve caught so many trout on a Zebra Midge . . .

Black thread body, silver wire, glass bead. #16-22

 

 

The Other Stuff

The flies listed above are my go to nymphs — the core patterns. As the seasons change, one or two of these flies take over as the lead pattern while others fall off in production. But all of these stay in my box. Year after year, a predictable cycle emerges. I expect the WD40 to produce well for me in mid-March, and the Nuke egg takes over in December. But any of these flies can be the best fly any day of the year.

In slow times, I may cycle through these nymphs until I hit on one that works. Sometimes, nothing ever hits. But with this set of nymphs I never feel like it’s the pattern’s fault. Either something’s wrong with my presentation, or the trout simply won’t eat. It happens.

Sitting right next to these confidence flies in my fly box are a few other flies too. I carry Perdigons, Higa’s SOS, Cress Bugs, small buggers and a variety of soft hackles. All of them get some river time.

I also have a few new flies mixed in. I’m always testing. Because every angler is looking for that next fly to hit a home run. All of us are searching for the next confidence fly.

Fish hard, friends.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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43 Comments

  1. What do I think? I think that this is a wonderful, and wonderfully informative, article. Thanks, Dom.

    Reply
  2. This is a perfect list to build from.

    I’ve found that having an appropriate assortment of weights is the most important thing once you’ve narrowed that list down. Accounting for high flows, low flows is vital; and having some flashier patterns for dirty water is nice too.

    Reply
    • Good stuff.

      I agree in part about the weights. I prefer to fish weighted flies, but I have no problem using a bit of supplemental split shot in combination with weighted flies. And as you see from the list above, I also use shot on a few patterns that fish better unweighted.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  3. great blog domenick!

    Reply
    • Thank you, John.

      Reply
  4. Hey Domenick- curious at the omission of a stone fly imitation? Or do you find one of these patterns as a close enough look? Awesome list and love all the patterns. Tight lones

    Reply
    • The Pat’s Rubber Legs is a stonefly imitation (& a damn fine one at that. A tungsten bead and this is my anchor fly 365 days a year on the Delaware).

      Reply
      • Yup

        Reply
    • Hi Jon. The Girdle Bug covers it for me. I see M M said the same below. Yup. I used to carry a 20 Incher Stone. But I just don’t anymore.

      That’s me.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  5. Great read. And, thanks for devulging your favs…inspiration for sessions at the tying bench this winter. Where did you find that squeezable coin purse? Haven’t seen one of those in 40 years.

    Reply
    • Hi Elwood. I keep sighters in that coin purse! I know, right? I think I found it on eBay.

      Dom

      Reply
  6. I didn’t think you or anyone could leave the buggers and soft hackles off this list. Happy to see they made it in the article. Face it we all love to try a different material on a known pattern, just like you said. That feeling of “I made a tweek to this fly and now I catch trout with it everytrip” is a common thought for me and many others, like you said. This article is a great compliment to many other technique articles you have written. Thank you Domenick.

    Reply
    • Cheers. Thanks, Richard.

      Reply
  7. Dom, Great list! However, I am surprised you left off the BH caddis larva, black collar, tied on a scud hook in green and tan. I’s a staple on the Little j.

    Reply
    • Hi Bill. I hear ya. But for me, a Walt’s covers it. That’s just me.

      Dom

      Reply
  8. So one of things I stress during my fly fishing introductory course is that confidence flies are a tautology by definition. The flies that catch fish are my confidence flies; my confidence flies are the flies that catch me fish.
    What I consider a confidence fly may very well not work for some else because of the unique way I or they are going to fish that pattern. And so it’s cool to see your confidence flies and see the overlap with mine and not, that is happening.
    This is my fly. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

    Reply
    • “This is my fly. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”

      Nice

      Reply
  9. I’m a beginner fly fisherman and fly tyer and I’m glad some of my confidence flies made your list, e.g. RS2, sucker spawn, hare’s ear. Yet as a fellow fly fisherman said in response to me asking him to look at the flies I’ve been catching fish with, “if the trout likes them there’s nothing to change”. I’d like to try a couple of yours to add something to my small collection.

    Reply
  10. Great list. But I’m most interested in where you found those leader envelopes (background of Woodstock fly). I’ve been looking for a small, yet sturdy, plastic envelope to store individual leaders for a long time. Little ziplock bags just get beat up.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kenny.

      Those are actually the envelopes that some Daiichi hooks came in. I like them.

      Dom

      Reply
  11. Great List Dom! Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Great list. I am a huge fan of zebras, my go-to fly

    Reply
  13. I use a fair few American patterns in the Uk.The weenie is deadly over here.Green’Red & white & white is probably the best producer.Utah killer bug & a Renegade fished as a nymph or wet fly.I really like Renegades tied sparse with hen hackle.The Renegade has been a go to pattern for me for about 15 years.Nobody knows what a Renegade or weenie is over here.I like to show the fish something different .

    Reply
  14. In the Uk not many fly fishers ever use split shot.I would have never considered using split shot if i hadn’t followed troutbitten.I now use split shot quite often & really like it.Often a drop shot rig.But if using bead head nymphs .I will add a shot or tungsten putty if needed to get in the zone.

    Reply
    • It always amazes me when anglers don’t carry split shot. To me, it’s a rudimentary and essential tool. And so many of the other effort to get flies down into the zone come with their own set of problems. Split shot is great. We just have to be sure to have a system for putting it on and taking it off. It’s easy then.

      Dom

      Reply
  15. Domenick, i’m a regular reader of your site. I’ve enjoyed the big amount of quality images, the stories with
    relatives, children and the most technical stuff.
    This post in particular i like for the stimulus to THINK, choose materials and shapes, try to “improve” established patterns or, better, adapt the flies to your waters and targeted fishes.
    Who cares of “killer flies”? The handle, the eye and the brain of the angler are the key!
    Follow this way….. Sharing and thinking are the others joys we can pass to fellow anglers!
    *Feel free to correct grammar errors, Aldo Orlando from Italy

    Reply
  16. No Pink Squirrel… Boo…

    Reply
    • Ha. My trout don’t seem to like flashy pink very often. That’s why I don’t carry the Frenchie anymore either.

      Dom

      Reply
  17. I think it’s great (and somewhat surprising) that none of your patterns have legs, hackle, or peacock. Eliminating those materials makes the flies faster and easier to tie, and less fragile. Thanks!

    P.S. I used to fish central PA a lot, and talked to Walt Young several times. His original Walt’s worm is one of my favorites. I live in the Carolinas now, and the Walt’s works well here, too.

    Reply
  18. A lot of those are inspired by Sywensky, Jasper (embroidery thread woven with bobbins), and Williams. That is the exact pt I tie but with a burnt orange collar. Did Spruce Creek Under Siege get you more heavily into fly fishing too?

    Reply
    • I don’t know what Spruce Creek Under Siege means. But I do wish they would stop stocking and feeding fake fish over the wild trout in that beautiful stream.

      As for the source of inspiration, you’ll find that I’m not one to take much credit for fly patterns. It’s all been done before.

      https://troutbitten.com/2018/06/05/is-your-new-fly-really-new-what-makes-a-fly-original/

      But as I mentioned above, eventually, I’ve found my own twists and turns on these flies that I have high confidence in. And I don’t want them tied any other way.

      Steve Sywensky at Fly Fishers Paradise, and the other guys at the time, Jim and Doug, absolutely helped me develop much of the confidence I have in techniques and flies. Jasper, no. The Polish Woven is a well know, well used fly. Williams, if you mean Loren, then yes. Loren showed me a few key fishing principles, and I enjoyed his tying tutorials very much.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  19. I’m puzzled by the description of the Black and Tan. Is the entire body the Arizona Synthetic Peacock in Hare’s Ear? It doesn’t really look like that in the picture. It looks like hares ear for the body with a little thin collar of the synthetic, which is what your description suggests, but doesn’t clearly state. Help, please.
    Wonderful list of patterns.

    Reply
    • Hello Leigh,

      Good question. And you are right, the description above doesn’t match the pictures real well. Answer is, the fly is mostly hares’ ear, with a real thin collar of Arizona Synthetic Peacock in Dark Hare’s Ear. I probably should have chosen two flies where the band was a touch wider, because those ones are indeed very thin, and the angle of the camera doesn’t help.

      Great fly though! It turned the afternoon around for me just a couple days ago.

      Hope it works for you.”

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  20. I love that your standard issue, your variation of a hares ear, has no hares ear in it. Genius. Been going through the list. Some of the materials are hard to find. Its hard to find hooks that are good in a full range of sizes from one vendor or maker. Hanak jigs only go to 16 but Dohiku I think go to 20. These days (ICU nurse) this is my only chance at some R&R is to tie some flies.

    Thanks and be safe!

    Reply
  21. I really love this article. I have referred to it many times and like the thinking behind having a system approach to the nymphs.

    I used this article (and patterns) as a basis to start my own system.

    Have you considered something similar for dry flies?

    Reply
    • Hi John,

      Thank you.

      Yes, for sure. That’s on my list of articles to write.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
      • Great! I am looking forward to it.

        Reply
  22. Dom:
    Thanks for writing the blog. It always provides an interesting and helpful perspective on fly fishing, tying and more. I look forward to reading each post.
    As I was looking around for fly tying resources for an upcoming trip I came across this post again. This time I read it much more carefully than the first. The information is exceptionally detailed and thorough in addition to being helpful.
    I look forward to tying most of these patterns this winter.
    Additionally, MAJOR PROPS to you for the Dorsey yarn indicator. Without sounding boastful, I cannot tell you how many big spooky fish I landed using it during low water springtime out west.

    Many thanks,

    Reply
    • Thank for the kind words, Jeff. I appreciate the support. Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply

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